Monday, January 30, 2012

iBooks Author: Links to resources (so far)

If you are interested in making ebooks, you've probably already heard about Apple's new iBook creation tool, iBooks Author. To clear up one bit of confusion, iBooks Author is a Mac app (for desktop or laptop computer) to make an interactive iBook that is read in the iBooks 2 app on the iPad. In other words, you're not making the iBook on your iPad, unlike Book Creator, for example, which makes a standard iBook. (Here is my post about using Book Creator.)

The term interactive means different things to different people, from choose-your-own-adventure stories to ebooks with tappable read-aloud text to game-like animated book apps. This blog post by Curating Book App Mom discusses iBooks Author and interactivity. Seems like we need better terminology to describe these digital books…but they're a moving target!

In order to download the free iBooks Author app, you must have a Mac with the Lion OS installed. To read the souped up iBooks you need the free iBooks 2 app on your iPad. The free sample of E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth has embedded videos, animations, photo galleries, 3D models you can manipulate in any direction, clickable maps, quizzes, and more. It's quite sophisticated, no doubt about it. The file size is large, though. One of the features I'm interested in using is embedded Keynote presentations. I think the file sizes for those could be much smaller than full videos, while still allowing movement and user-directed interaction.

[Update 2.23.2012]: A (currently) free 94 pages ebook, Publishing with iBooks Author by Nellie McKesson and Adam Witwer is available from O'Reilly. It covers the ins and outs of text formatting, tables, widgets, and much more.

To get an excellent overview of iBooks Author's features and what it can and can't do, check out this post by Ben Vanderberg.

Here is Apple's iBooks Author Support, which has several articles and tips such as to use "iPad safe fonts." There is also an iBooks Author forum here.

The templates that come with iBooks Author are set up for textbooks, with Chapters, Sections, and pages. This is great for textbooks, cookbooks, craft books and so on, but excess baggage for picture books, my primary interest. I haven't tackled stripping out those features myself yet, but came across this article by Dani Jones that shows how she put her comic book into a Photo Gallery widget to get full bleed images. Looks promising.

There has been some controversy about the licensing for this software, such as the limitation that you can only sell the resulting iBooks through Apple's iBookstore. (You can give them away on your web site, etc.) The article Why The Emotional Criticism of iBooks Author is Wrong links to some of the critical articles and attempts to address these concerns. There are 172 comments on it as of today, so if you'd like to wade into that, happy reading!

My biggest complaint is the totally inadequate Search capabilities on the iBookstore itself. My iBook Tracks in the Sand is about sea turtles, but if you search on "sea turtles" it won't come up. Only books with "sea turtle(s)" in the title or subtitle of the book show up in the search results. It's like trying to find books in a library that has no subject index, which obviously makes it difficult. If Apple is serious about making the iBookstore and its contents useful to teachers and students and readers in general, they need to support key words and/or pick up terms in an iBook's description. Hello?


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  1. Thanks for this excellent overview. What's frustrating to me is that there is a high barrier to entry...even though the software is free, you have to have the iPad2 (which I don't) and Lion (although Liz Castro linked to a work around that allows you to download iBook Author to a computer running Snow Leopard:

    It's too bad about the iBookstore's awful search capabilities. An excellent search engine is one of the ways that Amazon has really helped indie authors by allowing them to be found by readers.

  2. Thanks for all these great links and info, Loreen!

  3. You're both very welcome! I agree that the different formats/software/hardware/ebookstores are all a big hassle and certainly costly. However, if we waited for everyone to agree on a common standard, there wouldn't be such interesting options available. On the other hand, have you ever priced a print run of paper books? Yikes!

  4. Sylvia, you can also use an iPad to test your iBook... but I guess it's possible to build one and submit it to the iBookstore without testing it (though probably not recommended).

    I tried Liz Castro's tip on installing on Snow Leopard and it seemed to work, though I haven't put it through its paces yet.

    Loreen, I downloaded Dani's iBook... I love her artwork and how she used some of the interactive features (including an embeded movie). But I don't think she solved the "full bleed" problem. The issue she seems to have is that she wants her pages to be full bleed in portrait orientation, but when you turn the iPad that way, it messes up the format. So she ended up using the slideshow widget and embedded chapters of her graphic novel that way. But the slideshow she created isn't full bleed and I couldn't zoom in on it.

    I'd guess that there will be some options at some point to force a book to display in portrait only, as well as fullbleed templates. I think it could be great for a picturebook though, which probably works best in landscape.

  5. Hi David, thanks for the update. Another thing is, 50 MB is a big file, I didn't want to download all that.

    It has been interesting to read about how people are altering the templates in the forums. A lot of people don't want the TOC, chapters, etc. or don't want the automatic "mostly-text" look when in portrait mode. At least you can lock your iBook into landscape orientation which is fine for most picture books.

  6. I just unzipped Dani's ibooks file (just change the "ibooks" extension to "zip" and uncompress it) and took a look in the media folder. The big file size is primarily due to the two videos included (which total 39.4MB). Most of the rest of the 11MB is from the images from the graphic novel.

    Has anyone succeeded in creating a new PB template and then sharing it with others?

  7. That makes sense that the videos are so large, since they're hundreds (thousands?) of sequential images.

    I haven't heard of anyone sharing a PB template, how would you do that? I have managed to strip out most of the stuff from one of them by selecting Chapter then Section in the Layout tab and deleting the stuff off of the pages. There already was a Plain Page layout, so I just deleted all the other page layouts.

    What I can't get rid of is 4 objects on the TOC page, 3 text objects and a picture box that can't be resized. I would like to get rid of the Intro Media, TOC, and Glossary, but haven't heard that anyone has been able to do it. Or maybe I don't need to get rid of the TOC, just not have the words "Chapter Untitled" or whatever it says on there. The adventure continues!

  8. Yes, that's my guess... if you don't fill in the blank objects, maybe they just won't be included in the build.

    I think the way to share a template would be for someone to strip out all the stuff (like you did), add a couple of pages of placeholder art/text, save it in the iBooks Author format, and then share that file. Others can then load it and make their changes. I know you can't load an .ibooks file back in, so it would have to be the actual editable file that gets passed around.

    1. I've searched every way I can think of and can't locate the iBooks Template file on my computer. I can see the pathway to its location when I save it, but the folder it's inside of doesn't show up where it's supposed to be.

  9. I agree about Apple's ibookstore having a terrible search function, and lack of categories, except to lump all ages of children's books, including YA, together.

  10. I believe the best method for making a fixed layout children's book for the iBookstore is hand coding an ePUB. If you do this, you can sell it in other places. It's not that hard, just time consuming.

    I have 50 pages of animations done only with CSS and HTML 5. It's also a read out loud book and is under 30MB. If I had used an animation program or iBooks Author, the size would be much more.