There has been a lot of talk lately about how dedicated Apple is to its professional users, the ones who use Apple hardware and software to make their livings.
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In a conference room tucked away in a library on the campus of Vanderbilt University, I spent a morning surrounded by professional Apple users who earn their living with one piece of Apple software: iBooks Author.
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Authors who choose iBooks Author do so because it’s free and it’s flexible, but the other reason I heard repeatedly was that it’s the “best in class.” iBooks Author can do things that no other publishing tool can do, making it easy to create multi-touch, multimedia-intensive experiences. Metrock said he is asked once a week about a Windows equivalent of iBooks Author. “It doesn’t exist,” he says.
Jason LaMar, an Apple Distinguished Educator and author of “Ohio: Pathway to the Presidency” mentioned that Apple hates the name iBooks Author because it undersells what the app can actually do. It’s the closest thing Apple has to a modern-day reincarnation of HyperCard, and it even has a built-in publishing conduit to the iBooks Store and a reading app, iBooks, that’s bundled with hundreds of millions of devices running iOS and macOS.
That might sound like a ticket to publishing fortune, but it’s sadly not the case. Denise Clifton of Tandemvines Publishing, who worked on the investigative reporting book “An Air That Still Kills,” said that the iBooks Author version was the best and most advanced, but sold fewer copies than any other.
Even giving an iBooks Author book away for free isn’t enough. Despite the fact that Jason LaMar’s book was promoted by Ohio’s Secretary of State, was recommended to every school superintendent in the state, and is the top education book in the iBooks Store, only 3000 copies have been downloaded from the iBooks Store.
It’s no secret that Apple doesn’t pay much attention to iBooks Author.
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iBooks Author was one of Steve Jobs’s final initiatives, and he had ambitions to conquer the textbook market, as detailed in Walter Isaacson’s biography, “Steve Jobs.”
“The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt. But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money,” Jobs told Isaacson.
It wasn’t until after Jobs’s death that Apple launched iBooks Author (see “Apple Goes Back to School with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U,” 19 January 2012), but even so, it was a revelation to publishers, seemingly poised to change the industry. Michael Cohen’s “Why iBooks Author is a Big Deal” (21 January 2012) is a perfect encapsulation of that early optimism. Even initial concerns were optimistic because Michael was afraid Apple was about to take over publishing!
But as we now know, that didn’t happen. So what did?
Metrock and many others cite the 2013 antitrust ruling against Apple as the event that killed Apple’s enthusiasm for publishing. It was both expensive and led to years of cumbersome antitrust monitoring. If you want to understand the legalities there, you won’t find a better explanation than Adam Engst’s “Explaining the Apple Ebook Price Fixing Suit” (10 July 2013).
“Most people think it took Apple’s appetite away for innovating in the digital book space,” Metrock said.
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Metrock suggests that no one at Apple has the heart to kill it because it’s one of Jobs’s final legacies. “If this weren’t Apple’s, it would have been killed,” Metrock added.
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Apple seems content to let the entire iBooks Author ecosystem stagnate. Metrock highlighted how Apple remodeled the iOS App Store for iOS 11 while the iBooks Store remains unchanged, with poor discoverability. “If you’re a small or medium-size publisher counting on revenue, the iBooks Store is not for you, unless you can get on the front page, but good luck with that,” Metrock said.
Link to the rest at Tidbits and thanks to Dave for the tip.
PG will reiterate his prior opinion from the time of the original antitrust litigation – Apple and its five co-conspirator publishers, the Price-Fix Six, were incredibly stupid in their illegal behavior which, at a minimum, should have raised a forest of red flags for managers and their attorneys.
From an antitrust legal perspective, the verdict of the trial court was pretty much a foregone conclusion. None of the participants were in the least bit intelligent in their actions. Many other price-fixing conspiracies have done a far better job at structuring and concealing activities in a way designed to avoid adverse legal consequences. Some of the intelligent conspiracies have been successful and others have not, but the Apple/Big Publisher conspiracy was doomed from the start.