ibooks author distribution

Yesterday, Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels and Bartending fame announced a new publication called System Extension.

I’m happy to announce System Extension, the new monthly magazine companion to 512 Pixels. System Extension includes bonus content, an inside look at what I do here on the site, tips, tricks and more.

This initial edition is free to everyone, with future versions being reserved just for members.

His plan for distribution was to ship in the .ibooks format that runs natively in iBooks on the iPad. This first edition is excellent, and it reiterates the great potential of iBooks Author as a content creation tool. If you have an iPad and haven’t checked it out yet, you really should. The experience is more fluid and engaging than nearly all of the magazine content I’ve looked at in Newsstand.

Unfortunately he ran into a problem with Apple’s terms that he outlined on his site today. It boils down to the following restriction:

Can I distribute works created with iBooks Author as part of a product or service that charges a subscription-based fee?

Yes. If the work is provided in a format other than the .ibooks format (such as PDF or ePub), you may distribute such works as part of a subscription-based product or service outside of the iBookstore.

This is a rule many of us came across when iBooks Author was getting its first critical look after launching. But at the time, we hadn’t seen the tool generate any relevant content yet to put things into context. There are two main issues I have with this rule:

Firstly, it seems to be practically unenforceable. If you are the author of the document, you have agreed to the Terms of Service set forth by iBooks Author, but how can a recipient of the file be obligated to terms they’ve never agreed upon? If a free copy of this file were distributed to someone (as allowed by the terms), what prevents that person from selling access to the file directly, or as part of a subscription. I’m not aware of any file format that has ever made an attempt at such a restriction, and I can’t imagine a sound way for Apple to enforce it without limiting .ibooks files to only loading directly from the iBookstore.

Secondly, this rule does little to help Apple. Apple isn’t losing any money from someone who wants to distribute these files independently on a subscription basis. Apple would neither host these files or manage the subscription, and in fact, they don’t even offer a legitimate way to do so. There is no method for processing subscription payments through the iBookstore with .ibooks files as the objects of delivery. Newsstand offers apps for sale with periodical content, but they’re still apps, which require a much higher investment for a content creator to build and maintain. Perhaps Apple would be okay with an app that delivered iBooks content periodically through In-App Subscriptions, but that’s a lot of overhead for someone to manage, just to pass out some files.

As it stands, Stephen might be stuck shipping a lesser product (.pdf versus .ibooks) for a rule that provides little value to anyone. If you still haven’t read the first edition of System Extension, go download it now and take a look. Compare it to your experience with other magazine content on the iPad, and see if you don’t find it favorable.

Maybe it is Apple’s plan to offer hosting for subscriptions to this type of content eventually, but that would seemingly conflict with Newsstand. If they aren’t, they have nothing to gain by enforcing this rule, and very little to lose by eliminating it. How can having great periodical content out there, only available on iPad, hurt their bottom line?

July 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm

@skoda on App.net @technochocolate on App.net