Apple announced its new education-focused apps last week and with a new version of iBooks it has also released a free tool for making ebooks, iBooks Author. Is this just a niche tool for creating textbooks or is there something useful you can do with it?
The niche factor is going to depend on what type of creative person you are. iBooks Author is geared toward making interactive textbooks for iPads, but it's also a simple tool to create any type of digital book you can imagine. Think of it like Adobe InDesign for iBooks and you're on the right track. So, what can you do with iBooks Author? Let's take a look at some of the ways you might get use out of it.
iBooks Author is far from the only option out there to create a book, and right now it only runs on Macs. Its main advantage is reaching the large existing constituency of iPad users. If you're not running a Mac, it's essentially a non-starter, and if you're serious about publishing, you may want to use a format that runs on more than one device and which is less picky about import formats. But if you fall into the Mac/iPad delivery category, it does make it easy to create a multimedia book.
What You Can Do With iBooks Author
Apple bills iBooks Author as a way to easily create textbooks, but you can hack your way through it to create any type of book you want. If you're a photographer, it's simple to make and distribute a collection of your photographs. You can also use it as a digital scrapbook and collect together all your family footage into a package that can be easily shared with family. The interactive elements also make it an easy way to create and release your own interactive children's books, comics, cookbooks, novels, or most other genres else you can imagine.
Stuff Interactive Elements Anywhere You Like
If you use iWeb or Keynote you already have a grasp of the core concepts behind iBooks Author. The big difference between simply exporting a piece of text as an EPUB file and creating an iBook is the interactive elements. Let's take a look at the three main features you're likely to use.
- Photos, Audio, and Video: For the most casual users, these three multimedia elements are the bread and butter of a personal iBook. Each has drag-and-drop functionality and all you have to do is drag the multimedia of your choosing onto the page you want.
- HTML Snippets: The purpose of the HTML inclusion is to pull live content from the web. You might find use in this for your own book in a few ways. For instance, you can pull content from Twitter, display a Flickr slideshow, or include your blog's RSS feed.
- Keynote Presentations: If you created a slideshow of your last vacation to show to friends you can automatically import it into iBook Author and give everyone something to take home. When you import a presentation, it retains all the animations, formatting and other design elements.
You Can Create Your Own Templates But You Have To Edit Apple's First
Since Apple only includes a few templates to choose from, you want to make your own design to set the book apart. To create you own templates, you need to open a pre-existing template and edit it. It's not difficult to do:
- Step 1:Pick a template that's close to what you want. You'll notice the backgrounds and other elements are locked in place and seem like they can't be deleted. To edit the lines and background, select the element and click Arrange > Unlock. Now you can edit or delete the previously locked elements.
- Step 2: Add background images or shapes you like. Get the page to look exactly how you like it. For backgrounds, right-click "Send to Back" so it doesn't move text out of the way.
- Step 3: Once your chapter pages are arranged as you wish, right-click "duplicate chapter" and iBooks Author creates chapters identical to the one you made.
Editing this way isn't perfect, but following the above steps makes it simple to customise iBooks Author to your liking. Your own design also helps your book stand out so it doesn't look like it was created from a template.
What You Can't Do With iBooks Author
At its core, iBooks Author is built to make textbooks. You can hack your way through it easily enough, but it could be made a bit more straightforward. It can't do everything. Indeed, as a standard ebook creator it stinks because you can't export it in the industry-standard EPUB format. It's good at creating books specifically for iBooks and that's it, frankly.
iBooks Author Is Picky About Formatting
iBooks Author doesn't support a few really common file types, including MP3. You can import audio files, but it only accepts AAC formats. You can import video, but only if it's a Quicktime format. While iBooks Author accepts most word processor files, it doesn't always retain formatting. This means you'll lose your bolds, italics, and anything else you add. Basically, you have to tweak your content before you drop it into iBooks Author by formatting everything into the accepted file types, but you might as well not bother with text because it often won't retain the formatting.
The iBooks Author User Agreement Can Be A Sticking Point
According to Apple's end user licensing agreement, you cannot sell your book through other outlets. If you make a book with iBooks Author, you have to sell it exclusively through the iBooks app. This does not mean Apple owns the text, video or photos, but it does ownthe iBook package they are enclosed in. You can skirt around this issue by "self-publishing" your book and distributing the iBook file for free via your personal website, or by sharing it directly with friends. However, in order to retain the multimedia elements of your book, you have to export it as an iBooks file and it can only be read in iBooks on an iPad. You can also export it as a PDF, but you lose all your multimedia content and still end up with an Apple watermark.
It's Free, But You Still Have To Pay to Sell Your Book
Finally, unlike publishing to Amazon's Kindle Marketplace, you have to purchase an ISBN if you want to sell your book in iBooks for a profit. Apple doesn't offer these through its store or its app, so you have to go through a third party like Bowker and pay around $100-$150 to purchase an ISBN number. You can still put your book up for free or share it privately with friends without the ISBN.
Given those limitations, it's frankly a little unlikely that iBooks Author will attract a lot of commercial authors, but we're excited to see what people come up with and how they use it. It's not exactly made for designing your own books, but it's simple enough to hack together a means to do so. Do you plan on using iBooks Author to design your own book? Share your plans in the comments.