Yesterday, Apple announced iBooks Author, a new Mac app that lets people create and distribute ebooks for the iPad. Immediately following the gleeful fanboygasms came the equally predictable backlash, like this piece in ZDNet that called the app’s end-user license agreement (EULA) “mind-bogglingly greedy and evil.”
This reaction confuses me, because iBooks Author’s EULA says exactly what I expected it to say, namely that you can’t sell the books you make with iBooks Author through any distributor except Apple.
Why is this even a surprise? For one thing, iBooks Author is free. It’s obviously intended to ease creation of content for sale through iTunes, because Apple makes a ton of money on those content sales. Why would they make a free tool that would let users create content for other platforms? Why is not doing so “greedy” and “evil”?
On a more practical level, it’s frankly not that big a deal. If you’re formatting a traditional book (i.e. only words), then the process should mostly involve cutting and pasting those words from your .doc file. You will have to format your ePubs for other distributors separately, which is a drag mostly because ePub-formatting programs suck (when we publish books here at C4, we use Smashwords; it’s not perfect but it is better and easier than other formatting and publishing options we’ve tried).
So yes, Apple has not given you a free, easy, universal ePub creator. But iBooks Author isn’t geared toward creating plain old ePubs anyway, it’s specifically geared toward creating “Multi-Touch books for iPad.” In other words, this sort of thing. Because iBooks Author simplifies the formatting process, the rich-media interactive ebooks you make with it will almost certainly only work on an iPad. Even if you could export them to universal ePubs, they would look like garbage on all other devices.
Apple won’t own your copyright, your content, or the versions you make for all other platforms. You’re free to use that content however you please, even according to that reactionary ZDNet writer’s reading of the EULA. Claims that “only Apple can ever publish your work” are simply not true.
So everybody please calm down about this EULA. It’s not nearly as greedy or evil as they’d have you believe.
[Edit: As several people have pointed out, there are kids’ books with audio, available on the iPad as individual apps. So that’s a tie, too.
Edits: See books, newspaper, and final thoughts sections, below.]
I had a chance to play around with an iPad over the holidays. Here’s a comparison of the iPad and the Nook Color, which I’ve been reading on for about a month (full Nook Color review here). Obviously the iPad does a lot more than reading, but this post is designed to give avid readers an idea of whether a Nook will be enough for them, or an iPad will be worth the extra money.
And the short answer is: the Nook will be enough. It’s a close fight, but the iPad simply doesn’t seem to care enough about reading to win.
[Note: I only had a day and a half with the iPad; if you're a more experienced iPad user and I got something wrong, let me know.]
Newspapers: iPad wins (for now)
The iPad’s NYTimes app looks more like a real paper, and features big, beautiful pictures and embedded video. Best of all: it’s free (for now). The Times has plans to start charging at some point; once that happens, this will be a much closer race.
The Times app needs an Internet connection to work, where the Nook Color downloads the whole paper so you can read it offline. There’s no archive in the iPad version, only today’s news, and if you want a paper other than the Times, you’re out of luck.
I don’t really care about the layout, to be honest. Some people don’t like the Nook Color’s list-of-articles-style layout, and it could certainly use some navigational help (like a back button). But the iPad layout is basically the same, except for the front page of each section.
I am jealous, however, of the NYTimes app’s multimedia content. I’d like to see the digital edition of the Times include videos, photo essays, and blogs like the iPad version, I’d like to see it download an entire edition to your device like the Nook version. The iPad’s 3G is basically worthless, so you have to read the paper at a WiFi connection.
So: the Nook gives you more papers, and gives you the complete archiveable print versions of them. The iPad only gives you the NYTimes, it needs a WiFi connection and expires too quickly, but it offers a lot of multimedia content. Once price is no longer an issue, the winner of this fight will depend on how you read the paper.
[Edit: People have pointed out that there are other newspaper apps in the iPad store. I searched for a dozen prominent papers and came up empty. The selection is definitely worse on iPad, but I can’t comment on the apps I didn’t try.]
