January 25, 2016 Last Updated 3:10 pm

iBook Author templates: sameness of eBook templates limits their usefulness

But the apps can still be useful in find new design ideas, as well as showing just how much iBooks Author templates can be customized by a creative and talented designer

The Apple eBook publishing platform iBooks Author has had its critics since its first launch, but it has also its fans. Those who work with the platform like it for the same reasons many like working with other Apple apps: it is easy to learn and consistent with other Apple programs such as Pages.

iBooks Author itself is on version 2.4. For a program first released in January of 2012, it has not had many updates. But then again, the program, with one exception, has always been stable – and the big problems with iBA are kind of baked in and hard to fix.

The only faulty update released was version 2.1 which introduced previewing new eBooks on the Mac. An error took place, corrected with the version 2.1.1 update, where the ability to embed custom fonts was temporarily lost.

It took a while, but Apple finally added iPhone support with the version 2.3 update last June, though designing something interesting for the iPhone remains challenging.

While iBA may be easy to work with, creating a truly stunning eBook for the iPad and Mac is still a matter of the publisher’s design skills. Many of the early eBooks released looked very much like the early templates Apple supplied with the program itself. To help novice designers out, a few developers launched template apps for iBA – some free, some costing $9.99 or more.

Templates for iBooks Author

Are these template programs worth buying? It really all depends on your skill level as a designer, and how comfortable one feels customizing a template. The real value of these apps is for getting ideas that you can apply yourself, rather than finding a perfect template that requires no customization.

There are a couple of free template apps, which you might want to check out first before paying for others.

Templates for iBooks Author Free was just updated this month, adding 30 new templates. But all the themes here are in portrait, and a link inside the program takes you to Themes for iBooks Author, which was also recently updated, but costs $19.99, the most expensive add-on out there.

Another, Designs for iBooks Author, has not been updated since 2013.

Among the $9.99 apps is Template Bundle for iBooks Author, which has some good ideas in it, and Cookbook Templates iBooks Author Edition, which was recently updated to fix some bugs and add two new templates.

$9.99 and up feels like a lot of money to spend on an app these days, but really it is nothing if the goal is to improve your eBook. But the real value of these template apps is to remind designers what makes a good design.

One thing one notices right away is that the artwork in these templates is often gorgeous – far better than the artwork many novice designers end up using. So once one deletes the placeholder graphic with the one that will be used the look of the eBook suddenly declines. The lesson is obvious: make sure you have good, high resolution artwork.

The other thing that one also notices is that the artwork in these templates tend to be used very large. It is something I have struggled with on occasion. Rather than using one good photo I might use many poorer quality photos. Bad idea. Better to go bigger, maybe full screen, rather that trying to fit in multiple photos.

But when examining these template apps one sees a sameness to the templates. These apps, it appears, are all designed by one hand, rather than multiple designers. That means the variation between themes is minimal, a good reason to make sure you look at all the template apps and their screenshots rather than just one or two.

In the end, the two most important things about working with iBooks Author is feeling comfortable customizing templates yourself, and stealing borrowing ideas.

Customizing iBA is easy enough, but my only real advice is to constantly duplicate your work so you can go back to compare your designs as you move along with any project.

WestPoint eBookAs far as getting good ideas, the real best place to do this isn’t really these template apps but eBooks that have made it into the iBooks Store. Unfortunately, Apple has not made this easy. Back in 2012, Apple created a special place inside the iBooks Store for eBooks made using iBA. Sadly, they eliminated this a couple of years ago and now one must go category by category to find interactive eBooks built using iBA. It was almost as if Eddy Cue was attempting to undermine the software team.

But there are a couple tricks you can use to make discovery a little easier: first, look for book covers that are slightly shorter than the others, these sometimes will mean iBA was used, but not always; second, look at the screenshots, they are the dead giveaway.

It is especially interesting to look at two versions of the same title: one built using iBA and found inside the iBooks Store, and the Kindle edition inside Amazon.com.

An example of this would be West Point History of World War II, Vol. 1, from the The United States Military Academy. The iBooks version costs $29.99 and is interactive. The Kindle edition is $41.99 and lacks the features of the iBA version. Leaving the pricing out of the comparison, the two books show the advantages of iBA in a pretty clear manner.

  • Bradley Metrock 2 years ago

    Nice article. Another way to tell whether a book on the iBooks Store is created in iBooks Author, it appears, is whether the description of the book describes it as a “multi-touch” book.

    Templates are great especially for educators, who may not have the resources available to enlist a designer, yet want to avoid having the same default cover with planet Earth on it as every other person who uses iBooks Author. Professional design matters, especially when creating something that will be viewed on Apple hardware, which will accentuate both the positives and negatives.

    Everything comes back to the iBooks Store itself, though. If it were re-invented into a dynamic competitor to Amazon, we’d see more sales of multi-touch format books…and more capital becoming available to invest in producing resources for this community. We’re getting there.

  • Mackay Bell 2 years ago

    I keep thinking maybe Apple is holding off moving into ebooks in a big way until after the dust settles on their Supreme Court appeal in the DOJ lawsuit. Or maybe I’m hoping. For some reason or another, Apple doesn’t seem fully committed to iBooks creation, which is a huge shame.