Tuesday, January 8, 2013

First look: The Seattle Times Pictures Of The Year | 2012

Thanks to a tweet I was referred to a story that appeared on paidContent.org concerning the new eBook published by the photography staff of The Seattle Times, which then led me to download the eBook for myself. For anyone looking to create their own eBooks for sale within the Apple Bookstore this is a good example to look at.

Sold under the name Photo Staff of The Seattle Times, the eBook was created using Apple's own free software solution, iBooks Author. The software package, like any new software, takes a little time to get used to, but does produce an attractive eBook. What the staff of The Seattle Times has produced may be fairly simple, but it is attractive, professional in appearance, and worth purchasing. No, it doesn't have the fancy animations found in some textbooks Apple has promoted, but it a major step up from a simple Kindle Edition.
The Seattle Times Pictures Of The Year | 2012 is priced at $2.99 and appeared in the iTunes store on December 12. Because the staff used iBooks Author the book will have a little icon displayed in the Book Description and should appear in the section Apple uses to promote eBooks made with their solution. Unfortunately, I did not see the book there (which is why I missed it when launched), hardly a good way for Apple to encourage new publishers.

I was not surprised to see that the staff decided to lock in the eBook into landscape orientation only. I did this myself with the first book I've produced, a vacation eBook for the family. Most pictures are naturally in landscape, especially when shot with professional DSLR cameras. But portrait shots can be accommodated in number of ways. One way is to simply let them be shown in landscape – sideways, in other words. I don't like this solution, but this eBook used that at least once.

Another way to handle it is to make the photo less than full screen in height, and then let the photo fill the screen upon tapping. Another way, not employed here, is to have the thumbnail be in portrait, then let then link it to another shot seen in landscape (sideways). None of these options are optimal, but they are not that annoying, either.
Obviously, the star of any eBook will be the photography, which is why the platform is perfect for the subject. The idea of publishing a first eBook of photos is a great way for any newspaper to start, and the costs are minimal.

Unlike the developer program, which costs $99 per year, Apple does not charge to set up an account to sell eBooks. But each book published, if one charges for the book, requires an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). The cost for a single ISBN is $125. One can also buy a block of 10 ISBN numbers for $250, which would cover you should you decide to publish your eBook in a format other than IBA, the iBooks Author format.

The obvious downside to using iBooks Author is that the eBook produced can only be sold in Apple's bookstore. Many independent publishers are struggling with the question of whether they should produce an ePub book instead so that the distribution is wider. But for early experimentation, especially in the area of photography, textbooks, and the like, iBooks Author seems to be a good solution.

If there is any disappointment with the platform it is simply that, while there were a few add-on programs created immediately after its release, these have been reduced to a trickle – and are rarely of much help anyways (just some new templates that really aren't that much different from what you get with Apple). Also, Apple has not brought eBooks created with iBooks Author to the iPhone – why is really anyone's guess.

The one thing to be pointed out with the eBook from The Seattle Times is the decision, which I like, to not use Apple's chapter mechanism to create a new chapter for each month. Instead, this eBook contains only two chapters: one for the monthly content of photographs, the other for the credits.

Update: I left out one detail from my original post: the size of the download. At just over 500 MB one might think that the eBook is too large. I'm not sure that is the case. First of all, Apple has a 3 gig limit on eBooks, this is far short of that. Plus, with over 100 photos and 12 videos in the book, one would expect it to be large – and besides, the download (and installation) was very quick.

I think the real issue here is the storage level of most tablets. If Apple really wants to sell interactive eBooks, movies and more, it will have to supply more storage in its iPads - cloud storage is not the solution, or at least the total solution. I'm constantly having to dump great apps such as Played in Britain simply because of space limitations.

Here is a brief walk-through video of a portion of the new eBook: