When iBooks Author, Apple’s multimedia e-book authoring tool, was unveiled in January, it was hailed for how easy it is to use and its ability to create rich, multimedia, and interactive educational content. Initially aimed at the textbook market—though at the launch Apple’s Phil Shiller also said iBooks Author could be used to create any kind of book—over the past year iBooks Author has been adopted by a wide-ranging and growing number of trade book publishers as well as educational publishers. Almost a year later, the iBookstore offers a steadily growing list of books “Made with iBooks Author,” and is being used to create a growing number of visually oriented titles. Those using iBooks Author are even okay with the fact that the titles they create can only be sold in the iBookstore.
Since iBooks Author was released, hundreds of books created with the authoring tool are being sold through the iBookstore in a variety of categories, including travel, children’s, cooking, music instruction, gaming strategy, biography, entertainment and other categories. The books are coming from a variety of sources, including big six publishers, self-published authors, small publishers, app developers and TV networks. Among the titles are Michelle Obama’s American Grown (Random House, $14.99), as well as George Harrison’s Living in the Material World (Abrams, $14.99), edited by Olivia Harrison.
Conversations with such publishers as DK Publishing, Sourcebooks, Disney Worldwide Publishing, and NBC Publishing indicate that the format has become a software developer’s hit, and publishers are using iBooks Author to create an impressive selection of enhanced e-books with everything from photographs, sound, and animation to video footage—it’s free to use, though any content created using it must be sold only via the iBookstore. At the iBooks Author launch in January, PW spoke with a number of digital developers who were impressed with the software, but dubious of a proprietary format, emphasizing that despite its utility and convenience, iBooks Author was a thinly veiled effort to lock publisher content into a single retail channel. But publishers today seem mostly unconcerned about that limitation.
Many publishers said that the titles produced with iBooks Author will, in some cases, be recreated for other platforms like the Nook HD, Kobo, or Kindle Fire HD—but in other cases, probably not. And while all the publishers are aware of EPub3, the forthcoming multimedia-focused open e-book standard developed by IDPF, most publishers said the standard isn’t universally supported. Nevertheless, it isn’t so much that publishers don’t like KF8, EPub3, or the other platforms—it’s that they just really like iBooks Author and the functionality it offers.
Tim Greco, DK associate publisher for digital, called the iBooks Authoring platform “a great success story” and said, “It allows us to get complex, highly illustrated e-books ready for sale.” DK was part of the initial launch of iBooks Author, debuting four titles in the iBookstore in January and quickly following with about 30 titles since then, among them Story of the Titanic ($4.99) in June and Fashion: The Definitive History of Custom and Style ($6.99) in October, both multimedia “coffee-table”–style books produced with a wealth of photos and video content. Indeed, DK is porting its rich backlist of illustrated print titles into the iBooks Author as “fixed format” enhanced e-books. “We just identify our bestselling print books and export them into iBooks Author, and it’s been very successful so far.” DK has about 54 iBooks Author–produced titles for sale in the iBookstore now, with plans for many more in 2013, Greco said.
While DK is using the software to essentially turn its print backlist into a digital list, Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah does just the opposite—using iBooks Author to create original digital titles that are “integrated with the reader’s goal of entertainment or education.” Raccah said she’s focused on the consumer and producing “an experience or solving a problem,” not just adding “bells and whistles” to backlist print titles. That’s what drove the creation of the Shakesperience, a series of enhanced e-books created with iBooks Author that use multimedia content to transform how students as well as theater professionals read, study, and learn about Shakespeare’s plays. Sourcebooks released Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello in October for $5.99 (a launch discount from the list price of $9.99), with more to come.
“IBooks Author simplifies the methodology of developing an interface and makes it much simpler to produce than it would be as a conventional app,” Raccah said, describing the conventional process of building an app as “slow and expensive.” She said iBooks Author “allows you to see the whole process at once and allows you to easily fix things.” She’s also unconcerned about the Shakesperience series being confined to the Apple platform, explaining that Apple was a “partner” in the series’ development. “Shakesperience was done for Apple—it’s for the iPad and for schools; Apple has a great school presence—I’m not sure if it will be developed for other platforms,” Raccah said. Sourcebooks is testing a new series of digital products with “big brands and new partners” that could lead to as many as 60 books produced with iBooks Author. “We’re building a pipeline into iBooks Author. It’s a great platform,” Raccah said.
Much the same response came from NBC Publishing, which used iBooks Author to produce Grimm: The Essential Guide, a free enhanced e-book offering background information on the NBC-TV series, and from Disney Worldwide Publishing, which created a similar promotional e-book for the recently released Disney film, Frankenweenie. Both titles are packed with multimedia content—especially video—from both publishers, which have access to vast storehouses of multimedia content.
Michael Fabiano, v-p, general manager, NBC Publishing, cited Grimm along with two Arnold Palmer titles, Reflections on the Game, a free sampler, and Arnold Palmer: A Personal Journey ($6.99) by Palmer and Thomas Hauser; the latter was turned into a POD print title because of demand. “It took three days to turn it into a print title,” Fabiano said, praising iBooks Author because “it allows you the flexibility to go to print.” NBC Publishing uses iBooks Author among other technologies, Fabiano said, because of “the presentation value and interactivity inherent in iBooks Author. It’s good for some projects, [while] others might be better for EPub. We want to be on different platforms, but we may have to be choosy.”
Lyle Underkoffler, v-p, digital media at Disney Worldwide Publishing, cited the Frankenweenie enhanced e-book as an example of creating “an immersive reading experience” with iBooks Author. Frankenweenie was launched as a free e-book, but will eventually be a for-pay title, along with “dozens” of other Disney iBooks Author titles on sale in the iBookstore. “Instead of worrying about a line of code, we can use these tools and focus on the story rather than the technology. Just like we use many different tools to produce physical books, iBooks Author is similar; it brings stories to life in different ways.”