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Barnes & Noble unveiled the Nook Color yesterday. Here are some specs, thoughts, observations, and links.
Specs and overview: The Nook Color is a 7-inch color touchscreen Android-powered ereader, retailing at $250. It will ship Nov. 19, and it’ll be in stores soon after that. It has WiFi, but no 3G, and an LCD screen instead of Pixel Qi or Mirasol (which would give it better battery life) because of price considerations and performance.
It’s difficult to get good hard spec numbers right now, especially processor speed and memory capacity, but it has micro SD expandable storage, and it comes with an 8 Gb card (16 Gb cards run about $30). It supports Adobe ePub and “boasts” an 8-hour battery life with WiFi off (I’d say you shouldn’t hope for more than 3-4 hours with WiFi on). Battery life is its weak point, without a doubt.
That said, there’s a whole lot to like here. Despite tech blogs keying on the word “tablet,” this is not a tablet computer, it’s a (possibly excellent) color LCD ereader. Real tablet computers of decent production value are very expensive, like the iPad starting at $500, and the new Samsung Galaxy Tab starting at $600. Anything much cheaper than the Nook Color, like the Pandigital Novel at $180, is too crappy to use. So do not expect the best Android tablet out there, expect a great magazine/newspaper reader, with a few perks.
Weird/cool bonus features: You can now take your Nook to a Barnes & Noble store, and read any part of any ebook in their catalog, for up to one hour a day, at which point, you presumably have to get up and go find the paper copy. With the Nook Color, you can also share passages from books via Facebook or Twitter, and lend (or evidently request to borrow) ebooks from friends.
You can also still get library ebooks, and read your ebooks on your phone or desktop via Nook apps available on most platforms (the Nook apps are quite nice, much better than Kobo in my opinion). However, I have little hope for the dedicated, curated Nook Color app store. Nook apps will not challenge iPad apps anytime soon.
Thoughts on content: One of the things I learned this summer after publishing our fiction anthology is that Barnes & Noble does its content right. I’ve been very skeptical of their ereader endeavors in the past, but they are clearly committed to ebooks, and committed to providing content. The same simply cannot be said of Apple and its lackluster ebookstore. If the hardware holds up, the Nook Color will be outstanding for readers.
The bottom line: If you want a tablet to play games, watch movies, email, Twitter, etc., get an iPad. But if you want a tablet primarily to read—especially to read magazines, newspapers, kids’ books, etc.—then the Nook Color is your clear front-runner. I don’t hold out any hope for a competitive or even decent app store, but the content will be there, in a way it’s not on the iPad.
Feel free to wait until you can lay your hands on one in stores to test its interface; that and its battery are its obvious potential weak spots in the early running. Basically, for the right user, this device makes a whole lot of sense.
Things I’m unsure of: How well will its interactivity work? Will it be able to highlight and note-take in a useful manner, as no E-Ink reader currently can? Will my grandmother be able to use it? If so, the Nook Color could be even better. I initially assumed the Nook Color would have lots of comic books, but haven’t seen confirmation; if no, that seems like a big oversight.
Some more links: Here’s a hands-on video at Engadget. Engadget says it’s sluggish, but the video has me sold. TeleRead has a video of the release event here—I usually hate product launch events, but some crazy dancing pageantry makes the first 3 and a half minutes pretty watchable indeed. (Second half here and Paul Biba’s write-up of the event here.) Various other impressions by ZDNet, Salon, publishing Twittersphere reactions. And the Nook Color page at B&N.
Recently, Apple’s been feeling its oats, and Steve Jobs has been picking fights with absolutely everybody, even bloggers who just want a portable porn pad. Here’s a breakdown of the two biggest Apple fights out there.
Apple v. Amazon
First there was terror. When the iPad was announced, Jeff Bezos messed his cargo shorts when he heard Apple was supporting both ePub and the Agency model. He promptly caved and let publishers walk all over him—although he did it, of course, with a minimum of maturity, because that’s how he rolls. But Bezos (not to mention publishers) got proper snookered by the sneaky Jobs.
