On the proprietary nature of the iBooks Author file format

Daniel Glazman, co-chairman of the W3C CSS Working Group, writes of Apple’s new iBooks Author file format:

When a piece of software is so well designed from a UI point of view and could become such an attractor in terms of usage, I feel this is a totally wrong strategy. Opening up everything and using only carefully chosen standards and matching the version of WebKit used by Safari would have given an immense and almost unbeatable competitive advantage to Apple, would have attracted even more people to the Mac platform and would have turned the iBooks Store into the primary online choice of publication for all new books.

Daring Fireballs’ John Gruber writes, “As with the end-user licensing kerfuffle, it’s worth noting that the app’s name is iBooks Author, not eBooks Author. Just because there’s demand for an open-standards-based e-book production and layout tool of the scope and caliber of iBooks Author, doesn’t mean Apple has any interest in making such a tool.”

“If Apple had taken this [ePub] route, the books generated by iBooks Author today wouldn’t have any of the layout features Glazman cited [of ePub],” Gruber writes. “The iBooks format isn’t different just for the sake of being different, it’s different for the sake of being better — not better in the future, after a W3C review period and approval, but better today, in the textbooks you can download and read in iBooks right now.”

Gruber writes, “iBooks still offers full support for the open standard ePub format. So as a loose analogy, I see ePub being as to the new iBooks format as mobile web apps are to native iOS App Store apps — one is an open industry standard fully supported by Apple, the other a closed proprietary platform with superior creation tools and end-user experience, which if you want to use, you must use on Apple’s terms.”

Much more in the full article – recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s iBooks Store has a better chance than most people seem to grasp of becoming the primary online choice of publication for all new books.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]


  1. Funny that Apple doing something to increase the value of one of their products, releasing software that immediately renders other publishing solutions almost redundant, significantly reduces costs to producers and consumers of content whilst NOT hijacking open standards , is universally translated as anti-competitive. When really its just BETTER.
    I mean ….really hilarious.

  2. As usual, there’s a lot of jumping to conclusions (mostly negative) when it comes to folks like Mr. Glazman writing about Apple’s iBooks Author initiative. We in the Apple community and tech world in general are fortunate to have people with knowledge and depth like John Gruber who actually THINK before they write.

    1. I am always amazed at how Apple takes many brilliant people and many months to turn out a great product only to have some ‘tech writer’ take a few hours to tell us all how terrible it is and how they have a much better solution.

      1. How many times, over the last 25 years or so, has a new piece of software hit the market and become ‘The Standard’ or ‘The Best Game Eva’ and it has been Windows only?

        How many times has the software company been vilified for not making a simultaneous release of that software for every other OS in existence?

        Apple hate has no bounds.

  3. The problem fOr the detractors of the closed format is … The students don’t care… The teachers don’t care… The parents don’t care… The aforementioned groups only care that the books are the best they can be,increase student interest and ability to grasp the concepts and is priced affordablly and is easy to acquire. All of those issues Apple had addressed.

    Those in the industry are concerned with protecting their businesses… Something the end users above could not care one bit about .

    Apple has done it again with their simple formula… Appeal to the end user and you win big regardless of the protestations of the “old”guard crying because they have been rendered irrelevant and obsolete. Think buggy whip mfgs with the introduction of the car.

  4. The pundits miss a crucial point Apple is not just the provider of the marketplace (iBooks). It’s also the PUBLISHER. If an author wants Houghton Mifflin or Doubleday to publish their work, the author must understand that he or she cannot also take their work to another publisher, which is essentially the flawed argument of the punditry and the haters that an author in effect should be able to do.

    Wrong answer. Pundits, you just lost your man card.

    Try self-publishing for example: if you look at their terms, you would cringe. And the terms of large publishers are in line with what Applec requires.

    It makes me recall how the digital tifosi (know-it-alls like Gizmodo) essentially declared the iPad DOA at its product launch. And you can see where that went. If Apple is to compete with Amazon with an online book store, it has to be aggressive. Why let authors go there on Apple’s dime?

    Yeah, me too.

    1. @Brian: The fact that Apple is publishing iBooks, those it decides are acceptable for its store, is an EXCELLENT point. It helps explain the EULA. It supports the choice of a proprietary format. It’s going to be an important reason as to whether one bothers with the iBook format or not.

      If I want to publish an iBook with Apple, with its added beneficial capabilities over other options, here are the stipulations and free tools to do so….

      Meanwhile, if I want to take my e- book to other publishers or publishing methods as well, I can stick with the ePub format and its more limited capabilities. And I can STILL sell my book via Apple publishing.

  5. Either there’s a lot of ignorance about the evolution of technology in the tech, education and publications realms, or power brokers see the ominous writing on the wall (as in “ah sh*t, we just missed another wave”). If it’s the latter, FUD will be their predictable approach, similar to their failed, boring attempts to discredit the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

    iBooks Author is definitely a potent indicator of the next big wave in education, especially as more and more students expand their use and appreciation of interactive media. Who better to guide them along this path than Apple?

