Archive for January 25th, 2012

Not Sweating the Apple EULA

It’s the big new news in the overlap between self publishing and eReaders.  Apple has opened up a new product called iBooks Author, available free for any users of the Mac operating system, that allows content creators to generate books with a more interactive element to them.  However, the software comes with an EULA (end user licensing agreement, all that legalese that you click that you read without actually reading) that is concerning many self publishers.  Specifically this gem:

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.

It’s point B(ii) that is raising hackles as it creates a dedicated distribution channel for anything created in iBooks Author.  This doesn’t really concern me, genre fiction writer who has dabbled in some self ePublication, for a few reasons:

1) You Will Not (Yet) Use iBooks Author

If you’re reading this blog, the odds are you’re a fellow genre fiction traveler.  At this point in time, iBooks Author isn’t really for us.  The intended audience of this program are those creating text books, as this is part of Apple’s push to become a bigger player in that market.  And it’s a push that makes some business sense.  Kindle failed to take off as a textbook replacement, in spite of their efforts, because people want their textbooks to be in color more so than probably any other kind of book.  Kindle Fire now provides color, but it’s playing catch up with the iPad, which has already established as the tool schools are turning to when experimenting with providing students with new technology.  Getting into the distribution of textbooks by helping publishers add interactivity to their titles is the next logical step.

This isn’t to say that someone won’t play around with iBooks Author for their fiction, try to generate some interactivity, but the templates for doing so are lacking right now.  It’s a early release product and still lacking in several ways.  Perhaps one day it will be more a product for those looking beyond the world of text books, but that is solely the market Apple is going for right now.

2) Welcome to the App Store

This type of distribution exclusivity is the standard model that Apple has operated under since the creation of the App Store.  In the end, the books that are generated with iBooks Author, due to the interactivity and other included functionality, act as an amalgam of a book and an app.  Here’s the similar section from the license agreement for anyone looking to generate an app for iOS (please note, this is meant to be demonstrative and may not be the most recent version of this text):

7.3 No Other Distribution Authorized Under this Agreement
Except for the distribution of freely available Licensed Applications and the distribution of Applications for use on Registered Devices as set forth in Sections 7.1 and 7.2 above, no other distribution of programs or applications developed using the Apple Software is authorized or permitted hereunder. In the absence of a separate agreement with Apple, You agree not todistribute Your Application to third parties via other distribution methods or to enable or permitothers to do so

That’s it, that’s the way Apple handles things: by controlling the means of distribution.  Some have pointed at the text in the iBooks EULA “Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution,” but again this is merely business as usual for a company that has long exercised control over what apps may and may not go live in their store.  What this isn’t is a copyright grab.  You still own your content, Apple merely locks down the channels of distribution for that content when generated in their software for their hardware.  If Apple was interested in exercising copyright control, Angry Birds wouldn’t be available on every mobile OS under the sun.

I understand there’s concerns about Apple potentially censoring content, an issue that the App development community has dealt with almost since the beginning.  That will require, unfortunately, a wait and see approach, to determine just how open Apple will be with their determinations of what to distribute or not distribute.  However, the exclusive distribution cause in and of itself doesn’t concern me because…

3) Apple is Stating the Obvious

iBooks Author lets you generate an iBook.  This is an exclusive and proprietary eReader format that can be viewed only through the iBooks app available only for iOS products.  Apple controls the iBooks store, the iBooks application, and the hardware.  Even if the EULA didn’t state that they were the sole means of distribution…they’re the sole means of distribution.  That you are tied to the iBooks store and Apple to distribute the end product of your Author session isn’t so much a factor of the EULA as a factor of the

Again, this is the lesson of the App Store.  Apple wants to control the means of distribution so they can exert, among other things, quality control over the process and products.  Yes, it’s very true that quality is not the only control that Apple has exerted in the past, and I can’t help but wonder if they’ll attempt any sort of editorial control over the content they distribute.  Look, if you’re a fiction writer looking to get your book into the iTunes store, you still have the same option as before: Smashwords.  They’ll process it, they’ll do the leg work, and your book will end up in the iBooks store.  Without having to go through Author.  Without having to go through the EULA.

I’m not going to sit here and be a pure Apple apologist.  Their black box app approval system does leave room for concern as people start to self publish through the iBooks Author.  However, I do believe the furor over the distribution exclusivity agreement is misguided.  It’s simply a new wave of potential content creators discovering what those always working in the App Store have always known: Apple wants to control how products that end up on their Hardware get there, and wants a piece of the action if there is money involved.  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an eBook distributor wanting exclusive distribution rights from self publishing authors.  It’s the same thing that Kindle is asking for those who want to join the lending library.  While this isn’t directly a response to that, it’s someone offering a new item (interactivity vs the pool of money for the lending library) in exchange for asking for exclusivity.

Let’s wrap this up, because this has turned into a longer post than I anticipated.  Look, I’m not a lawyer, what I’m gathering about the EULA and what it does and doesn’t say I’m gathering from my amateur research around the internet.  I understand people have different interpretations and concerns, but we’ve also seen for years the difference Apple creates between exclusive distribution of a particular port vs exclusive distribution of an idea.  The iBooks Author will just be a tool, like the iOS Dev Kit, for porting a concept to iOS devices.  Whether it will eventually be a viable tool for the novel writer is yet to be seen, but probably is at least one generation of the tool away.  Until then, just do your research.  Learn about what the EULA says, not just what people say it says.  This applies for iBooks Author, and really for anything in life.  Be an informed consumer and user, that’s really the lesson here.

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