iBooks Author is an app that allows authors to create multi-touch textbooks for the iPad. While they note that you can actually publish any type of book, its extreme interactivity options make it an especially useful tool for academic content.
The application allows for the addition of galleries, video, interactive diagrams, and 3D objects. Authors may also use templates to begin generating layouts. You can drag and drop pages imported from Pages or Microsoft Word, including images. Text will automatically flow around your images, depending on your placement preferences.
Additional tools include tables, charts, and multi-touch widgets, as well as text and image effects. You can preview the book on your iPad, and once it’s complete, iBooks Author helps you submit the book to the iBookstore. Content can also be exported to the iBooks format to sell on iTunes.
This application is geared towards making books look and work more like web pages, with beautiful and easily reflowable text and interactivity options. For textbooks, having content that is interactive allows students to more fully engage with the work—especially using technology that is already such a large part of their familiar, day-to-day interactions.
In addition, Apple takes the complicated process of ebook design and makes it simple. Authors can create ebooks from scratch without any coding. No knowledge of various programming languages needed! The interface is clean, and most of the functions are intuitive. Templates allow authors to have a guide in the design process.
Assessing the iBooks Author for Professional Publishing
This is a truly amazing application, especially for textbook application, but there are very critical drawbacks that may make it a poor choice for authors seeking to publish non-textbook material in a wider market.
Although the application allows for the addition of interactive elements, such as 3D objects and videos, we feel that it’s important to mention that it does not create these items for you. You must have all images, text, 3D objects, and videos created and ready for import.
There is no versioning in the current release of this application, which makes it difficult to track work flow or to have multiple parties work on the same project. There is no collaboration option, which is critical in large textbook undertakings.
While authors can export the content to a PDF format, there is no option to export to the ePub format and no support for ePub 3. All content is proprietary and locked to the device. Finished books can only be viewed on other Apple devices or sold via Apple retail outlets, such as the iBookstore or iTunes. This means that if you are seeking to release your ebook to a wider market, such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Google, or even PC users, you will not be able to use the book created via this application. It can only be sold and read via Apple devices/retailers. This makes it an application not suitable for professional publishing.
A Final Word on the .ibooks File Type (exploring the fine print)
The .ibooks file type is a proprietary file type created by Apple for their iBooks. This file type appears to be based on the .epub format; however, due to the addition of several (very useful) features, most likely it would not be a valid .epub file. In order to publish to various retailers, your .epub files must pass a validation check process.
It appears that you can rename an .ibooks file to .epub and open it to view in an ePub reader; however, the formatting so painstakingly created with your iAuthor app would not be maintained. In addition, Apple’s EULA prohibits authors from using their proprietary file type to publish to other retailers, as they require exclusive distribution rights over .ibooks files that are created using the iBook Author app. While you can continue to sell your content via other outlets, you cannot use their file type, or the layout you generated with their application, in order to do so.
In short, while we feel that this is a smart functioning and nicely developed application, due to its highly proprietary nature, it’s not a practical publishing tool for authors seeking a wider retail market. Even in textbook applications, it would require that all students have iPads in order to view their textbooks. If Apple opened up their app and allowed authors to export files in valid ePub formats, this might be a game-changer for the publishing industry, taking ebook design to a new level. We look forward to future innovation.