by Matt Demers
[Yesterday's Apple announcement about a self-authoring tool to get books into the iBookstore sounded like a boon to comics creators and part of the whole DIY movement. However, as Matt Demers writes, it's not all as rosy as it looks.]
In one of their much-hyped press events yesterday, Apple unveiled a new version of their iBooks with a specific focus on educational texts. When viewed on students’ iPads, these once-boring textbooks would come alive with video, animations and graphics. There would also be the ability to annotate and create interactive glossaries, possibly bringing a bit of future flair to the medium.
Alongside this update, Apple also released iBooks Author, a free Mac app that allowed an author to package up their book (including all these fancy additions) and put it up for sale on the iBookstore. Author would rely on a what-you-see-is-what-you-get editing tool, simplifying the eBook design process like Garage Band had for music production.
Watching this presentation, it was hard not to think how this would affect comics. Ideally, creators with content would be able to use iBooks Author to rig up a version of their book, which could then be sold to the exceptionally-large iPad audience. Adventurous parties could embed video and animations, allowing for easier access without as much work.
It would skip the arduous process of learning to code your own app (along with the $90 developer license), and would enable authors to self-publish their work. Similar to the Kindle Store’s opening-up of the literary market to amateurs, iBookstore could do the same for graphic novels and those who want to take advantage of the tablet medium.
However, it’s not all sunshine and roses. As Ed Bott points out in a column for ZDNet, the End-User License Agreement (that long document you usually skip during installation) Apple has implemented with Author is extremely prohibitive.
As quoted from Bott’s article:
B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or
service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.
This means, in blunt terms, that if you want to sell the work you’ve created in Author via the iBookstore, you cannot sell it anywhere else. The next paragraph, as Bott points out, is especially disconcerting:
Apple will not be responsible for any costs, expenses, damages, losses (including
without limitation lost business opportunities or lost profits) or other liabilities you may incur as a result of your use of this Apple Software, including without limitation the fact that your Work may not be selected for distribution by Apple.
This almost adds to the risk of publishing with Apple: your created work would gain entrance to the iBookstore once it had been reviewed and approved by Apple’s review board. If, by chance, it was rejected, you would not be able to sell what you made in iBooks Author elsewhere.
While you are able to export your work as plain text, it’s unconfirmed whether there would be any way to take the hard work of arranging text and converting that to another universal format, like an EPUB.
While I was prepared to espouse this new Apple development as boon for struggling creators who wanted to reach a large audience while “self-publishing” and taking care of their own design, I can’t help but think that a common creative question would be “How much am I willing to change to have my stuff on Apple’s platform?”
Similar discussions have arisen as a result of Apple’s approval process with apps: are you willing to put a massive amount of work into a product, only for Apple to reject it? Are you willing to change your work and creative vision in order to access a larger market? Are you prepared to lose your rights to your work if you want to charge for it?
I suppose that’s for authors to decide.