  6. There is a major flaw in all of the detractor’s thinking and complaining: You can export anything you create in iBooks Author in pdf; which can be converted to other ePub formats and then published with other digital book providers. That doesn’t sound too closed to me. However, if you want it to be fully robust and utilise all of the features within the application (iBooks Author), then you need to publish it through iBooks and iTunes.

    Drawback: you can’t use the application on anything but a Mac computer and test it on an iPad or iPhone. Last time I looked, that’s the same way any development is done with Apple integrated products. However, the buying public can purchase and actively read those products through iTunes Books store from there Mac or (holds breath to prevent urping) PC. As we all know, that created a serious problem with other media sales through the iTunes Store. (note sarcasm)

    I already have three books in the works using iBooks Author. Converting from other formats and am hoping to publish in iTunes Store. I have come to the salient conclusion that iBooks Author is more of a compilation tool rather than a composition tool. It is so easy to use and create dynamic interactive digital books. (By the way, my books are not for the education market. They are for general readership). It would be a real adventure to price my books for $9.99 US and give Apple 30%. That’s a heck of a lot better than going to a major publisher and getting only 7% of the gross revenues. (Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt).

    Oh, topics for my books: Interactive IP (patent, copyright) workbook to self file with your patent office and the WIPO; guidebook on how to go from napkin notes to the marketplace with your idea; and personal experiences with indigenous peoples on six continents (being taught ancient cultural practices by the leaders of the communities by immersion rather than observation).

    To say I am excited about the possibilities is an understatement.


    1. All well and good… if what you are publishing is approved by Apple for sale in the iBookstore.

      Out of curiosity, do you have a backup plan in case they don’t?

      BTW, does it concern you that Apple’s iBook approval process may well be as ambiguous, arbitrary and capricious as their iOS app approval process?

      I realize that for your subject matter it may not be a concern for you, but I know some author/publishers will be very concerned… and not because they write controversial stuff.

      1. I do have alternatives for publishing. However, I like what I see with iBooks Author.

        I have also been a developer with Apple for many years (hardware not software) and have found my experiences very supportive, open, honest and inclusive. Obviously, because of NDAs, I can’t say much more.

        It is funny how so many people are actually getting their apps approved, if Apple is so “ambiguous, arbitrary and capricious as their iOS app approval process”. Why do you think that is happening? Maybe it is the magic unicorn dust that some developers are sprinkling on their apps before submission.


  7. iTunes Author has the creative capacity to produce multi-Gb text books, as observed in the iTunes book store. The 16Gb iPad would get crowded very quickly. Perhaps Apple’s Anobit acquisition will enable a future 32Gb iPad at the current 16Gb price point. Otherwise, iTunes Author will likely drive more 32Gb iPad demand.

  8. Ed Bott commented on this, and I pretty much said the same thing. The goal of the pundentry is to acquire readers. They make a grandios statement, then follow up with rhetoric. They don’t care to be correct, they care to get clicks.

    Bott compared iBooks Author to MS Word or PowerPoint as if Apple’s new product was a document creation tool. In fact iti is a publishing tool that transcends two markets, taking a pre-written roduct and inserting it into a publication conduit. There for it has an EULA equivalent to any major publishing house.

    Ultimately we get to see either how underhanded or dumb these people are.

  9. If you don’t like the terms of *free* iBook Author, then don’t use it to create incomparably great interactive works. But don’t whine about not being able to use Apple’s software and publishing the contents elsewhere, thus cutting Apple out of the deal and also diminishing the benefits of the centralized approach envisioned by Apple.

    Don’t like the terms? Then don’t use it. It is as simple as that.

  10. “Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented.”

    1. Actually, it’s not really unprecedented.

      About a decade ago I was checking applications to use for creating a unique digital publication. One program looked to be exactly what I needed. Flip Album.

      Or rather a particular version of Flip Album. They had four.

      The one that would have been more than sufficient was their low end, inexpensive (but not free) “personal” edition. However, if one wanted to create a commercial product using their software, they required you to use a “professional” version with more features (I didn’t need or want) at a higher price.

      Now… the higher price wasn’t an issue for me. I had 3 Macs and was using InDesign, PS, Illustrator and Acrobat for traditional print publishing. They had no technical or legal way to enforce their requirement, but I didn’t (and still don’t) care to be told what I can or can’t do with software I buy… oh, excuse me, I mean “license”.

      So I didn’t.

  11. If only an open source format or the Acrobat/PDF format could fulfill the needs and intentions of the iBook format. They don’t.

    Apple creates a new format with a new market that benefits everyone, is accessible to everyone, for which everyone can create new content for free and which is editable by everyone (if unlocked with copyright holder permission). Don’t they deserve the right to keep it a proprietary format? Who exactly is losing out by Apple keeping it a proprietary format except Apple business competitors?

    Yeah, it would be great if every developer survived on air alone, didn’t have any human needs, and could spend all day developing free open source software. That’s obviously not realistic.

    And yes, Apple does create, sponsor, support and contribute to open source software. Apple’s website lists over 300 open source projects with which it is involved.

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