After yesterday’s announcement, I popped along to the MAc App Store to grab myself a copy of Apple’s new eBook authoring tool, iBooks Author.
A free download, the Mac-only package feels very similar to Pages, Apple’s word processor and has the same ‘hand-holding’ feel as its Garageband music/podacast tool.
Apple promises the software will allow budding authors to create “amazing Multi-touch books for iPad” by mixing text with audio, video, and images.
To test that claim I decided to make a book.
But to make a book you need some content and I didn’t have time to write a novel or go on a trip to the Andes and take stunning images to share.
So I cheated by using some content I already had – a collection of articles and essays marking the 10th anniversary of London’s government which I write about over here.
I added in a couple of new pieces, an extract from an audio interview I recently carried out and a collection of photographs I’ve taken over the past 10 years.
Having found my various pieces of content I needed to assemble them into an exciting whole.
This of course is where iBooks Author comes in.
I am a very impatient person, I don’t like things which don’t work, I don’t like hitting barriers I can’t easily get round and I don’t like getting frustrated by poorly built software.
So I’m pleased to say that using Author was a doddle. It really is simplicity itself.
With even less effort than it took to type the above sentence, I was able to copy and paste my existing content into one of the pre-prepared templates, adding additional pages and chapters as needed.
There are different layouts for horizontal and portrait modes, meaning you can ensure your book looks great no mater how readers are looking at it.
As an user I hate being made to hold my iPad the way the developer has decided so I found that option useful.
I couldn’t find a way to fix the orientation of the book which may be an issue for those who’d prefer to do so.
Along the way I was able to preview results both within the software and by hooking up my iPad and clicking the ‘preview’ icon. This then sends a preview copy of the book to your device which can be updated as you make changes.
You can also export the book at any time as a completed .ibooks file.
I hadn’t intended to do more than play at making a couple of chapters, but the book started to look and feel so good that I found myself wanting to share it.
So I moved from simply re-using existing text content and images to writing some new content and adding in an audio clip. In horizontal mode the audio player looks pretty much like you’d find on any webpage, but in portrait mode it’s a rather nice looking speaker icon.
Making my 40 page book look snazzy took me a couple of hours. If you have more content or are writing from scratch, it’ll obviously take longer.
When I was happy with the result, I needed to publish it to Apple’s iBookstore to make it available.
Actually you don’t ‘need to’ as you’re able to distribute the .ibooks file for free from your own website but I wanted to test the entire process to see how easy Apple have really made it.
Publishing to iBooks required signing up for a free iTunes Connect account and then downloading iTunes Producer, Apple’s tool for uploading content to the iTunes, iBooks and App stores.
When opening an iTunes Connect account you need to make an important decision – do you want to sell your book or give it away for free?
The answer depends on the type of account you need to open and the first requires applying for a US IRS tax ID and obtaining an ISBN number for the book.
Apple warns that a free account can’t be migrated to a selling account down the line.
Because I’d want to tae time and fully understand any consequences of applying for a US tax code, and because most of the content has already been given away free, I opted for the free account type.
As part of the sign-up process you have to associate your seller account with an iTunes account but you can specify a different email account and password for future use.
Apple’s instructions don’t seem to explain why this is needed.
When it came to uploading the book to Apple’s servers I hit a snag.
Using iTunes Producer I added cover art (needed only for the store listing), a description, categories and selected whether it was a book or textbook.
And then the upload failed, producing a techy error message referring to a duplicate page 5. None of my previews had a duplicate page so I was pretty mystified.
It turned out that the error was my fault.
At some stage on page 5 I’d added a duplicate text box in which the text was almost the same colour as the background image, rendering it invisible to me but apparently confusing Apple’s system.
Once I removed the duplicate box i was able to upload the book, ready for Apple to approve or otherwise.
Assuming they approve it, I’ll post a link so you can see the end result.
Overall I found iBooks Author pretty easy to use, because it’s built on the same foundations as Pages, Numbers and Keynote it doesn’t feel like a first generation release, but like a rounded, feature rich tool.
There’s an important restriction when it comes to selling books which some users have issue with.
While you’re free to give your book away via any site you like, the software agreement prohibits you from selling the FILE created by Author via any shop other than Apple’s iBooks.
You can sell the content in you book wherever you want, so long as you don’t use iBook Author to make it.
This isn’t something I have a huge issue with, but a number of people do and it’s important to note before spending hours working on your book only to decide you want to do something the license agreement prohibits.
Is iBooks Author a game changer?
The only way iBooks’ rivals can compete with feature-rich, multi-media content is to drop eink screens and embrace the world of multi-touch, colour screens.
But as countless firms have already discovered, competing with Apple’s iPad is no easy task.
Forced to make a prediction, I’d say Author will prove to be pretty revolutionary.
Photographers, freelance journalists, in fact just about anyone with a skill is now able to create interactive, media-rich tutorials and guides at no cost and sell them to ready made user base.
People are going to love that.
I’m already thinking about how I can improve my book (assuming it gets published), and what other content I have that might benefit from the being morphed into a multi-touch ‘experience’.