A Different Spin on iBooks Author

As you may have heard by now, there is a lot of controversy spinning around the licensing agreement for the recent release of Apple’s iBook Author tool. Here are a couple of links that describe the issues: 9to5Mac and the HuffPost Books

For my work, I look at this issue a bit differently.  From my perspective, Apple is the ‘printer’ and/or ‘distributor’ of books that I choose to place with them, not the publisher. In the case of my books, I am the ‘author’. The publishing company that I started four years ago, 4Site Press, is the ‘publisher’.

From what I can tell, Apple’s rights do not extend to the ownership of my intellectual property. I only want them to control things within the realm of fulfilling the sell (and perhaps some marketing). Sure, I would love total freedom to do what I choose with iBook Author and Apple is likely overstepping the bounds of reason, but that is not, at heart, why I am starting to use the tool. I love the product that I can produce with this tool.

In traditional publishing, the author turned over most rights to the publisher. After signing the publisher’s agreement, most authors had little say in what happened from that point. The author did most of the real work, the publisher took some highly controlled financial risk and the author received a miniscule share of the financial returns. The often glossed over part of traditional publishing is that the traditional publishers rarely (like 2% of the time) did any significant marketing, so the author still had to sell his or her book, even tho’ he/she had signed away the rights and the publisher was theoretically responsible for marketing.

I can have Apple distribute iBooks and iTextbooks (I intend to use their system to distribute multiple editions, with different isbn numbers). The iBooks version will be managed by an aggregator (SmashWords) and the iTextbooks, I will do myself, directly with Apple. At the same time I have made CreateSpace responsible for physical books throughout the Amazon system and handle bulk orders myself. I also have Kindle/Nook/et al distributed through my own Amazon account and through SmashWords. As I find other distribution outlets, I work with them too.

The trick is to retain ALL IP. Whenever I give up even a small piece of the IP, I lose control and limit what can happen. For example, right now Amazon has what seems like a great program for distributing Kindle material. However, if you sign up for it you are contractually obligated to have no other electronic versions of your book available in ANY format. You really have to keep up with the details of each distributor’s agreement.

I think that iBook Author offers several opportunities in the short run, at least for my work:

1. It allows me to push much of the information that I have created over the years into a more packaged, system basis, without losing the web connection, ie. I can quickly publish Helps & How-tos in a much cleaner way. Conceptually that is what my new book, Makers of the Environment is designed to do, so iBook Author creates another, better approach to what I have been working on for the last couple of years.

2. It offers the possibility of taking the iPad version of some of my favorite systems and distributing them within iBooks or all kinds. I think that we should add cool design tools to every building information modeling and real-time data book on the market. How better to show people what they are really about, in order to get away from the hype and sales pitches? For instance, I would like to include live demos of the cloud based tools that Onuma Inc. and others have created to Makers. To do this, I only have to create a page of sales/how-to/eula material plus set the system up to work within the iBook.With this tool we can really bring non-linear processes into people’s consciousness.

Think in terms of moving away from showing people how we did something in the past, toward live, proof-of-concept tools surrounded by the facts and issues that have created the need. For several years, I have been working to help people understand the difference between ‘best practices‘ which are how someone we cast as an expert did it yesterday; to ‘next practices‘ which is how we all need to do similar tasks tomorrow. This is one step in that evolution.

The tool developers may need to include a way for people to move to full system functionality in order to generate income, but that is something that they should be able to handle. If I can expose people to the possibilities and opportunities, it will work to everyone’s advantage, the users, the developers and mine. If everyone begins to understand the need and power of BIG BIM and BIG Data, everyone will benefit.

3. It allows me to present information in a pretty powerful way that should be highly acceptable to my clients. Especially the ones that have embraced the iPad. It really is starting to be a direct link to the live data that much of my work is now revolving around. Think in terms of presenting your next Validation Study or planning project, directly as an iBook, tied to user input and the outcomes of design and construction so that your facility’s live sensors inform and verify your design thoughts. Without a direct and easily usable connection between design and planning decisions and actual ‘in-use’ outcomes, how do you know that you did the right thing? And, more importantly, how do you adjust to do a better job, next time?

My biggest issues with the system right now are that:

  • So far, I have not been able to iframe sites into my iBooks. You cannot just paste the iframe code into a widget. You can paste in movies and other media, easily, though. It is possible to view a site within an iBook, but that requires more development than I have figured out, yet. It involves Xcode/Dashcode/et al. That’s why some of my material will remain as images with links that are not interactive, for at least until I figure out Dashcode.
  •  It seems to take Apple a very long time to approve even established businesses to use their system. Weeks to months (which is what Apple says in their FAQs), seems pretty draconian at this stage in the distributed data game. Hopefully, Apple will ramp up the approvals process.

btw. I have found that importing Pages and other formats into iBook Author is pretty unsatisfying. After a bit of experimentation, I ended up cutting and pasting into the system using FormatMatch to strip out formatting. It’s a little slower than importing, but one thing that I have learned about ebooks is that it is best to nuke all formatting from any print form, before starting ebook formatting. Just like when we converted from typing and had to learn to not use double spaces after periods; things are different in ebooks.