Apple dropped an educational bombshell last week by announcing a new venture into the textbook market. Besides providing separate iTunesU access for course materials (more on this next week), the announcement included the release of iBooks Author, a free app for creating eTextbooks right on your Mac laptop or desktop computer. With the iBooks Author app, textbook writers can bring multimedia right into their book to help bring the content to life. An author can pull videos, podcasts, images and other media alongside their writing, allowing students to interact with the content as they read. This type of publication is really not new. People have been using Mac’s word processing program Pages to create ePubs for years. The downside, however, is that the ePub formatting in Pages could be a little daunting. iBooks Author simplifies the process tremendously. Just drag and drop different chapters and sections and paste your content in. Want to add a video? Just drag it in. Want to link to a webpage? Piece of cake. The best part is being able to preview your efforts on your iPad as you work. Once you’re finished writing and editing your book, simply publish it to the iTunesU site where users can purchase and download your text.
While the authoring process has been streamlined, some challenges and concerns emerge. First off, I experienced a little trouble previewing my eTextbook on my iPad 2 because I hadn’t updated my iBooks version. Also, the file (only about 25 pages with a few short videos) became so large that I couldn’t easily share it with anyone else. Coming in at 125 Mb, the file locked up my email and even crashed my DropBox! The only way that I could actually preview the book was to connect my iPad to my computer with a cable. At first, I thought this was just the nature of ePub. With all of the multimedia included in eBooks, the files were bound to get large. But as I’ve thought about this some more, I wonder whether this challenge is by design. The real motivation is to get authors to share their eBooks (or iBooks) through Apple’s iBookstore. I’m certain sharing the file through their system would be much easier.
But that’s where my other concerns emerge. I’ve been reading a lot about the iBooks Author’s End Users Licensing Agreement (EULA). The EULA governs what authors can and can’t do with the content they’ve written with the iBooks Author app and what they’ve uploaded to the iBookstore. Some authors are concerned that the EULA is overly restrictive, forbidding them from selling their iBook publications through any other service. Others are interpreting the EULA as restricting any content that is authored using the iBooks Author app, whether it is uploaded onto the iBookstore or not. This is pretty far reaching stuff. Imagine if Microsoft claimed some ownership documents produced with Word or presentation created with PowerPoint! That’s how some people are interpreting the EULA for the iBooks Author app. Personally, I’m holding off publishing my book to the iBookstore until more clarity emerges regarding the EULA.
To read a more comprehensive overview of the EULA concerns, check out: