Apple Shines with iBooks Author

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

iBooks Author is fantastic.

Really.

There, I’ve said it.

I know. There’s been all sorts of criticism in the wake of Apple’s iBooks and iTunes U announcements last week: iBooks is not going to revolutionize the textbook industry. Print is not going away any time soon. Most schools can’t afford to get iPads for everyone. Apple is using a proprietary format when it should be supporting an open epub standard. And, of course, there’s that EULA for iBooks Author that says you can’t sell a work created with Author except at Apple’s iBookstore (more on this in a bit).

All of these criticisms have at least some merit. But the positive side of the ledger still wins the day for me. So what if iBooks Author doesn’t spell the end of printed textbooks by next week? Textbooks on iPads and other tablet devices are the future. No doubt. Over the next decade or so, the grim reaper will knock on the door of printed textbooks. With iBooks Author and the revamped iTunes U, Apple has taken a significant step in the right direction. They offer valuable opportunities, ones that did not exist before. This is a good thing overall.

A brief aside…

My first experience with self-publishing a book dates back to 1987. I wrote a strategy guide for the game of Othello, called Othello: Brief & Basic. I did the layout with Ready, Set, Go, a desktop publishing program popular at the time. I created the diagrams with MacPaint. I printed the final result on an Apple LaserWriter. I then took the master copy to a local print shop to have bound copies made.

When I at last picked up the copies, I marveled at the result (I recently made a PDF of the book available; back in 1987 PDFs didn’t exist). With no page layout skills, no typesetting experience and no professional publishing hardware, I had produced a professional-looking book in a matter of weeks. Well, maybe not quite professional-looking, but close. This was one of the big things that totally sold me on the Macintosh. There was no other computer system, not the Apple II and certainly not anything running MS-DOS, that would have allowed me to come close to achieving this result back then.

Othello book PDF image

A sample page from the 1987 version of Othello: Brief & Basic

Ups…

When I first began playing with iBooks Author, my reaction reminded me of those days back in 1987. As an experiment, I copied the text from Brief & Basic and poured it into iBooks Author. It filled in exactly as promised. I next began copying and pasting the diagrams. All went smoothly. Within a couple of hours, I had a rough layout of the entire book as an Author document.

At its core, iBooks Author is Apple’s Pages app with unique ebook features added. As such, if you are familiar with Pages, the learning curve for Author is like five minutes.

There were a few instances were things could have gone better. I especially would have appreciated a “split” command – something that would allow to divide the text at a selected point and create a new chapter (or section) at the split point. Regardless, if I get so inclined, I could have my book ready to submit to the iBookstore within a week or so. Before doing this, I would want to spruce up the book a bit, such as embedding Keynote slideshows to demonstrate sequences of moves. Again, this is incredibly easy to do and would give the book a clear 2012 feel.

Othello Book iBook

A sample page from the iBooks Author version of Othello; Brief & Basic

Until iBooks Author came out, I would have never considered redoing Brief & Basic — or any other self-published book. There just wasn’t a tool available that made it easy enough for me to want to bother. Now there is. And it’s gotten me to thinking about several possible projects. Other authors have already begun to jump on the bandwagon. That’s the beauty of iBooks Author. It is truly digital textbook creation for “the rest of us.”

…and Downs

Despite my unbridled enthusiasm, I have a few concerns about iBooks Author.

First, if Author winds up as successful as I believe it will be, it will mean an explosion of self-published textbooks. That’s the idea of course. My concern here is about quality. Self-published books typically forgo the essential editing that you get when working with a traditional print publisher. You have a copy editor (a good one can turn a confused tangle of words into a beacon of clarity). You have a technical editor (checking for accuracy and saving you from possible humiliation). And you have a proofreader (checking for typos and grammatical errors). Plus, you have the whole editorial process that (ideally) winnows poor book ideas before they even get off the ground. With self-published books, all of this gets thrown out the window.

It’s still not clear to me what criteria Apple will use to determine what gets accepted into the iBookstore. Will they accept pornography, racist material, books claiming a factual basis for Creationism? Where, if anywhere, will the line be drawn? We don’t know yet. Regardless, it’s almost certain Apple won’t be rejecting books simply because they are poorly edited.

The rejoinder is that this is not much different than the situation with journalism. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can start a blog (sometimes it seems they all have). “Self-published” personal blogs compete for attention with the output from the New York Times and Time magazine. The upside is that we have seen an explosion of talent that we would have never known about if all of our journalism was restricted to print media. The downside is that we have seen an explosion of lack of talent that we would all be better off without. Separating the wheat from the chaff is not always easy to do.

For the most part, these personal blogs completely bypass any editorial/editing process. Many have decried this situation as the death of journalism, yet we somehow manage to survive, even thrive, under these new rules.

I imagine the same will turn out to be true for self-published books. Traditional publishers will offer their edited versions of ebooks. You can stick with them if you want to know that your book purchase has been vetted. Otherwise, out on the frontier, you’ll have other choices. Many more. Some good. Many not so good.

