Apple’s iBooks Author licensing terms

I’m surprised by the fuss about Apple’s iBooks Author licensing terms. The terms prevent you from selling your iBooks Author-created works outside of the iBooks Store (although they can be distributed for free). You can still export and repurpose the content therein, but you can’t sell the complete, packaged layout file created by iBooks Author in another store.

This seems perfectly reasonable to me, for three reasons.

1) It’s called iBooks Author

The clue’s in the name. It creates iBooks for iBooks. Not generic ePubs for general distribution; specific iBooks for iBooks.

2) The files won’t work elsewhere anyway

The ePub-based output of iBooks Author uses custom CSS and object elements to create the advanced functionality needed for Apple’s textbook format. This shouldn’t be a surprise; Apple has gone over and beyond what’s possible with the current ePub standard in order to make this kind of functionality possible in iBooks. As a result, the output of iBooks Author won’t work in other ePub readers anyway. This isn’t bad; it’s just a choice you as an author need to make – whether to create a lowest-common-denominator reflowable-text ePub, or to develop a fully-functional textbook for a fixed-spec platform.

3) It’s free

Apple have spent many hours creating a free and fully-featured authoring tool to support their store. You don’t have to pay for it. It’s free. Why should they then support competing stores (who could perhaps reverse-engineer and support their ePub extensions), who haven’t paid to create and support the tool?

Apple provide a comparative tool for us iOS developers, called Xcode. This is the free development tool used to create iOS and Mac apps. Our Xcode-authored iOS apps don’t run on other platforms, and even if they could, I would fully expect Apple to prevent us from selling them in competing stores. That’s entirely reasonable in return for free tools and a profitable store ecosystem in which we can sell our work.

5 thoughts on “Apple’s iBooks Author licensing terms

  1. I am baffled by the angst that iBA has generated in ePub developers. How is this different from KF8, apart from being more powerful and easier to use? I suspect developers feel a bit threatened by the ease with which complex documents can be built. Which is silly, as it will continue to require skill to translate content between various platforms.

  2. But this also prevents one from selling the book (DRM free) on a web site, where one might enjoy better visibility than in iBookstore, and without sharing revenue with Apple.

    How is this any different than an ePub book that I create that takes advantage of unique features of iBooks, and won’t work properly in any other reading platform? I can do that, without such restrictions.

    • It’s worth remembering that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You can pay up front for a third-party ePub editing tool, or you can use Apple’s free tool and pay for it as part of their 30%. It’s the same deal we developers have with Xcode and apps – which has worked out pretty well for both ourselves and Apple.

  3. It may be the case that apple is claiming ownership over your “work” and not just the formatting/proprietary iBooks output.

    Why would apple bother to write it the way they did if they are ONLY concerned about the proprietary ibooks format being sold only via ibooks? The clause would be more specific to that proprietary format and NOT “any work.”

    Others are raising this same question and apple is remaining silent which supports that they most likely are going after ownership of your “work.” This means that you can only distribute your “work” elsewhere if you completely re-work it–that’s not formatting we are talking about, it’s rewriting everything.

    Nonetheless, anyway you look at it, it is ridiculous. What next, anything produced via MS Office must be sold via MS, or gDocs via Google, or OpenOffice via Oracle?

    This is seriously ridiculous! And a slippery slope any sane person should and would avoid at all costs.

    • Apple’s rules are pretty clear; it’s the output of iBooks Author that can’t be sold elsewhere, not the contents therein. It helps to think of them as apps rather than documents – this is certainly how Apple see them.

      gDocs is an interesting comparison, in that the tool is free and gDocs don’t work with any other reader, just like iBooks Author. (And, of course, you can export gDocs in non-Google formats – just like iBooks Author.)

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