iBooks Author: First Impressions and Making a Comic

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Apple released a new piece of software called iBooks Author. It is for making digital, interactive books for the iPad and is available as a free download. I recently gave it a test run, and was pleased with the results. Here’s my overall impressions and thoughts, and a free download of my first ever iBooks book!




My Weekend Experiment

I made a "preview book" of my webcomic My Sister the Freak using the iBooks Author software over the weekend. I have it available as a free download. Let me know what you think!

Download the FREE My Sister the Freak iBooks Preview Book! (approx. 50 MB)

The ibook includes a couple issues of my comic plus bonus material, taking advantage of several of iBooks Author’s handy multimedia widgets. I hope it gives you a good idea of how these can be applied for comic making.

My next step will be to figure out how to get it up into the iBooks store. Overall, I'm excited, and I can see the potential for selling books in the future.

Why I'm Excited About iBooks Author

When the iPad was first released, it meant major change for the publishing industry, and it held loads of potential for independent creators. However, confusion and difficulty has kept this potential at bay. The format was difficult to make, and it wasn't ideal for visual books like comics and picture books. Plus, there wasn't a whole lot of options for interactivity unless you wanted to learn how to code and design a full app.

iBooks Author changes all that.

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Making the Book

After spending a weekend getting to know iBooks Author, I have to say it was a little bit of a headache. The software itself is simple to use, but I had to get over some of my preconceptions and hopes. The software is definitely built with textbooks in mind, but not so much comickers and picture book makers.

What Worked

It is super easy to add multimedia and interactive elements to the book. This is the part of the software that I'm most excited about. iBooks Author is adding something to the ebook game. You are no longer limited to simple text and images.

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What Didn't Work

When I was trying to move my comic into the iBooks format, my initial reaction was to try to place an image per page. I quickly realized that wasn't going to work. First, iBooks is still built mainly for text. I couldn't figure out how to format a page image so that it stretched full screen. Plus, the way iBooks Author works, the format changes depending on if you are in horizontal or vertical format. It is designed this way so that when the reader turns their iPad, they can read the text without a lot of visual distraction. That's not so great when you are trying to make a vertical page comic.

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How I Got Around It

However, I found that the iBooks Photo Gallery widget works exactly the way I wanted for reading a comic. The pages stretch full screen and works for either orientation. So instead of the traditional one-image-per-page way of making a book, I placed a gallery widget that contains the full issue. The reader opens the book, then clicks on the gallery in order to read it.

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After playing for a few hours, I realized that building a book in iBooks Author is more akin to making a website than an actual book. There’s so much difference in terms of structure and variety of media. But thankfully, my experiment didn’t involve one lick of code.

Legal Issues (and why they are not such a big deal)

I've seen a lot of hoopla about Apple's license agreement and terms. Mostly about this:

You cannot sell iBooks outside of the iBooks store.

BUT

They are not compatible outside of iBooks anyway.

iBooks Author is not only creating an ebook file, it is providing a way to add interaction, animation, video, and multimedia to your book. Even if you could take the file into another device, it probably wouldn't work quite right. You are going to be selling exclusively to iPad owners and the iBooks store is the best way to do that.

AND

Apple does not take copyright.

Apple isn't saying you can't sell your book anywhere else. It's just saying you can't sell the specific .ibooks file that you make with its software. You can still, say, sell a PDF made in InDesign or a Kindle version. Apple is taking no claims to the content itself.

This makes sense. Apple wants to be the exclusive provider of iBooks books, in the same way you can only buy Kindle books from Amazon. While I don't agree with it and find it a bit annoying to have to make separate formats for different stores, it's not unusual.

Amazon and Apple do this kind of thing to ensure they get their percentage of your sales. Yeah, that can be irksome. However, given that the software is free and the iBooks store is one of the biggest distributors of digital books on the market right now, I think that is a fair trade.

Considering that before iBooks Author I was avoiding selling in the iBooks store simply because it was too difficult to make and submit a file, I am considering iBooks Author a step UP, even with the annoying legal issues.

Your Turn

I'm excited to see what other artists do with this software and how other people solve comic-making problems. If you spend some time with iBooks Author, please share!