My second concern is the aforementioned EULA, the prohibition against selling your iBooks Author output anywhere other than the iBookstore. It feels wrong to me. In the end, I believe it will turn out wrong for Apple. As John Martellaro said: “Apple is thinking small, not big.” With a less-restrictive EULA, Apple could well wind up making less money from the iBookstore, but compensate for this by selling many more Macs and iPads than they otherwise would. They could emerge as the dominant player in the epublishing market. Now, I’m not so confident.

Beyond that, I remain uncomfortable with a restriction on what an author can do with a PDF file (a format that Apple did not create and is an Export option from Author) simply because it was created using a free tool supplied by Apple. It’s a subtle distinction, but if Apple had designed iBooks Author so that the only thing you could physically do (as opposed to legally do) with the output was submit it to the iBookstore, I’d be okay with that. I’m even okay with Apple saying that you cannot sell the Author format version of the book in other places. But, at least to me, to prohibit sale of a PDF file is a bit like Cuisinart saying the only place you can sell food created with their processors is in Cusinart-approved retail stores. It wouldn’t fly. And it shouldn’t fly for Apple either.

[Update: February 6: Apple recently modified and clarified the iBooks Author EULA. Apple will not restrict distribution or sale of PDFs derived from iBooks Author. Restrictions only apply to files in the .ibooks format.]

I understand that Author is a special-case app (Apple places no similar restrictions on Pages, for example). And I understand that Author is free (although I don’t see how that makes a difference in principle). No matter. I still believe this is a wrong-headed policy. It will be interesting to see what happens if and when authors begin challenging the EULA. Will Apple be forced to back down? Or will they double down and sue?

But these are concerns for the future. For today, my impression of iBooks Author remains glowing. I consider Apple’s announcements last week to be version 1.0 of their move into epublishing. It’s definitely where they should be heading. I welcome it. I can’t wait to see what’s coming in 2.0.

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15 Comments Leave Your Own

Kile Ozier

It’ll be interesting to see how this actually unfolds; to what extent and how quickly textbooks proliferate and what standards of quality evolve… Meanwhile, speaking of copy editors, I think you may mean that Apple could “...emerge as the dominant player…” rather than “...emerge as the dominate player…” n’est pas?

KO

Ted Landau

n?est pas?

Indeed. Damn copy editor. He’s fired. smile

dhp

Except it is not “n’est pas.” It is “n’est-ce pas,” n’est-ce pas?

The Schwartz

What I am curious about are the classic books no longer covered by copyright laws. The Gutenberg project claims they have 38,000 books available for download and that their affiliates have another 100,000.

If Apple really wants to garner some serious goodwill they might consider a deal with the project to convert their holding into iBook form and sell them for a very nominal fee—like one dollar. With $0.70 to the project for the purpose of digitizing more public domain literature.

A person could then accumulate a very large library for very little money. 

I don’t know the law for a distribution effort like this, but it’s a thought.


S.

Dorje Sylas

Forget publishing for money. This has some crazy possibilities as an actual teaching tool, meaning students using iBooks Author not just their teacher’s making course materials.

The Portrait and Landscape modes offer two immediate ways to format the same information. K-12 (okay lets keep it a high school) students love to play around with formatting but it almost always ends up being a distraction for the actual project. Portrait mode doesn’t allow it’s pure text to be disrupted by inserts or odd formatting. After a teacher approves the “dry” work a student can switch to Landscape and go nuts with supporting content. Given some of the other tools that are available and already used in classrooms (every make a powerpoint/keynote or podcast based around a report?) all of that can be dumped into the final iBook. It neatly warps up the whole “extra” content back into the final report, which is something that is expected at a college level.

I agree with Ted, there are problems as he mentioned and more (citations, math formulas, social/inter-device connections, etc), but it feels so good. Like recreational narcotics. It’s just so good you can’t stop liking it.

As an aside, Common Core, the new almost nation wide standards for K-12 eduction have a focus on manipulables as part of the eduction process. iBooks (and ePub 3) embeds those right into the “book”. Students will always have access to example manipulables where they may not have access to physical ones 24/7. It also deals with the criticism of not getting such manipulables linked back to the concepts because it’s embedded right along side and inside the formulas and text based procedures we (those of us already done with school) all grew up on.

mtelesha

Still hate the fact that it is placing education behind a wall. How is this different then our present issues with Academic Journals behind paid walls when the content is produced with public funds?????

Education needs to be more open not more “user friendly” where it benefits one company more then others?

ibuck

I’m curious how much work it was to take the capabilities of Pages and make it into iBooks Author, excluding the parts that restrict the output.

But even without that info, I’d like to see Apple remove the restrictions and sell iBooks Author 2.0 for $200. With an educational discount that makes the price $1 for teachers (and possibly students).

dauphin

Ah, Ready-Set-Go: the poor man’s PageMaker. I remember it well. I, too, am very excited about the potential for Author to be a tool for creating nice-looking publications. I feel I’ve got books inside me that I might take a crack at writing. And that’s just what you are rightly worried about: an inevitable glut of haphazard productions from well-meaning amateurs. A 1-5 star rating system won’t adequately inform a potential purchaser about what they might be getting.

