June 2, 2014 Last Updated 11:25 am

iBooks Author, Apple’s rarely updated publishing platform, needs an Android competitor

Books on Monday: each Monday TNM looks at books and book publishing – either a new book on the publishing industry, a new digital book release, or industry news

The release of iBooks Author (iBA) in January of 2012 was a major part of Apple’s education event held in NYC. The release of the software solution felt very much like something Steve Jobs, who had died just a few months before, would have pushed forward.

But since that release, and despite being a very popular tool for creating interactive eBooks, appears to have been forgotten by Apple. An update was released in October of 2012 that allowed for embedded fonts, but no other update was issued until October 2013 when iBA was made compatible with Mavericks, which had added iBooks for the Mac. But that update was a disaster as it accidentally took away embedded fonts, forcing a hasty update. It was if no one thought of iBA until Mavericks was about to come out and then a sloppy update was rushed out.


Apple’s Roger Rosner iBA demo January 2012

iBA remains on version 2.1.1 and none of the rumors concerning software to be discussed today in the Keynote that will lead off the Worldwide Developers Conference involve any changes to the program.

iBA is sort of the iWeb of Apple’s current programs: a great idea that quickly was let to go to seed, ignored. But digital publishers who use iBA, despite its enormous limitations, love the program. The results are simple, and it one has a flare for design, one can customize its look enough to create something unique.

But the reviewers inside the Mac App Store know the program’s limitations:

“I love the iBooks Author app for its layout and ease of use,” one user says. “However, after using it to create a book intended for the Japanese market which contains both English and Japanese, I was unable to “deliver” my book to the iBooks Store because Apple requires ePub 3.0 to display Japanese. iBooks Author is incompatible with the ePub 3.0 standard.”

Another points out that the program, even two and a half years after its initial release lacks the ability to do footnotes.

But if Apple has abandoned its interactive eBook solution, what about Amazon and Google? They haven’t even launched a program. It is an obvious omission from Amazon as it owns CreateSpace which pushed print book projects to its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)n program. There, KDP creates a Kindle Edition automatically. Of course, what results is totally unacceptable, even for easy to format fiction. But when a fixed layout is required, KDP’s auto formatting solution is hilariously incompetent.

With Amazon owning so much of the market, and with its encouragement of self-publishers, you might think they would want to encourage publishers to develop an interactive solution for their Kindle Fire tablets, but nothing has emerged.

Because of the lack of support for a digital publishing solution from the major platform owners, the decision of many developers to continue to create book apps makes a lot of sense. The Adobe Digital Publishing Suite is the platform choice for Joe Zeff Design, for instance.

It would be nice to see Mag+, Aquafadas and other vendors move into the book space – they could support iOS, as well as Android, of course. Blurb, which is a platform for the self-publishing of print books has recently moved into the magazine sphere with its licensing of MagCloud, but it lags behind in providing authors and publishers eBooks solutions that could meet the needs of digital publishers looking to move on past iBA. Magzter and Zinio, too, could break new ground in this area, as both are looking to expand past replica editions of magazines (and they would provide authors and publishers another viable retail outlet).

Is it worth it? Does Apple, Amazon and Google ignore interactive eBooks because there is more money in just displaying PDFs or simple ePub eBooks? Well, I always thought that the reason Apple developed iBA in the first place was to differentiate the iPad from all other tablets. Apple seems to have forgotten this. Maybe this is the opening one of the tablet owners need to break through. Microsoft, maybe?

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