A writer's EULA

This week Apple announced their new Author tool which is designed to make it easy for you to write books for the iBookstore.

The tool is free to everyone and apparently – at least from the tweets and the blogs that I’ve read – Apple has done a horrible thing.

What has everyone up in arms is their EULA which specifies that if you are going to sell the book that you produce using Apple’s free tool then you are restricted to doing so through Apple. Essentially, this tool is only intended to help you write books for Apple’s iBookstore.

The folks complaining are looking at Author as standalone software. It’s not.

It’s very easy at an Apple event to have your eye on the wrong thing.

I remember the iPad debut where Steve Jobs sat in a chair and browsed the web for a very long time. The big screen behind Jobs showed a feed from the iPad so we could all see what he was seeing. It seemed like a boring demo as he showed us that the web looked pretty much like the web always looks even on this new device.

But the thing many people missed was Jobs himself. The point of the iPad wasn’t what the iPad was displaying web content it was watching Jobs sitting comfortably in a chair immersed in the web as he reached out and touched it. The demo was of our relationship with this new device and that was exactly what Apple changed with the introduction of the iPad.

Similarly, this week. The point of the demos at the Guggenheim was not iBooks 2 or the new Author app or even iTunes U. The point was that Apple, like Amazon, is taking over the role of the publisher for many of us.

When an author signs to write a book for the Pragmatic Programmers or for O’Reilly or for Pearson or any publisher they get some help from that publisher. The publisher provides them with tools and support people. Many of the things that publishers used to do, they do less and less of. For the last three books I wrote I was responsible for doing the bulk of the visual layout. I was responsible for doing the indexing in one and splitting the cost of the indexer for the other two.

The publisher gave me editorial guidance and distributed the book.

That first point should not be understated. On my Cocoa book, Dave’s feedback made it a much better book. He suggested structural changes and code level changes that resulted in the best book I’ve written to date. On the other two books I received no editorial feedback beyond copy edits.

The second point is what publishers mainly do for authors these days. They take what the authors write and produce a print book that they get on shelves and in Amazon. They also take what the authors write, and produce a digital book which they sell on their web sites, integrate in a subscription service like Pearson and O’Reilly’s Safari, and they may distribute it to Amazon’s Kindle bookstore and Apple’s iBookstore.

So what Apple said last week is that they have a plan for helping with the second point. It will still be up to us to provide great content. In fact, they were careful to refer to the traditional publishers as content providers.

So if Apple, like Amazon, has their sites on moving from being a channel to being a publisher what do they need to do?

They need to provide authors with the tools for easily providing properly formatted books for their brand.

That’s what Author does.

When I wrote books for Pragmatic Programmers, O’Reilly, and Pearson I wasn’t free to take the book I’d written for them to another publisher. I wasn’t free to use their tools to produce books for other publishers or to self publish. In fact, if I decided I didn’t want to complete a book I’d contracted for them then they could at their whim assign the book and whatever share of the payment they felt appropriate to another author. In addition, if I did finish the book they had the right to not publish it.

Look at the Author EULA in the light of a publisher’s agreement.

It’s pretty generous. This is a tool that Apple gives you for producing books to sell through Apple. Perhaps they’ll change that in the future but that’s the agreement for now.

In addition, if you want to give your book away you can use Apple’s tools to produce a book that you distribute any way you want. I don’t have those rights when I write for any other publisher.

Author is not a standalone piece of software. It’s part of a publishing strategy.

Actually, I’ve been a little casual with the name. Folks are calling the software “Author” but its real name is “iBooks Author”. That kind of sums it up. This is software designed to help you author books for iBooks.

The channel aspect does worry me a bit. I’d like my books to get as wide a distribution as possible.

On the other hand, the work is my own. I’ve been told by a publisher that they want a second edition of one of my books. Their conditions on me are that I drop this series of ebooks I’m working on because it might compete with the title. When I said no they responded that that’s ok they’ll just get someone else to revise my book.

My book.

It’s not really mine. Even though the copyright is in my name, that turns out not to mean very much.

So am I bothered by the iBooks Author EULA? No. But maybe that’s because I’ve been signing contracts with traditional publishers for so long.

I’m fairly certain the terms of iBooks Author will change. But, whether it does or doesn’t change, I’m very excited about the future.