Thanks for making your Othello primer available. I remember the day that a famous professor of mathematics from Yale came by the house and played me a game. Presently, I had no moves and never played the game again; I was 6. Maybe I’ll find one on eBay and teach my kids how to play, armed with your PDF (which I notice makes a hash out of your title page, moth-eating your name and title.)

mlanger

Ted: First of all, thanks for the plug. I’m working hard on my iBooks Author book and hope to get it out by the end of the weekend. (I was SUPPOSED to go on vacation this week!) I also have many plans in the work for publishing and republishing other books using iBooks Author.

As usual, you’ve approached this topic with a level head and logic. I’m really tired of reading blog posts and articles that scream FIRE! about the EULA and Apple’s “evil” intentions. I agree that there’s something stinky in that EULA, although I’m not nearly as concerned as others are. I blogged a response to some of the criticisms and I won’t repeat them here. (If anyone is interested, they can be found at http://www.aneclecticmind.com/2012/01/23/ibooks-author-and-apples-evil-eula/.) I think you succinctly summed up my feeling when you said “it feels wrong.” It does. But since the output can only be read on iBooks 2, it’s kind of silly to dwell on it. After all, where else would you successfully market it to iBook users?

Like you, I’m very worried about the explosion of material that will be available as self-publishing continues to grow. (I don’t, however, think iBooks Author figures into this very much because (1) it has a limited market for readers and (2) it’s still easier for self-publishers to get their books on Kindle, which doesn’t require ISBNs and has no real vetting process. Instead, I think self-publishing is already on the upswing and will continue to grow exponentially. But I digress.) I foresee a steady decrease in the average quality of books, along with a decrease in pricing (and author compensation) that’s likely to make it impossible for “real” authors (like you and me) to earn a living. Basically, it’s what we’re seeing in journalism. Further, I fear that without accurate, well-written texts, reading and writing skills among Americans (and others) will decline even further beyond their current levels. After all, I learned to write by reading and just about everything I read was meticulously edited before publication. (Perhaps I shouldn’t worry so much about authors—it’ll be the editors who will soon be out of work.)

As for the PDF you can create from iBooks Author—I can’t see any real value in that other than as a proofing tool or a way to share content in a universally readable format with others. If I planned to sell a PDF, I would not create it in iBooks Author. iBook’s Author’s strengths are in its ability to include multimedia content that enhances the reader (and learning) experience and sets the book apart from the competition.

Thanks for this great post, Ted. As usual, you nailed it.

Adria

Hi there,

My name is Adria and I am co-founder and Art Director of Creative Blacktie, a graphic design studio located in the deep woods near Barcelona. Last week appeared iBooks Author, Apple’s new tool to create digital books on the iPad. We saw the opportunity to build our portfolio as a book in the iBookstore and a good opportunity to start testing this new tool.

There are many possibilities beyond textbooks or educational in iBookstore and as designers we see endless possibilities in the tool iBooks Author, including a new media to present your portfolio and send share it! We think it may be interesting to share this experience with you and other people who want to make new stuff and applicate new ideas with this tool

Here is our portfolio link: http://itunes.apple.com/es/book/blacktie-portfolio/id497246614?mt=11

Forrest Tanaka

Thank you for one of the few non-hysterical (and I don?t mean ha-ha) discussions of iBooks Author. Reading over the EULA myself, I don’t see anything that even feels wrong with it. As far as I can tell, I can publish my content to iBooks Author as a paid book, then take the same content and lay it out in something like InDesign just as I?ve always done, then sell that elsewhere. I see nothing at all wrong with that. I don?t see anything in the EULA saying that Apple lays claim to your content?s copyright.

ibuck

By now, I was hoping a lawyer (Nemo?) would weigh in on whether the iBooks Author EULA covered only output formats, or content created with that software as well. While I haven’t studied the EULA, I find it rather hard to believe that Apple wanted to own/restrict an author’s content (ideas, text, graphics, photos, movies, etc).

Ted Landau

I believe it’s pretty clear that Apple is not claiming any rights to the content itself. If you want to take the content from an iBooks Author document and lay it all out again in some different app (such as In Design), you are free to do so.

The prohibition is against selling an iBooks Author document, or a document generated from iBooks Author (e.g., a PDF export), in any place except the iBookstore.

Peter Villevoye

Great review !

I’d like to add some thoughts about the currently restricted distribution of these books. In fact, Adobe is doing exactly the same with their take on Digital Publishing. Their proprietary “folio” format is carefully built and guarded on their servers, and spread through Apple’s App Store and Android Market. These are paid services, and until now it’s not possible to use other than these (or even your own) facilities.

BTW: Adobe could definitely learn from iBook Author’s method of previewing and uploading a book ! It’s so dead simple, I almost cried of relief to see that someone (Apple) finally understood what designers want.

Stacia Pierce

Apple iBooks Author has much more expansive opportunities than just creating text books. I used it to create a simple quick start guide to using the iBooks Author program. you can view my post and get the book here:
http://lifecoach2women.com/successstore/blog/apples-ibook-author-new-tool-for-entrepreneurs-to-easily-create-media-rich-ebooks#

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