So, is Apple’s new iBooks Author the solution for journalists looking for a simpler way to get into the eBooks market?
Nope, not even close.
Oh…kay, so is Apple’s new iBooks Author at least another option for writers looking to pick up some extra money writing eBooks?
Apple released its new eBook production tool last week, coupled with an upgrade to its iBooks app. Apple’s trying to get into the textbook market, positioning its iPad as an electronic textbook reader. But to do that, Apple needs an ongoing supply of eBook textbooks. The company’s signed deals with some textbook publishers, but it’s also offering the iBooks Author tool to encourage more people to create texts, as well.
The iBooks Author app’s gotten plenty of attention since its release for its user license restriction that any book created with it can only be sold through the iBookstore. No Amazon. No Barnes and Noble. While iBooks Author can export files as a PDF, it won’t generate the ePub file needed for best results in publishing eBooks through those and other online vendors.
That alone disqualifies the iBooks Author app as a serious option for any journalist looking for a single eBook creation solution. Better to continue creating an HTML file using your favorite editor, then running that file through Calibre to generate your ePub, which you can submit to Amazon, BN.com… and the iBookstore. The iBooks Author app also requires that you be running Mac OS Lion – it won’t download to Macs running Snow Leopard or earlier versions of the Mac OS. And if you’re using Windows? Fuggedaboutit.
But if you do have Lion, creating a book through iBooks Author and selling it exclusively through Apple is better than not making or selling eBooks at all.
The iBooks Author app offers several templates from which to choose in creating a
n eBook textbook eTextbook TexteBook book. Your new book doesn’t have to be aimed strictly at students to use iBooks Author, but it seems a waste to use iBooks Author to create a novel or other text-driven book with few or no graphics.
So why not try taking advantage of all that the iPad can do better than a printed page? Most newsrooms at this point have multimedia associated with major story packages. The iBooks Author app allows you to add those some of those elements into a pre-formatted book template with drag and drop ease. (You’ll need to convert to AAC from MP3, if your media files aren’t in Apple’s preferred formats already.)
The templates are quite nice, though if Apple doesn’t expand the selection soon, there’s the danger they will become cliche from overuse. It appears possible to alter Apple’s templates, though I didn’t spend a great deal of time investigating that. I suspect that anyone capable of doing that intensive of design work won’t be messing around with the aimed-at-beginners iBooks Author tool, anyway.
If I had a hot story package with several must-see multimedia elements that would play at book length, I’d give iBooks Author a try to throw that eBook out there and see what I’d get. (Here’s a good, in-depth guide from Lifehacker.) Remember, you’ll need to promote your work aggressively through your own publications and social media channels. Chances are, no one’s going to find your book on the iBookstore, unless you send them there to look for it.
While the iBookstore continues to have a supply problem that limits its market share relative to Amazon and Barnes and Noble, the store’s biggest challenge is that its interface simply doesn’t enable readers to find additional titles of interest as effectively as those competitors do. Adding more title to the iBookstore, through iBooks Author’s exclusivity requirement, won’t address that issue.
If Apple wants to get more authors submitting more title to the iBookstore, it’d do better to improve the store’s interface so that it encourages more sales by books that aren’t in the Top 10 in the iBookstore’s limited number of categories. (I wish that Apple would spend a little of its huge pile of cash to buy a service such as Goodreads, then use it as a base upon which to build a social recommendation engine for the iBookstore.) That, plus a one-click publication function within iBooks Author, would be enough to make the iBookstore every bit as attractive to new authors as submitting to Amazon.
For what it’s worth, I hope that Apple succeeds in shaking up the print textbook market. Watching my children struggle under the weight of their backpacks when they go to school every morning frustrates me, as does the political process by which textbook contracts are awarded by states and school districts. I’d love to see students freed from the burden of heavy, out-of-date, static, printed textbooks and better engaged by frequently-updated multimedia texts, contained on an easy-to-carry tablet. I’d also like to see schools freed from having to install, maintain, assign and monitor lockers, which (outside gym class) would become unnecessary with tablet-based textbooks. And I’d like to see the political influence of textbook manufacturers diminished, which will only happen if the barriers to entry into this business are reduced by a disruptive technology such as eBooks.
So while I wish Apple success in disrupting the textbook market, I also hope that the company will further develop its iBooks Author tool, adding templates for other genres of publishing as a well as an ePub export tool. While I understand Apple’s desire to use the app to boost its share of the book sales market, I think that Apple’s best approach for doing that lies not in restricting authors, but in encouraging consumers to buy more of the books that Apple does sell.