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.
[Updates: An alert reader pointed out that Kobo does do ebook previews---I think I just missed it. However, there's still no search and the page-turning/page number situation is still simply awful. On balance, I still think you shouldn't bother with Kobo.
On a happier note (for iBooks fans), iBooks has adopted the Nook's hold-and-swipe highlighting feature, which was my favorite thing about the Nook app. Really, the only thing I liked. Definitely no reason to even try the Nook app now. Three years and counting until Barnes & Noble is bankrupt.
I'll try to keep this space updated with new features, but probably won't.]
Merry Christmas! Several thousand people at least will be unwrapping an iOS device today. Here’s a list of the major ereader apps, and their pros and cons. We’ll see you again on Tuesday, when we go back to regular programming.
iBooks: Perfect for iOS readers
Pros: Buying books through the app store. Great highlighting, syncing, dictionary, and a ton of layout options. Two-page layout on the iPad, and fewer glitches than any other app.
Cons: Doesn’t work on any non-iOS device. Not your Kindle, not your Nook, not any E-Ink ereader. If you want to use one of those devices, you’ll want to use a different app. There isn’t even a desktop version of iBooks, you can only use it on an iPhone or an iPad. There’s also no real iBooks website, and navigating through the Books section of iTunes is a proper pain, so you’ll need to come to the app with a title in mind.
The gist: iBooks is also the only app that will let you buy books through the app store and your iTunes account—that ability is turned off for all other ebook apps. But that ease-of-buying-books is not what makes iBooks the best ereader app; instead, it’s the fact that all the others have significant downsides. iBooks has all the core functions—note-taking, highlighting, search, dictionary, and layout options—and they all work. If your iPhone and/or iPad is your main ereader, look no further for your new favorite app.
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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.]
The new Apple iPad
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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