Apple’s newly introduced apps, iBooks 2.0 for iOS devices and iBooks Author for Mac, have managed to excite a huge section of the web. But it’s thunder, at least a part of it, was taken away by the iBooks Author licensing terms, which states that books created through the tool can be sold only through the iBookstore. Authors do, however, have the liberty to distribute their books for free through any means, not just the iBookstore.
Looking back at the launch of iPhone OS 2.0 and the App Store, Apple imposed a very similar policy on apps created using the iPhone SDK. Native apps written for the iPhone could only be distributed through the App Store. But unlike the iBookstore policy, there wasn’t any relaxation for free apps.
Moreover, these restrictions weren’t merely imposed through the license agreement, but built in to the OS. Apps not signed by Apple can’t be run on iOS, unless of course, the device is jailbroken.
Even then, Apple’s “closed” approach received a lot of criticism, and unsurprisingly even the iBooks Author policy has. Dan Wineman writes:
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. I’m sure it’s commonplace with enterprise software, but the difference is that those contracts are negotiated by corporate legal departments and signed the old-fashioned way, with pen and ink and penalties and termination clauses. A by-using-you-agree-to license that oh by the way asserts rights over a file format? Unheard of, in my experience.
But there’s a major difference at how Apple looks at iBooks Author and how Microsoft looks at Word, or say how Adobe looks at Photoshop. Adobe and Microsoft treat the content creation tools (Word and Photoshop) as products that they sell, whereas Apple views iBooks Author as a tool that aids in selling books on the iBookstore, which in turn help in the sales of iOS devices.
Apple put in big bucks to develop iBooks Author, and decided to distribute it for free so that a lot of quality content surfaces on the iBookstore. It wouldn’t obviously want a company like Google or Amazon to swoop in, develop a platform which can read the books created through iBooks Author, and use this content to sell on their own devices.
A more important concern would be the one Mathew Ingram over at GigaOm brings up: “Do we want textbooks to live in Apple’s walled garden.” He writes:
[T]he biggest criticism of Apple’s attempt to co-opt the educational system doesn’t have anything to do with costs: if its digital textbooks became the standard in schools, it would commit those institutions to a much broader — and theoretically much more dangerous — relationship with a technology provider than we have ever seen. Apple’s iMacs may have made their way into every school, but they didn’t control a key part of the curriculum. Every textbook would effectively have to be approved by Apple, and the software that controlled them would belong to Apple alone.
A possible solution, although not favorable to Apple would be, more players in the eBooks market create tools at par with iBooks. This would distribute control and give more choice to schools. Not just that, cross-platform tools would empower schools with more choice with regard to what devices they can use.
Apple’s new book platform is nothing short of amazing, and it will only help raise the standard of eBooks.