Don't like the iBooks Author EULA? Use something else

I'm getting tired of the vitriol about Apple's iBooks Author EULA. If you don't want to pay Apple's 30 percent commission, there are other options. Just none from Google or Amazon.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

A lot of people are up-in-arms over Apple's license agreement for iBooks Author. It's been called everything every superlative in the book from mind-bogglingly greedy, to unprecedentedly audacious, to -- my personal favorite -- crazy evil.

Somehow I don't think that the iBooks Author team got together and settled on "let's be crazy evil" as their team slogan. (Apple Legal maybe, but not the developers.)

In case you've been living under a rock, iBooks Author is a Mac-only software tool that Apple released on January 19, 2012 that allows you to create content for iBooks. The rub is that it's iPad-only and requires authors to pays Apple's standard, 30 percent commission when you sell works created with it.

Here's the smoking gun portion of the 5-and-a-half page EULA found by clicking on the license agreement button in the about box:

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple.

But it's section 2B of the EULA ("Distribute of your Work") that seems to draw the most ire:

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.

For starters, Apple's EULA isn't a technical restriction. As Venomous Porridge notes, it's trivial to save the document, install it on your iPad and open it in iBooks. By extension, it's equally trivial to post the resulting .ibooks file on your server, sell it and retain 100 percent of the profit -- until the Apple police catch up to you, that is. I'm waiting for someone to test this to see how aggressively Apple will enforce it.

While I was incensed when I first read the iBook Author EULA, after thinking about it a bit (and reading a lot of vitriol from the blogosphere) I have to take Apple's side on this one. Here's why.

1. Apple isn't putting a gun to author's head and forcing them to use iBooks Author. There are a raft of other eBook authoring tools that allow you to sell your work any way you want.

2. iBooks Author is free. Competing tools can cost as much as $700 dollars (Adobe InDesign).

3. What you're really paying for is the distribution system via iTunes. Apple has always charged a 30 percent commission on sales from iTunes, why would the iBookstore or Newsstand be any different?

The other argument I hear against iBooks Author is that it's not an open standard, or that it takes an open standard and adds proprietary extensions. Well boo-hoo. The fact of the matter is that Apple invested the time and effort to build the tool and extend the standard.

If you want the enhanced features available in iBooks Author, it's going to cost your 30 percent. If you want to be stuck in the slow lane and wait for the standards bodies to catch up, by all means do so.

It's also worth noting that Apple sells a $20 piece of software called Pages that can output ePub 2-compatible eBooks that are unencumbered by an "onerous" EULA.

Apple's clearly laid down the gauntlet with iBooks Author and its message is clear. If you want to produce books for the #1 selling tablet (which could sell nearly 50 million units in 2012 alone), it's going to cost you 30 percent.

Google and Amazon were clearly caught flat-footed by Apple's announcement and the silence is deafening.

Related ZDNet articles

Editorial standards