Ventura County Computers masthead

Apple's Textbook Grab

Three recent (January 21, 2012) articles regarding Apple have me scratching my head. The first is that Apple has signed agreements with three textbook publishers to sell iPad textbooks. The second is the news that Apple has announced they are attempting to unify the online databases of textbooks and are giving their iBooks 2 app away for free so textbook authors can publish their books online and be included in the textbook database. Sounds great until you read the third article, Ed Bott's column about the license agreement that goes along with the iBooks app.

According to Bott, the following gem is included in the license agreement:

"(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."

Translation: If you use the software to create a work, you may ONLY distribute the work through Apple, and Apple can decide not to make your work publicly available and you are out of luck. You can only sell the work through Apple and they aren't selling it. You have no recourse. Ed Bott is the author of many excellent books and a long-time commentator on the industry. He concludes:

"I’ve spent years reading end user license agreements, EULAs, looking for little gotchas or just trying to figure out what the agreement allows and doesn't allow.

"I have never seen a EULA as mind-bogglingly greedy and evil as Apple's EULA for its new ebook authoring program."

Several years ago, Google began scanning a huge number of out-of-print books. When publishers attacked the plan in court, Google signed an agreement to make only snippets available online so search engines could find them. Google signed agreements with several publishers that would allow them to sell the books in electronic form for a 33% fee. The remainder remitted to the publisher. For orphaned books, where the publisher was no longer in business Google could sell the electronic books but all the money collected would be held in a trust until the rights holders could be sorted out.

Last summer the court rejected this agreement between Google and the publishers because it went too far and gave Google an unfair advantage over competitors.

So, it is unfair that Google, at their own cost, scanned books that were no longer available in paper form, reached an agreement with some publishers to sell those in electronic form and then would hold in trust all monies from the sale of orphaned books until agreements could be reached with the rights holders. But it is perfectly fair if Apple makes agreements with publishers that lock them into selling currently published textbooks through Apple exclusively, and in a format aimed at Apple's hardware. And it is fair to give away software where the license gives Apple the exclusive license to the content created with the software and if they don't want to sell the creation, you are out of luck.

Why can't the textbooks be published in EPUB or other open format that can be read, and more importantly, sold by any vendor and let the vendors compete? Why is it necessary to allow one digital vendor lock up an entire industry? And hopefully, no one will use Apple's software with its evil EULA.

At one time, Microsoft was regarded as "the evil empire" attempting to control the entire computer industry. Apple is going Microsoft one better: they want to control not only the market for the device you read information on, but also to control the market for the content to your device. But image is everything. Apple is cool and Microsoft is still uncool.