By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
With the launch of iBooks Author, a new e-book creation and self-publishing tool, Apple is challenging e-book sales market-leader Amazon at its own game.
Buried in the fine print of the licensing agreement for users of iBooks Author is a clause that stipulates that books produced using the free software can only be sold on iBooks, essentially creating a walled garden similar to what Amazon offers Kindle owners with its KDP Select program.
“These e-book distributors are setting themselves up as barbed-wire gardens now,” said Matt Cavnar, head of acquisitions at New York-based Vook, a cloud-based e-publishing platform that offers many of the same book production tools as iBooks Author. “You can’t get in or out when you create something there.”
Authors who participate in the KDP Select can sell their books only through Amazon for an “exclusivity” period and in return are able to participate in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which is another source of revenue and marketing. Amazon says that KDP Select authors are growing their sales faster than other Kindle Direct Publishing authors.
While Amazon entices authors by giving them access to its powerful sales and marketing machine, Apple may hope to attract content creators by giving them a tool that even someone with a simple understanding of layouts can use to create complicated, feature-rich books. Apple did not respond to requests for comment before press time.
“For Apple, it’s another service to drive hardware sales. For Amazon, it’s to drive commerce – books or memberships,” said Tony van Veen, CEO of AVL Digital Group, parent company of BookBaby, a Portland, Oreg.-based independent e-book formatting and distribution firm. (Disclosure: Van Veen is speaking on a panel moderated by the author at next week’s Digital Book World conference in New York.)
The question for Apple is why would a content creator choose to use iBooks Author over any other tool if they are forced to sell their wares only through iBooks?
“You have to create on an Apple machine. You have to sell only via Apple’s iBookstore. You can only sell these e-books to iOS readers because Apple hasn’t bothered to create apps that would facilitate reading on Android/PC/Web or anything other than iOS devices. Why would I bother with this if I was a self publishing author who can access [the] iBooks store through other channels?” said Eoin Purcell, an Ireland-based book publishing analyst.
What Apple is attempting to do with free software and limited distribution is bound to fail, said Bill McCoy, executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), a global trade and standards organization for the promotion of electronic publishing. The IDPF developed the EPUB 3 e-book file format that iBooks Author seems to adhere to when it creates an e-book file.
“To limit the distribution of an EPUB file to only Apple’s channel would be the equivalent of Google saying that you can only use the HTML created with Google Docs on the [Google] Chrome browser,” said McCoy.
Only time will tell if Apple is successful at attracting authors who are willing to trade distribution freedom for an easy-to-use e-book creation tool. What is becoming clearer, however, is that authors are to booksellers today as app developers were to mobile software platforms several years ago.
Soon, consumers may have to decide whether they want to house their libraries in a cloud with J.A. Konrath, a popular KDP Select author, and Amazon’s lending library or if they want to have access to flashy content created on Apple’s new tool.
Write to Jeremy Greenfield
Don’t miss out on the buzz about the new Apple iBooks store and Author tools at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo in New York City from January 23 to 25.