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Words are wind

January 24, 2012 ・ Blog

It’s one hell of a brouhaha. Apple released iBooks Author last week, a free eBook maker that publishes direct on to Apple’s iBooks store. Nice! It’s free! And beautifully designed!

The sting in the tail is its EULA (emboldened for emphasis):

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.

Note the term “Work” – that would appear to mean it applies to the content of the book, not simply the eBook file iBooks Author generates. Beneath that passage, the EULA states that you’ll be taking the cost of any lost profits, costs and expenses incurred by using the software.

Hoo boy.

Now, some commentators, like John “Daring Fireball” Gruber, maintain that, hey, it says that, but it’s not like Apple’s actually going to act on it. If that’s the case, why doesn’t the EULA simply clearly focus the EULA on just the file that iBooks Author generates?

Other commentators, like author Daniel Steinberg, seem simply fatalistic, maintaining that this sort of deal is no worse than signing up with a traditional publisher. Except traditional publishers give advances, edit and produce the book, and market it. The iBooks store simply distributes and sells your book, and, apparently, still maintains control over it.

Of course, Microsoft PR chief Frank Shaw’s took the opportunity, as ever, for a little slagging, joshing on Twitter, “If you write a novel in Word, we promise not to take a 30% cut.”

It’s an odd move for Apple, because in the eBook marketplace it’s up against Amazon’s extremely popular (deservedly so) Kindle. Why would Apple poison the idea of producing books for its iBooks store among independent authors when Kindle is so strong? And let’s not forget that the Kindle service is available on pretty much any device you can lay your hands on – including iPad.

And it’s not like Apple does this elsewhere – if you make an app for the App Store, you aren’t bound to it – you can port it to Android or wherever you like freely.

Perhaps Gruber’s right, and it’s just some woolly wording from Apple’s lawyers. Wait, what?

As nice as iBooks Author is itself, right now no sane author can consider using it.