May 18, 2016 Last Updated 1:10 pm

Investigative journalists use iBooks Author for interactive edition of ‘An Air That Still Kills’

Journalists Andrew Schneider and David McCumber follow-up on the still-unfolding story of an environmental disaster in Libby, Montana, where hundreds of people died, and thousands more were sickened, from the asbestos that contaminated a vermiculite mine

In an era where authors and publishers need to publish to many different platforms when considering their digital editions, often a short cut is taken: publish to print first, then take the easiest route available for the eBook edition. This way of publishing, of course, misses out on the opportunity to take advantage of the ways an interactive eBook can add valuable information to the reading experience.
Journalists Andrew Schneider and David McCumber have recently published An Air That Still Kills, a follow-up book to their reporting from 2004, about a vermiculite mine near Libby, Montana, that was producing asbestos-tainted ore that was poisoning the townspeople. The print book and Kindle Edition have been published through Amazon’s Digital Services, but the iBooks edition uses iBooks Author to create its enhanced edition.

“When we published An Air That Kills in 2004, we told the story of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, and the toll it took on Libby, Montana, as well as potentially millions of unsuspecting Americans exposed to the asbestos-laced vermiculite mined there,” said Andrew Schneider, former AP reporter, and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

“But the tragedy of Libby didn’t end because of the story David McCumber and I told. In ways both maddening and frightening, the calamity has continued to unfold and grow as the years have passed.”

David McCumber, referred to above, is editor of the Montana Standard in Butte, Montana, and formerly managing editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

“In an era of breathless, 24/7 “breaking news’’ updates, Libby has become yesterday’s news. By expanding and updating An Air That Kills into An Air That Still Kills, I want to show that the tragedy of Libby has not only continued, it has grown more dire for millions of people who unknowingly live with the unique, life-stealing fiber,” wrote Schneider.

According to an interview conducted with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, the motivation for the new digital editions is that the authors had been asked by two professors, one from an environmental law program and another from a school of public health, for an eBook edition that could uses as a text.

The iBooks edition, which can be read on a Mac, iPad or iPhone, adds both interactivity and multimedia content to the new version of the print book (the first 26 chapters of which comprised the original book published in 2004). For instance, the interactive map (below) allows the reader to familiarize themselves to Libby and the mine at the center of the book.
The book starts out with a story of the original reporting on the mine:

LIBBY, MONT. — First, it killed some miners. Then it killed wives and children, slipping into their homes on the dusty clothing of hard-working men. Now the mine is closed, but in Libby, the killing goes on.

W.R. Grace & Co. knew, from the time it bought the Zonolite vermiculite mine in 1963, why the people in Libby were dying.

But for the 30 years it owned the mine, the company did not stop it.

What the iBooks edition can do, that wouldn’t be possible in print, is add material like the trailer to the documentary “Libby/Montana” which was broadcast in 2004 on the PBS series POV/The American Documentary.

It can also do more with the page layouts, using a fixed layout design to integrate the photography more creatively with the text.

The iBooks edition was brilliantly designed, by Tandemvines Publishing, and is the edition anyone with a Mac or iPad would want to purchase. It is priced at $14.99, while the Kindle Edition is $9.99, and might be the better choice if you tend to read on a smartphone. The paperback will seem priced high at $29.99, one needs to consider the size of the work – in this case, 592 pages.
Anyone who has worked with iBooks Author will recognize some of the design decisions. I, personally, find the way some find solutions to some of the obvious deficiencies of the program fascinating – like how to deal with footnotes in a way that is not intrusive, or forces the reader to jump back and forth within the book.

The iBooks version is laid out exclusively in landscape, by passing the creation of a portrait version which would force all of the graphic elements of the book to the side.

It also does not have an iPhone designed version. This remains a real weakness of iBA. Yes, it was nice when Apple belatedly brought iBooks to the iPhone, but the software team at Apple has still not come up with a good way for interactive books created for the iPad (or Mac) to translate well to the iPhone.

  • Bradley Metrock 5 months ago

    Great piece Doug – thanks for bringing this use of iBooks Author to the fore. Looking forward to reading the book and hope we see more of this type of usage of the software by journalists looking to provide greater depth to the stories they’re bringing to light.