Friday, August 24, 2012

Apple and the Status Quo in ePublishing

Bad Apple...

Cupertino, we have a problem. The worst part of it is that it’s preventable. One of two things is happening: either the folks at Apple are dull (not likely) or they’re doing this on purpose. Let’s get right to it: if you want to distribute your eBook content through the iBookstore via Apple, you have to own a Mac. Period. Really.

Okay, maybe there are technically some loopholes—one can always go through one of their recommended third party epub converters, but that takes quality control out of the hands of the average indie publisher. Strike that option then, at least for my company, because I like to be able to control my final product (Apple understandably does not guarantee the quality of work from these guys). Another option that’s a little gray market, and would probably be frowned upon by the Apple cognoscenti, is the idea of borrowing a friend’s Mac in order to shoulder one’s way into the iBookstore. But I don’t like that either, because again, I like to do things in-house and I like to run my business with integrity. So there’s no other way than to just buy a Mac.

And I love Macs. I have one that’s too old to matter and doesn’t work. I want a new one, and I plan on buying one soon. It’s just the principle of the thing. Why, when I have a perfectly awesome epub file on my Windows hard drive, a conversion I have performed personally and carefully, does Apple require that it be uploaded to their eStore through iTunes Producer—an application that’s, you guessed it, Mac only. It’s not even available for iPhone or iPad, at least as far as I could find out (though I recall seeing some faint rumors about an iPad version, but I couldn’t find one). Really, Apple? This kind of eTyranny is something I would have expected from Microsoft, not you—if I didn’t know better. But I’m an iPhone user, and I’ve learned a little about how there are some things We the End User are not permitted to question. Or change. Or customize. It’s officially ridiculous as far as I’m concerned.

My experience? I’m glad you asked. First, I’m a bit stupefied as to why iTunes hasn’t had a name change yet, because, hello, iTunes is more like iMedia or iGateway, at least the way Apple uses it. But anyway if you want to publish your work to the iBookstore, you first must have an iTunes account, which seems a little diversionary. You must give them a credit card too, and when they have that information they will charge you a dollar as a nice little thank you. Wow. Mind you, they don’t give you a heads up about it, they just do it. It’s only a buck, but what the hell. I mean, it’s a buck, you know? Anyway, when you have an iTunes account (oh by the way, in order to set that up you have to download and install iTunes), then you can Google around and try to find the link that directs you to Apple’s application to become an affiliate, whereupon you must fill out some blanks and then wait for Apple to approve you from on high. Once that’s done, you must then give them your contact information, banking information, tax information, and then “request” a contract (which also must be approved) and accept the terms and conditions before moving forward as a publisher. Only then, at the end of about a week of back and forth, do you discover to your dismay that if you’re a Windows-based indie publisher, you’re totally screwed. Why? Because in order to upload your epub files to the iBookstore, you must download and install iTunes Producer, an OSX-only app. So you have to have iTunes and you have to have iTunes Producer and you have to have a Mac. But they disclose none of this up front. I’ve also heard tell, on some forum sites, that after all that nonsense the indie publisher must also run the gauntlet of Apple’s “quality assurance” process (whereupon they vet your work for spurious content, probably), which can take a very long time. One user reported that he had been waiting six weeks for Apple to approve his work, without so much as an email to let him know they were still working on it, they apologize for the delay, yadayada. Hey, Apple. I can upload and my eBooks to Amazon and Barnes & Noble with Web-based software that works on any device, and it goes live usually in less than 24 hours. What’s so hard about that?

I can only conclude that Apple is attempting to force the market to do things it does not want to do, which is a bit like China being communistical and yet enjoying all the benefits of capitalism that they learned from the British back when Hong Kong was still the center of wealth in their world. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? A little too ironic. If I buy a Mac, it won’t be because of this publishing issue. It won’t be because I’ve been forced into it by the iTunes Producer snafu; I won’t permit them to force my hand like that. It will be because I need a professional tool, and because Mac is the gold standard of computing, pure and simple. Unfortunately, the fools in the control room continue to place the Cupertino farm in jeopardy by marginalizing its true potential, attempting to strangle the market into doing unnatural things. I think eventually, and ironically, if Apple is going to be a major player in eBooks (like, ahem, Amazon), they’re going to have to do the exact opposite of what they're doing now and acquiesce to We the End Users and get with the program. Until then, we suffer through mild tyranny because of how frankly excellent the other parts of the biz are. But if Apple had to stake its entire biz on its approach to eBooks, you’d better kiss it goodbye.