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Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I don’t dare to publish with Apple’s iBooks Author App

Apple is tempting authors with an easy-to-publish book platform. But as an author I would be stupid to take their offer.

I have for the last couple of years worked on a book about Cambodia. As a former Asia correspondent for the largest Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, I have had a particular interest in the Far East. Among all the Asia countries Cambodia has intrigued me the most, especially how extremely friendly people are despite the brutal and violent political history of the country.
I have almost finished a manuscript describing how the brutal political history of the South East Asia country has influenced the life of even young Khmers born after the Pol Pot year. Now I face the question of how I should publish the book after the last few pages have been written.
As a paper book primarily?  I could. And that is also what I planned.  But the highly regulated – and very small – Norwegian book market  make my income on this option marginal. I may get some recognition, of course, but with such a niche topic as contemporary Cambodia there is no way I will make even close to my normal salary in royalties for selling the book.
Should I forget about being published in the print format – and instead focus only on the ebook market, then?  I may not get more income, but format and its possibilities are exciting and the book might end up getting a bigger audience. It sounds like a good idea, except that ebooks have not really taken off in the small Norwegian market, one reason being that the big publishing houses pretty much have cooperated in making sure ebooks have not been a big success so far.
Now Apple offers its iBooks Author App – promising that everyone can make amazing multi-touch ebooks for iPad.
It sounds exciting!  I would love to take my manuscript, mix it with some of my best photographs from Cambodia and design an amazing book, hopefully both giving a great reading and visual experience at the same time. And the iPad is a great platform to read books (except in daylight, that is).
But I will not do it.
Because there is a catch.
It is hidden in the terms of use:
 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.
It stinks!
So Apple wants me to spend months writing a manuscript, taking photographs and putting it all into a coherent story. Then I will spend a few hours (remember it is SO EASY!), maybe days if I am really getting into it, creating a great ebook using their tool. In return they want more or less full ownership of my work!
I can accept that I will give Apple 30 % of my income selling the ebook through their iBooks app. Afterall I only get to keep about 15 % when I publish a paperbook through a Norwegian publishing house.
But give me even one reason why I should accept that Apple limits my chances of distributing my work on other platforms than the ones controlled by them?
For me it is the opposite way around: If I choose the ebook route I want my work to be published on all available platforms there is. There are three reasons for that:
It maximizes my profit. People use different platforms and I want as wide distribution as possible.
Many people today use several devices during the day to access the same content. That’s why I love the Kindle platform for books. Many times I have found myself starting reading the book on the Kindle ereader, then continuing on the Kindle app on iPad before I read on in a bar at night on my Android-powered smartphone. It all syncronizes perferctly across devices and platforms.
I want to learn as much as possible about how people use my content. There is little learning in only publishing on one device
For more on the license agreement I recommend you to read Ed Bott in ZD Net:  Apple’s mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement.  For a wider perspective I recommmend Thomas Baekdal: Lies, Damned Lies and Ebooks.
As I look at it Apple is basically providing me with two things:
An easy-to-use production tool for iBook.
A distribution platform for selling the book through iPad and iBook.
The production tool is supposedly free (provided that I have a Mac, which I do not have). But in fact they are charging me an extremely high price by trying to take full ownership of my work.  I don’t know of any other seller of a production tool using this business model.  Do you?
For the distribution platform I am asked to pay 30 % of the revenue.  This is a fairly common business model for selling goods and services.
So what do I do?
For sure: Although I would love to, I don’t dare to use the new Author App from Apple. I have spent so much time struggling over my manuscript – and I have still weeks to go. There is no way I will risk the right to do whatever I want with my own content just for the right to use a convenient – and I am sure also very elegant – production tool.
So I will look for other ways to make elegant ebooks. It may take me some more hours, and the end-result may not be as perfect. But I will be in control myself. And I will hopefully reach more readers, not only on Apple’s devices.
In the meantime I will not be surprised if Apple provides a “broader” and more author-friendly interpretation of the terms of use.
I think they have to. I am not the only author around.
What is your opinion?
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