Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Disappointing iBooks Author App

I think from the beginning, I wasn't expecting much.  I didn't watch the streaming video of the launch.  Without Steve Jobs, it wasn't as entertaining, so I bailed out before they got into the product announcement, and I didn't download the free app the instant it appeared.  That gave me exposure to the bad press before I had my own hands-on experience.

There are two pieces of the problem.  The tool is too limited, and the terms-of-use is impossible.  Let's deal with the legal stuff first.

iBooks Author is a tool designed to create output for an iPad.  That's it.  Nothing more.  I can't even get it to work with my iPhone.  While potentially it could create and edit industry standard ePub files, it doesn't.  The output is specifically targeted to the iPad and the iBooks app.  While the file might work on some similar platform, like some other vendor's iPad look-alike, you violate the contract if you try to sell it anywhere else.  iBooks Author is part of the iBookstore just like iTunes Connect -- it's all part of the store.  While it has export to text and export to PDF, those are crippled so badly (stripping out formatting for text and pasting a big ugly Apple logo on the PDF pages) that they can't really be used.  From my personal experience, iBookstore is a horrible marketplace. It's a bookstore that you can only buy the books they put in the store-front windows, not a place to browse.  For a small producer like me, that's deadly.  My sales at the iBookstore have made be consider dropping them, and spending my efforts on Kindle, and Pubit, and Kobo, and Google Editions and my own site.  For me, it is not worth it creating a separate version with a separate tool, just for Apple.

I am not the target user for this app.  I write novels -- flowing words that can exist just as happily on paper as on the screen of an off-brand cell phone.  iBooks Author is for dazzle-heavy multi-media 'books' with a heavy layout component.  The target author for this tool is someone with a book like this that never thinks about selling it anywhere but to iPad users.  For them, it could work.

Looking at the app strictly as a tool to get the job done, I can't use it.  Just like Pages and iWeb, everything is built on templates.  Unfortunately, they didn't seem to include a bare-bones empty template that I could drop one of my novels into.  I tried. I took their Basic template and took out the pictures and dropped in a novel from a Pages document.  What I have left, after a long bout of tinkering, is an ugly looking book with one chapter that contains the whole novel.  It seems there's a menu item for importing a chapter at a time, but that would require that I go back to my Pages document and split it into 40 sections and import them one at a time.  I can't seem to find a way to select a chapter heading and 'elevate' it to something that the App can recognize as a new chapter.

Thinking about the App's features, it looks like Pages, but with a lot of iPad specific formatting strapped on.  The working page is iPad sized.  The formatting styles are loaded with a couple of dozen presets. Pages has an Import Styles that lets me copy my custom styles from document to document.  I don't see anything like that in this App.  I guess you would have to create new styles and save them, for every style you use, for every document.

The result is a Pages with some multi-media widgets thrown in, with limited formatting capabilities, and with reduced output possibilities.  It's a no-brainer for me.  Pages wins.

My current workflow is this:  Creation in Pages. Formatting for the paper edition in Adobe InDesign.  Export to ePub from InDesign.  Cleanup the ePub in Sigil.  Convert to Kindle with Calibre.  Four programs to produce my e-books that I can put in all the major marketplaces that can reach almost all available e-readers including the iPad.

I will not be spending the time to learn this App to the fullest so that I can create a special flashy version for the iPad but that doesn't go anywhere else. Doesn't fit my needs.

2 comments:

thewere42 said...

Just curious, Amazon mentioned pushing a new (their new) HTML5 enhance eBook tool - have they, and have you had a chance to look at it?

Henry Melton said...

I follow a lot of publishing comment lists, so I've heard of it. However, my stuff is not suitable for 'enhanced' publishing. These are novels, straight narrative text. Only one of these has anything more than maps in the front material. Bearing Northeast had characters tweeting and searching web pages, so I took the opportunity to add live links and chapter photos, but that was about it. It was a mildly interesting exercise, but I haven't been tempted to do it again. Thus my lack of interest in these tools for multi-media books.