Despite all the furor over Apple’s embrace of the agency model (which might not even be legal in countries where they regulate their corporations), the iPad isn’t selling many iBooks. Penguin claims to be leading the pack (you know, if you don’t count free Gutenberg books, which are “selling” twice as much as Penguin). But let’s not forget that iBooks aren’t very popular, in the scheme of iPad apps—in fact, Feedbooks distributes more books.
If the iPad does start selling tons of iBooks, well, publishers are screwed then, too. Apple can evidently force prices down to $9.99 if it feels like, and in April 2011, they can simply rescind the agency model agreement. Ha!
All this has led to, shall we say, some tension in the publishing industry. Publishers are choosing up sides, and even unleashing their wrath on unsuspecting authors who want to publish ebooks. Then there are the obligatory rumors that Kindle’s grip on the market is slipping, but since there’s a Kindle app for the iPad (not to mention iPhone and soon Android) I don’t understand how Apple will ever win a book fight.
And by the way, Google’s launching its own ebookstore, which I’m guessing and hoping will use Adobe ePub formatting. Meaning neither Apple nor Amazon customers will be able to read Google ebooks. Because Apple hates Adobe, too! Why? Well, more on that after the jump… …
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- I enjoyed this article about big P Publishing’s woes. (I have an MFA from Emerson, and I wish I didn’t. They exemplify the watered-down publishing industry at its very base level. Rumor has it, teachers can’t fail even atrocious theses–and they certainly exist. Of those hundred books, I’d bet 92 are babytown frolics.)
hey now, Jess Walter!
while we should read your book now
don’t steal our ideas
Some news about books and ebooks from around the web:
- Here is an article from the NYT about literature and cognitive science. Basically, it’s about how empathy relates to reading fiction, and how readers process interrelated or overlapping points of view. Or “what the scholars call levels of intentionality.” Read it.
Obligatory iPad and Amazon news—and lots of other stuff—after the break. …
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- Everyone seems to be touting the Great eReader Adoption as an iPad-Kindle war, but the Nook still looms (and also sports an iPad app) and the Alex is still on the way (and still overpriced). However if terrible customer service like this around haphazard products is what can be expected from Barnes & Noble, the Nook won’t stand much of a chance. Perhaps I don’t really understand why international buyers can’t have an instant download over the internet already, but I guess Diesel-ebooks allowing instant international “delivery” of ebooks is a good thing. (Really though, what do mail carriers have to do with ebooks, and what does “an innovative and evolutionary free digital shipping promotion” mean?)
- This year I’m once again a second round judge for the Amazon Breakout Novel Award. I obviously can’t talk specifics about the books, but it’s a pretty cool program so I wanted to stick in a link so more people could check it out. I like when the big guys open the doors for the small fries. You can see a full list of the entrants now, and if it’s run like last year’s was, more information about the books will be available once the short lists are narrowed down.
Not really a full links post, but a few things caught my eye this morning. So here we go.
First of all, J.K. Rowling has been sued for plagiarism, again, hilariously. This time the plaintiff is the estate of a writer who died thirteen years ago. They claim she stole from a 36-page pamphlet called “The Adventures of Willy the Wizard.”
The entire case rests not on copied passages, but on the fact that “both Willy and Harry [are] required to solve a task as part of a contest, which they achieve in a bathroom assisted by clues from helpers.”
So, your case rests on the word “bathroom.” Good luck.
My other favorite line from that story is the estate’s PR guy (not lawyer) saying: “‘All of Willy the Wizard is in the Goblet of Fire.’” That’s a joke, right? Because “Willy” is only 36 pages long? Right?
And there’s a lot of other funny stuff in the Guardian piece. In other news:
- Engadget reports the new iRex ereader is finally coming out, only four months late. This new model, the cutely named DR800SG, is notable because it costs less than $800, and it gives Engadget a chance to backhand the stupid Nook by calling the iRex “Barnes & Noble’s first big play in the space.” Since it has a stylus-driven touchscreen, file it under Y for Yet another reason not to get a QUE.
- And, finally, The Rapture, one of my favorite bands, says this about their upcoming release:
“Our new album’s gonna be fucking 100 times better than the iPad,” [band member Gabe Andruzzi] jokes. “With this record you’re going to be interfacing with your soul in ways that have never happened before.”
So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.
Some news about books and ebooks from around the web (more after the jump):
- So Amazon is absolutely terrified of the iPad. Amazon is releasing a Kindle software development kit (or SDK), which means we’ll soon see iPhone-style apps for the Kindle. Those apps will suck, because there’s little you can satisfyingly do with an ereader besides read, and one of the rules (according to Kindle 2 Review) states that an app can’t be “a generic reader.” RSS? Nope, can’t use more than 100Kb/month in bandwidth. K2R speculates that apps will be such things as crossword puzzles and simple timers. Color me underwhelmed. To raise the stakes, Amazon bought a touchscreen company the other day. This is all just awful. Amazon needs to realize that the singular purpose of the Kindle (and ereaders like it) is a selling point, not a liability. You compete with the iPad by making the Kindle cheaper, and as simple and easy-to-use as possible; then, you allow library books and hype them. That’s it. Trying to compete with Apple on Apple’s turf will only end in tears, Bezos.
- Speaking of Bezos’s screw-ups, did you hear about this whole Amazon/Macmillan thing? Macmillan wanted to set their prices higher, so Bezos removed all Macmillan books and ebooks from Amazon.com (like a four-year-old who doesn’t get his way). Basically, it was two big stupid corporations fighting to see who could screw up worst, and the winner was Amazon! John Scalzi breaks down exactly how bad they screwed up. Of course, Macmillan’s no prize, either—softly strangling a flourishing market is just not a good idea—but they’re too scared to see straight. Amazon capitulated almost immediately, when the entire world told them they were stupid. But then it took EIGHT DAYS for Amazon to relist the Macmillan books, and now the Kindle editions of books like Wolf Hall are…. wait for it… still $9.99! So, presumably, Macmillan will set its own prices starting in the future, not now. Which means it took Amazon eight days to relist the books because why again? Anyway, this whole thing brought us this awesome Macmillan ad, and makes about the hundredth stupid decision hamfistedly made by Bezos and Amazon’s Kindle team. So congrats to them. For further reading, check out Booksquare and the Guardian. …
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[UPDATE: It’s confirmed that the iPad won’t be compatible with Adobe ePub books. That means no library books, and it takes a lot of the shine off the new iBooks. For some reason, Apple hates Adobe, and Adobe hates them back.]
A few short weeks ago, the Plastic Logic QUE ($650 WiFi/$800 3G) and the Spring Design Alex ($400 [EDIT--the Alex is now $360, I missed that]) debuted at CES, and immediately crushed my interest in them with exorbitant price points.
Today, Apple unveiled their new tablet computer, the “iPad,” (Gizmodo’s full coverage here) and made the QUE entirely irrelevant. The iPad is cheaper ($500 WiFi/$630 3G), faster, and more functional than the QUE, and it will actually be available earlier.
Not only does the iPad have a new, Apple-branded ereading program (iBooks), it can do video, internet, maps, and everything else that an iPhone can, on a grander scale. The only advantages the QUE has left are its ability to hand-write notes, and its E-Ink screen which makes for less eye strain and longer battery life. Still, the iPad has ten hours of battery life, so that last point is moot.
Basically, this spells doom for the $650 QUE, and if you were thinking about getting the Alex for $400 $360, or (God forbid) a $490 Kindle DX, how can you not scrape up a little extra for an iPad instead?
The iPad’s debut highlights the folly of “luxury” ereaders like the QUE and the Alex, which have gone in the wrong direction, trying to have an ereader that’s half laptop, with a price tag to match. Simple, affordable ereaders like the Kindle, Astak Pocket Pro, and Sony Pocket Edition are the only ones worth looking at now, at least until the Alex’s price drops by $150.
A few more tidbits, and links to more iPad coverage, after the jump. …
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