Part two: iBooks Author and publishing music eBooks
In Part One, Bradley Metrock looked at the new music eBook from the band Airplane Mode (see here), this post reviews TNM’s own interest in publishing music eBooks and the progress the program still needs to make to be a viable publishing solution
The music eBook is something this site has been interested in since the launch of version 1.0 of iBooks Author four years ago last month. At the time of its release <strong>I called it, rather naively, a “game changer.”
“Most new software packages have a steep learning curve attached to them. I must admit that I am still not much of an InDesign expert after learning desktop publishing using Quark. But iBooks Author, Apple’s new free tool for creating digital books, is about as easy a program as you will come across for producing rudimentary interactive books.”
But Apple sometimes has a bit of an attention problem – the company goes from project to project and unless it results in billions of dollars worth of sales, it sometimes begins to lose interest. It took several years for Apple to bring iBooks to the Mac, and then longer to finally bring iBooks to the iPhone.
iBooks Author was never going to be a big money maker for Apple. The program is, of course, free, but it was really intended to make the iPad the default eBook reading device for textbooks and other interactive eBooks. The Kindle may dominate fiction, but the iPad would dominate the classroom, the boardroom and the laboratory. And one could argue that it does, I suppose.
For me, I immediately saw in iBA an opportunity to experiment with music eBooks. Since at least 2005, the great Catalan classical musician Jordi Savall had been publishing music books for his own label Alia-Vox. These books were generally several hundred pages in length as they included text in half a dozen languages, and also included two or three music CDs. Savall’s projects explore a major theme, gathering music from the time period, with the book helping explain the music and the relevant history. In 2011 Savall won a Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance for Dinastia Borja, his exploration of the Borgia family on Italy, created to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis Borgia in 1510.
Savall’s book CD projects are impressive, and no doubt expensive to product. Though the sets can be pricey – €28 to €33 a piece – I doubt they turn a profit (and that is not really the point, I would guess).
But why not produce these as eBooks, with music embedded right in the book?
So, in 2012, one of my first attempts at an iBooks Author created eBook was to produce a book for someone I know who owns a indy music label. I went to my collection of CDs and decided which one to use based on the quality of the existing liner notes that accompanied the CD.
I chose a Belgian band that I am sure most TNM readers have never heard of: Univers Zero. I picked their first release and got to work. I retyped the liner notes and made that Chapter One, then in search for more content that would be relevant, finding old articles from around 1976-77 and made those subsequent chapters. I then included a photo gallery for another chapter, and ended it all with a discography.
At the front of the first five chapters I added a widget that contain a piece from the CD.
I thought the eBook was rather impressive, and I still have it on an older iPad I own. But I could see immediately some of the imitations with iBooks Author that severely hampered the final product.
First, and most importantly, the music files that I added were automatically down sized by the program. A perfectly good audio file was now barely listenable.
Second, when the reader moved from the page where the audio was found the music immediately stopped. One could not listen and read at the same time.
In the end, the biggest problem was not that the end product so much as the complete lack of interest on the part of the music label. They weren’t interested in eBooks, they produced CDs (and before that LPs) and that was all they were interested in.
As evidenced by the new eBook from Airplane Mode, some of improvements have been made in iBA that make it a possibility music eBook publishing solution. The biggest is involves the acceptable bitrate publishers can now use of audio. Somewhere along the line Apple raised the quality limits and then didn’t tell anyone (or I just plain missed it).
Now, the publisher can use an AAC file (.mp4) encoded to 320Mbps. This isn’t CD quality, but it is very good – in fact, it is better than Apple sells within iTunes.
iBA still doesn’t have a setting that will allow the audio to continue to play when the reader turns the page. To effectively do this there would need to be a new mechanism created for audio. I can visualize two options: one were when the audio file widget is tapped a music player button appears at the top of the screen which remains even when the reader turns the page. The audio could then be controlled from that top button. Another option would be a pop-up that appears and does not go away even when the page is turned.
Unfortunately, I cannot find my original iBA file for the Univers Zero eBook. It has to be on an external hard drive somewhere. If I did, I would immediately substitute the old music files for new ones and reexport it you as an iBook. It would be an eBook that would never be published, but it would still be a nice addition to my iPad’s eBook collection.**
Music labels are, obviously, struggling to deal with fading CD sales. For most musician, CD sales rarely put much money in their pockets, making then reliant on live performances. It is doubtful that creating music eBooks would change things much.
But I think there is little risk in experimenting with the format. Obviously, the band Airplane Mode feels the same way.
“It’s weird to release a record as a book. A decade ago it would have sounded like a joke. Yet with iPhones and iPads and digital everything, the line between mediums is starting to blur. We wanted to take advantage of that blurring to tell our stories in a new way,” wrote Dave Wiskus, the band’s vocalist and guitarist.
Although the group included credits at the end of the eBook, they appear to really be about the EP release. It appears that the band did the eBook themselves, and they have already updated the eBook by adding more content.
“The book contains the same four studio tracks as the EP, but a new format allows us to go further; every song is a chapter, with the music, lyrics sheet, original demo, and stories that inspired the song,” Wiskus wrote.
“We’re also including a short video we made while goofing off in the studio, some photos of our experience, and a special hour-long podcast with the band and producer Michael Wuerth talking about what it was like to make the record.”
“Over time, as we make music videos or play shows to support the album, we can update the iBook with new content. In the digital age there’s no reason why a record can’t be a living document.”
Wiskus touches on some of the advantages I see in the format: the ability to update the content, to use the eBook as a way of adding more content – and those he doesn’t mention it, to use the eBook as a promotion tool.
In my own music eBook effort I added a fully interactive discography with links to the group’s other releases available through iTunes or direct through the label. I thought this would be very much of interest to the label and wouldn’t incur the wrath of Apple because they don’t sell CDs.
I thought bands might find it an interesting platform for the ability to present alternative versions of their material (something Airplane Mode does in their own eBook), as well as live performances of the same material.
The possibilities are endless, of course, and many eBooks built using iBooks Author have already been released. The most popular one was Yellow Submarine which was released as an interactive eBook and was called by one site the “the future of iBooks publishing.” It wasn’t. The reason is that it is nearly impossible to get traditional publishers to think of interactive eBooks as books at all. In fact, read most of the websites that cover book publishing and you will find the writers very much against interactive eBooks (and even eBooks themselves).
No, the future of music eBooks is in the hands of the musicians – and digital publishers who think differently, as the Apple ad used to say.
** Found it. Think I’ll play around with it this weekend. I know I can upgrade many of the photographs in the eBook, and more importantly, the audio files.