Friday, January 20, 2012

Apple's new iBooks Author: a potential game changer for many small and independent publishers

Alert: Senator Harry Reid has announced that he would delay a vote on SOPA PIPA – though the key word is "delayed" rather than killed. Here is the report from the Washington Post.

Most new software packages have a steep learning curve attached to them. I must admit that I am still not much of an InDesign expert after learning desktop publishing using Quark. But iBooks Author, Apple's new free tool for creating digital books, is about as easy a program as you will come across for producing rudimentary interactive books.

Rudimentary usually means simple; interactive usually equates to hard. But with iBooks Author anyone with a Mac, and at least some skills at creating documents, can produce a finished digital book quickly. Those capable of producing more complex java and html5 elements will make their finished product more than rudimentary – but for most projects, someone with iBooks Author can produce satisfactory results.
Early yesterday evening, while making dinner (roast pork loin – it was delicious, of course) I spent ten to fifteen minutes playing around with iBooks Author. Because my time was extremely limited (lest I burn the roast) I quickly grabbed some copy from the TNM website, along with the photos used.

The idea for the test book was a Year at Talking New Media so that each chapter would be easy – they would simply be individual months, while the copy would be some posts that appeared that month.

I opened iBooks Author, chose my "theme" (which was "Contemporary") and began to work. I copied and pasted the content which was then automatically formatted. Although the Apple demo makes it seem like additional formatting won't be necessary you would be naive to believe that you won't have to review the results and make adjustments.

I then added in the photos, made adjustments and found that my book at 90 percent complete. Yikes.

I quickly checked the time and realized I had five more minutes before the fire alarm would go off due to the roast, so I very quickly created a cover and added a photo to the chapter intro pages (grabbing photos off the web – more on that subject later).

I plugged in my iPad, pressed preview, and within 30 seconds I had a book (though one that needed lots of work, of course).
Andy Ihnatko, who writes for the Sun-Times and other outlets, spent more time playing around with iBooks Author and not surprisingly produced better results than I did. He tweeted about his work and provided a download link.

But, frankly, Ihnatko's finished product isn't that much better than mine, which shows you how quickly one can produce decent results using iBooks Author.

You might conclude that anyone could now become a book publisher – any independent, small or mid-sized company could now become the publisher of digital books. But as I mentioned in yesterday's look at iBooks 2, I know of more than a few publishers that have decimated their own production capabilities by outsourcing, downsizing or making their staffers independent contractors.

In a world where creating digital products can be accomplished without expensive outside vendors, the difference between the haves and the have-nots will be resources, not necessarily the size of the company. A small publisher committed to developing in-house, to keeping production in-house, will find themselves able to create new digital products on the fly. Meanwhile, those without in-house resources will be always one step behind. In a strange turn of circumstances, the downsizers will find their costs higher if they want to join the rest of their industry in new digital ventures.

iBooks Author, as others have suggested, will probably prove to be a useful tool for products other than digital books, but it is still limited. One can not, for instance, design a magazine using iBooks Author and submit it for Newsstand directly. But iBooks Author will output to PDF. It would be sad to see a tool developed for the creation of interactive books be used to create replica-like magazines, but it could be done.

It's best use by magazine and newspaper publishers will be in creating new digital book lines. Anyone with content, after all, can quickly convert that content for book creation.

But self-publishers will also, of course, be using iBooks Author, and it is already clear that this tool is in the hands of some people who really don't grasp the fundamentals of publishing (based on comments appearing online).

When I needed some artwork for my own iBooks project, and I was in a hurry, I quickly grabbed some artwork from the web to insert into my digital book. I'm not dumb enough to believe that I could really use that artwork for a real book simply because I have a working knowledge of copyright and fair use rules. But many do not. While one expects a professional journalist, photographer or publisher to understand copyright, few civilians do. If easy web hosting solutions have led to online piracy and the casual reposting of the work of other publishers, imagine what the consequences of easy digital book production will lead to.