Apple yesterday introduced a new eBook creation app, appropriately called iBooks Author. I say appropriately named because, if you charge a fee for the eBook so created, you can only sell it on Apple’s iBookstore. In other words, iBooks Author is not, nor is it intended to be, a general purpose eBook creation tool.
After a quick tryout and eBook creation exercise, I also conclude that the tool is definitely scoped for textbooks, NOT general purpose eBooks like trade or mass market fiction.
This has much to do with the constraints of the templates, which impose a structure that a straightforward eBook can do without. A Chapter and Section layout is pretty much required. This fits well with textbooks, not so well with other types of content. And, in its current iteration, iBooks Author offers no flexibility here.
Chapter and Section Layout Grid
For example, take a look at the two template choosers below. The first is from iBooks Author; the second is from Pages (which, by the way, seems to have served as the code base for iBooks Author). Pages has, well, a ton of templates; iBook Author has six. That’s not intended as a knock; rather, it’s offered as proof of the latter’s limited flexibility.
iBooks Author Template
Six templates. That’s it. Six beautiful templates, though.
Multiple templates. Including the highly flexible “Blank Canvas.”
Push Pop Press Lives
After downloading the free E.O. Wilson Life on Earth textbook, created with iBooks Author, I can see where Apple is headed. The Wilson textbook is cut from the same cloth as the Al Gore Our Choice opus, available exclusively on Apple’s iBookstore. They share a very similar navigation, structural and interaction model. I wonder if Apple hired some of the Push Pop Press devs responsible for the Al Gore work. If so, Facebook got the company but Apple got the better deal.
This leads me to my conclusion: iBooks Author is but the latest installment in the battle between Apple and Amazon over the future of eBooks. Both are moving toward HTML5, albeit in proprietary or otherwise restricted ways. Amazon is offering publishing deals to lock in authors to exclusive contracts. Apple is using its (so far superior) toolset to the same end.
This is not a case where I feel comfortable saying “let the best bookstore win.” Of course, I recognize that the traditional publishing model is also based on exclusivity. But both Amazon and Apple blur the lines between publishers and distributors. It’s difficult at the moment to see how the “best of both worlds” can emerge in this model. Too many walled gardens, I fear.
- Cesar Torres, Ars Technica: Hands On: iBooks 2 introduces interface changes, pop quizzes
- Chris Foresman, Ars Technica: Enthusiasm for iBooks Author marred by licensing, format issues