The Fine Print of iBooks Author

Yesterday, with great fanfare, Apple rolled out two new applications iBooks 2, with new features aimed at students; and iBooks Author, which allows individuals to create iPad-optimized ebooks. Both applications are targeted to the textbook market, and Apple is billing iBooks Author as a textbook-creation utility–but essentially it’s a free self-publishing platform that can be used by anyone (as long as they have a Mac).

With one-click and drag and drop utility, accessibility features that let you accomodate people with disabilities, and the ability to include photo galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and more, iBooks Author looks like a pretty cool app. But the devil is in the details–in this case, the End User License Agreement that users of the app agree to when they download the software.

Because I’m not a Mac user, I have to depend on other people’s analysis–such as this, from Mac developer Dan Wineman. According to Wineman, the EULA requires content creators who decide to sell the books they create with iBooks Author (as opposed to offering them for free, which imposes no restrictions) to give Apple a cut of the proceeds, and to sell exclusively via the iPad. As long as you’re OK with exclusivity (and a proprietary format that enforces it), that doesn’t sound bad, right?

Here’s the problem, though: because this requirement appears in the EULA, rather than as a separate agreement you can consider post-download, you are binding yourself to Apple’s terms simply by downloading the software, even though you may not have known the terms were there before you clicked the download button. Wineman says,

Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented.

Apple also doesn’t guarantee to accept the books created with iBooks Author–which, as ZDNet’s Ed Bott points out, creates another issue:

The nightmare scenario under this agreement? You create a great work of staggering literary genius that you think you can sell for 5 or 10 bucks per copy. You craft it carefully in iBooks Author. You submit it to Apple. They reject it.

Under this license agreement, you are out of luck. They won’t sell it, and you can’t legally sell it elsewhere. You can give it away, but you can’t sell it.

To be clear, Apple is not claiming rights to your content–only to the product you create by using its software. You don’t lose your copyrights when you use iBooks Author; your text, and any other content you yourself create, remains yours, and you can use it however you wish–including selling it on another self-publishing platform (as long as all Apple formatting is stripped out).  Some commenters seem to feel that’s not so bad. As Frederic Lardinois of SiliconFilter writes:

Apple clearly defines ‘work’ as “any book or other work you generate using this software.” It’s the book Apple cares about – the final product the program generates, not the content you put into it.

iBooks Author is, in the end, just a tool for laying out your content so it looks nice on the iPad. Nobody is stopping any author or publisher from using another tool to sell the same content on another platform.

This seems at least somewhat analogous to regular publishing, where the publisher owns the rights to the book’s design and typesetting, and authors can’t re-use them–or the cover art–if they revert rights and publish elsewhere. On the other hand, publishers don’t claim rights to the editing that helped get the book ready for publication (unless you signed with a lousy publisher).

I usually conclude posts like this by saying something like “As always, the important thing is to read and understand the fine print.” That’s the case here too–the difference being that you can’t view the fine print of iBooks Author until after you’ve committed to the software. Even if you’re OK with that, authors need to carefully consider the ramifications of creating a work in a proprietary format that, if offered for sale, is limited to a single platform that currently lags far behind Amazon and Barnes & Noble in ebook market share.


  1. It is pretty simple now to create an eBook using Adobe software and you would be free to sell that via any route you wanted – even if you also created a version via iBook Author

  2. I also don't see what the fuss is about. Apple are just trying to cover themselves and don't want to offer something for download that will have the public up in arms. So of course they need to review things but if it's any good, what possible reason would they have to reject it?

  3. That took care of that for me. I was a bit concerned when I read that they have the right to reject your book. Then, when I read they are doing the PC thing, trolling for gender specific things, that bothered me.

    I was thrilled when I saw the platform. I'm working on a massive book about American fashion, with at least 2200 unpublished old photos. I want something to be able to translate this to iPad, where you can truly explore the photos.

    Because I'm self-publishing (4 other books that way) I thought this would be a great thing to do, have the entire formatting process made easier. The reason I am self-publishing is the freedom it offers for someone who writes specifically niche books. In my field, nearly 80% of the work is self-published. I don't mind admitting I've already made more money that a colleague who had a big contract, and a major book award nomination.

    I suspect the best choice for me is to offer a high density read only CD with the photos, and include it in with the book, then go to Kindle.

    Thank you for the information!


  4. Based on this point:

    "This seems at least somewhat analogous to regular publishing, where the publisher owns the rights to the book's design and typesetting, and authors can't re-use them–or the cover art–if they revert rights and publish elsewhere."

    Are you saying that they are claiming rights to the cover art that you upload as well?

  5. It's pretty scary and I don't see a lot of people jumping into this if they truly understand the repercussions of what they are doing. There are too many other venues to sell eBooks that won't set you up this way!

  6. I don't see anything but good here. Ibook2 and iBook Author are both being offered free, and as pointed out they are not claiming any kind of right over your content. The proprietary part is the format, nothing else. If spending time formatting your book solely for the Apple store burns you up, then don't do it. Especially for traditional fiction such as novels – where the value is almost all (if not entirely) in the content, not the formatting – what exactly are you signing away?
    Nothing except a few hours of your time.
    And the REAL news here? Apple has got major publishing houses to happily offer school-grade textbooks for a fraction of their new hard copy price. THIS is the way to run an end game around both SOPA and online piracy, by offering mainstream-published content at a price that at last passes the savings of e-distribution to the public.
    Who else has been able to do this, in any industry?

  7. Thanks for this head's up-I am a Mac user and do appreciate Apple's aim to brand as much to them as legally possible…This is great info for us all to have so thank you….again! I did think of this as I was reading: When I got my Simon & Schuster contract back when, there was so much legalese in it that I had to have a lawyer read it. He marked several spots that kept S&S from owning more than they did. I also remember that most authors did not bother-or couldn't afford- to have a legal review of their contracts. They/we were so dang excited to get one, VERY few of us would have done anything to jinx the deal. I remember how nervous I was that he wanted to make a few revisions–he assured me that it was just basic stuff that any lawyer would note.
    I offer this as a perspective perhaps—Writers have always had to read the fine print but many don't because the thrill of getting published is just that.
    Thanks Writer Beware for continuing to make writers aware.
    Marla Miller

  8. I *really* don't understand what the fuss is about. Amazon's Kindle creation tool only allows you to create Kindle books – not ebooks you can sell elsewhere. Apple's iBook creation tool allows only allows you to create content to sell through Apple. Same thing, but nobody expects Amazon to act differently… so why should Apple?

    When you look at the iBooks Author app in the App store – the only place to get it – it says clearly Books may only be sold through the iBookstore, additional terms and conditions apply'
    That Apple will vet content (particularly if they want to avoid lawsuits over copyrighted content) is a given and not really worth mentioning – some people dislike the walled garden approch to content, but it works for Apple *and* their customers.

    And you can give away the content for free, bypassing iTunes- this is actually *better* than the current situation, where creating multimedia iPad content is only possible by submitting to the App store.

    ( should be a link to the EULA – it doesn't work for me, but I got it from Apple's web page.)

    Personally, as a content creator with very little programming skills (and a very limited budget) I am utterly excited about this, because it will enable me to create quality content and get it to an audience. Not everybody, but to me, the trade-off is worth it.

  9. I'm sorry but I just don't see the concern with agreeing to the license before you have started downloading the product. Its not like you don't see the licence until after you have created the product and submitted it for publication (that would be a problem). What does it matter if you agree to it before you download. You still get to decide if you want to take time to create a product with the software. You loose nothing if you don't use the software to create a product. By downloading it, you really haven't committed to anything yet. If you don't use the product, you haven't lost anything.

  10. That is an interesting and to me scary aspect of this whole story. There is also the threat of widening the "digital divide," when kids whose parents cannot afford an iPad or other Apple product are left out of this particular loop. And there are many, such as myself and my daughter, who balk at the idea of being required to buy any particular product just to display content prepared for that one proprietary platform.

    Any textbook must be produced in a manner that allows its use across platforms. That way, lower-income students can go to their school library or the public library (the majority of which use PCs) to access the material they need for their classes. Textbook publishers need to be very cautious here.

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