Apple officially unveiled iBooks this week. Apple also announced a free tool to make these books called iBooks Author, which is available now. The free iBooks Author program is available in the iTunes App Store. The books can be distributed free or at a cost of up to $14.99 each.

Apple’s new digital books feature a much more rich and interactive components than existing, consumer-focused e-books. You can include photos of course, but you can also include galleries, pages with video, rich 3D graphics, multitouch support, HTML support, thumbnail-based navigation and more.

To see a free video demo of how the new author application works, check out this iBooks Author video by Apple.  There are several templates to choose from. You can make your own and you can already buy third-party iBook templates at I expect others to follow suit very, very soon.

To make an iBook, you simply drag and drop the content into the iBook software and then click a button to publish. Currently, your choices are to publish to a PDF – which anyone can read, or you can publish for the iPad. There are approximately 30-40 million iPads in use right now and that market is expected to grow at least 20% in the next year. This means tens of millions of people will have access to your content.

Using this application, you are in effect the author and Apple is the publisher. As with any publishing agreement you have to agree to things like exclusivity, and Apple gets a 30% cut.

Of course, the Apple haters are up in arms about this announcement. They don’t like the exclusivity agreement or the fact that Apple gets a cut. It’s unreasonable – as well as just plain stupid – to assume that Apple would spend years and tons of money developing, distributing, advertising, and eventually operating the iBook Store – and then not plan to generate revenue from it. A 70-30 split is a great deal for the authors. If you have ever seen a traditional book deal, you know know that exclusivity is ALWAYS required and authors make a much smaller percentage than 70%.

I should also mention that the usual anti-Apple trolls are spreading all sorts of misinformation about this new platform. Let me debunk a few of the more prominent falsehoods I’ve seen on the Interwebs.

First – Apple doesn’t claim any Copyright over your work nor does using their tool impact your intellectual property rights. Anyone claiming otherwise is dead wrong. Additionally, if you decide to give away the books you make with this software free of charge, you can do so anywhere, any way and in any format you like without involving Apple in any way. Period. You give Apple nothing – you give up nothing – Apple has no control. Again, claims to the contrary are utterly false.

The licensing agreement associated with this product is not unusual nor nefarious. My own book deal with Random House for Going Pro: How to Make the Leap from Aspiring to Professional Photographer serves as a great example. My new book with my pal Skip Cohen costs around $18 on Amazon. The cover price is $29.99. I get a whopping $1.00 for each book sold. My math is rusty but I am pretty sure that’s a whole great big bunch less than the 70% I’d get to keep under the terms of the iBook deal. It took 22 months from the first conversation we had with Random House until “GoingPro” was in stores. The publisher took about a year to edit, design and print the book. I had no control over that process once the manuscript was submitted. When I publish with iBooks I will have complete creative control and the book can be done and published in the same day.

Apple has legitimate business reasons for setting up the program the way they did and they don’t need to apologize for them. But there are also good technology reasons for the decision to close the system. By keeping the system closed, they reduce the chances for piracy, viruses, malware and poor execution on lesser third-party platforms – things for which Apple would be certainly be blamed even if it wasn’t their fault and even if it was out of their control.

If you can look past the misinformation, and think about this new opportunity with an open mind, I think you’ll be as excited about it as I am. I am publishing all my future books using this platform. Unless I decide to do a big picture coffee table book as a piece of art, I’m done with printed books. They are slow and expensive to produce. They cost a lot to ship, take up lots of room, are hard on the environment, and are published by an industry that’s stuck in the dark ages. Traditional book deals make everyone but the author money. It’s time that creatives got paid what they are worth. The iBook platform makes that possible. And there’s more…

If you call the offices of Random House (or any big publisher in New York) and try to pitch your next photo how-to book or picture book or photo essay or whatever, you’ll have about a one in one million chance of getting anywhere. But with iBooks, unless you violate the clearly spelled-out terms of service, there’s no worry about getting past the gatekeeper. You can publish your book – your way and if you want – do it in one day. You don’t need a publishing house’s approval. You don’t have to wait on their editorial and marketing staffs to get off their butts and get your book in stores. You have a built-in market of tens of millions of people with access through iTunes (which runs on 95% of computers worldwide) to sell and/or share your books. You have a legitimate, respected, trusted and proven e-commerce solution from Apple to collect the money and the opportunity to get exposure through their site if your book is good enough.

The opportunities for photographers to share, educate, enrich, enlighten and entertain here are endless. Young people who have grown up in media-rich environments will no doubt think of new ways to use this technology to make even more fantastic productions. I’m glad it’s available to me and to you and I’ll share the results of my first attempt right here on Photofocus.


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