Tag Archives: publishing

Apple iBooks Author aims at school textbook market, but beware the lock-in

Apple claims to “Reinvent Textbooks” with the introduction of iBooks 2 for iPad, along with an accompanying free authoring tool for the Mac.

iBooks Author is already in the Mac App Store and I had a quick look. It is template based, so the first thing you do is to make your choice.


I picked Contemporary, whereupon the authoring screen opened and I started to make some edits. If you divide Desktop Publishing (DTP) tools into those that are more oriented towards longer books, and those more oriented towards shorter but more graphically rich titles, then iBooks Author is in the former category. You can write the text in Pages or Word, and then import to iBooks Author. You can also add images, charts, tables, hyperlinks, and a variety of widgets including HTML, Keynote presentations, 3D models and more. The format of some of the widgets seems to be Dashcode, as used by the Dashboard in Mac OS X; certainly that is the case for the HTML widget.


I got a bit stuck on one point. I did not want the astronomy images in the template, but was not ready with an alternative. However I could not delete the image placeholder. It seems that the templates are somewhat restrictive.

Once your work is ready you can preview it. This is interesting. In order to preview, you attach an iPad, open iBooks on the iPad, and then select it in iBooks Author. A nice touch: the book appears on the iPad marked Proof.


There is also an animation as the book opens. In the grab below, you can spot the busy icon: this is because the smart cover disappears automatically so you have to grab it on the fly.


What about publishing? You can export your work in one of three formats: iBooks, PDF, or plain text.


Apple emphasises the licensing agreement right there in the Export dialog. You can only sell your book through the Apple iBookstore. Note also that the book is only for iPad. You cannot read it on a Mac, let alone on an Amazon Kindle, unless you choose PDF and make it available for free.

Here is the agreement in more detail:

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.

I exported the book in iBooks format and took a quick look at the contents in an editor.


On a quick look, it seems to have a lot in common with a standard epub, but is nevertheless a proprietary Apple format.

Finally, a few observations. I have no doubt that eBook usage will grow rapidly in education as elsewhere, and the iPad is a delightful device on which to read them, though expensive.

I do have nagging concerns though. In typical Apple style, this is an only-Apple solution for authors or publishers who need to charge for their work. Does it really make sense for schools and colleges to recommend and use textbooks that can only be read on Apple devices? Of course publishers can repurpose the same underlying content for other formats, though they will have to be careful how they use iBooks Author to avoid falling foul of the licensing clause quoted above.

Is there no way to reinvent textbooks without an Apple tax and locking knowledge into proprietary formats?

Magazine chief: iPad users – prepare to be retrained

The Guardian has an interview with Future Chief Executive Stevie Spring. Future is a major magazine publisher based in the UK. I was interested to hear how she believes the iPad could change the industry:

We’ve had a whole decade of people paying, believing that if they paid for the pipes they got the poetry free; [they think] ‘I’ve paid my £15 or £20 for broadband so I get access to a library of content’. The iPad gives us an opportunity to retrain them. Content production is not free and good content is worth paying for.

I am all in favour of more people paying for content. However, there are a couple of aspects of this line of argument which concern me. One is pure scepticism – how many print readers will actually be willing to transition to paying for online content just because the iPad is a convenient way to consume it? The problem is that while print has an unique appeal, once you are online it is easy to find equally good content for free, in the case of the consumer magazines in which Future tends to specialise.

The other concern is a deeper one. I get the sense that Spring is talking about content delivered as apps, since this is a proven business – people will more willingly pay for an app, apparently, than subscribe to a web site.

However, content delivered in an app is one step forward, two steps back. The step forward is possibly richer content, with the full power of the local machine. The steps back are that it is not part of the world wide web – not searchable or linkable.

Finally, there is the Apple problem. Is this a Future where we have to be Apple customers in order to enjoy its publications?

Apple’s proxy war with Amazon over ebook pricing and market

Amazon has apparently withdrawn all Macmillan titles from sale (print and electronic) because of an argument with the publisher over the terms of sale. Macmillan CEO John Sargent says:

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for ebooks under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties.

“Windowing” means delaying availability, to allow a window of time during which a premium price is charged.

This is a fascinating spat with many implications. The immediate issue: Macmillan wants to raise ebook prices and/or get a bigger cut of Amazon’s selling price.

Macmillan is trying to dictate prices and terms:

Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set the price for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time.

Amazon is unlikely to be content with a miserly 30%. It is used to wholesale terms. Further, according to author Charlie Stross in a must-read post Amazon likes to sublicence Kindle titles, which means it pays even less; in effect just a royalty to the original publisher, “turning the traditional publishers into vestigial editing/marketing appendages.” Amazon wants to keep prices down on Kindle titles to build both the market and Kindle’s dominance.

The stakes must be high for Amazon to take such drastic action, and for Macmillan to risk its relationship with the world’s biggest bookseller. And they are. Ebooks are an increasingly important market; who knows, they may become most of the market eventually – though paper and ink is resilient.

Why has Macmillan chosen this moment to take on Amazon? Apple. The key is in this conversation between Walt Mossberg and Steve Jobs at the launch of the iPad, recorded by Kara Swisher:

In the video, Mossberg asks Jobs about the iBooks application and the price of e-books, and Jobs insists the price will be the same on Apple as on Amazon (AMZN).

“The prices will be the same,” said Jobs, before getting in a little dig at the maker of the Kindle e-reader. “Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon, because they’re not happy with it.”

Translation: Apple has big plans for ebooks. Part of its strategy is to win publisher support by offering better terms than the currently get from Amazon, both in terms of pricing flexibility and the size of their share. With breathtaking confidence, Jobs believes that publishers will be able to dictate better terms to Amazon on the basis of what Apple is offering, even though iPad is not yet released, and that the outcome will be price parity.

Macmillan is obediently putting that theory to the test.

So far Macmillan and Apple are winning the PR war. On the face of it, that’s surprising, since Amazon wants to keep prices down. However, withdrawing stock from sale comes over as petulant and bullying, and the move has upset authors like Stross who by the nature of their trade are highly articulate. The reading public is also sympathetic to publishers and authors, perhaps presuming that since most books make a loss, squeezing prices down will not benefit them long-term.

Bizarrely, it is almost the opposite of what happened in music, when it was Apple trying to force the labels to accept fixed pricing. There is less public sympathy for the music industry, thanks to mishandling of DRM and downloads, and a reputation for not giving artists a sufficient share.

Personally I’m cautious about accepting that any party here has the moral high ground. I am sure Apple is making all the noises publishers want to hear right now; but that is because it is a new entrant in the market. If the publishers are canny they will foster a diversity of ebook suppliers, because that is in their best interests long term.

Update: Amazon has capitulated.