Home » Apple, Big Publishing, Ebooks » iBooks Author Conference Highlights Worries about iBooks Ecosystem

iBooks Author Conference Highlights Worries about iBooks Ecosystem

26 October 2017

From Tidbits:

There has been a lot of talk lately about how dedicated Apple is to its professional users, the ones who use Apple hardware and software to make their livings.

. . . .

In a conference room tucked away in a library on the campus of Vanderbilt University, I spent a morning surrounded by professional Apple users who earn their living with one piece of Apple software: iBooks Author.

. . . .

Authors who choose iBooks Author do so because it’s free and it’s flexible, but the other reason I heard repeatedly was that it’s the “best in class.” iBooks Author can do things that no other publishing tool can do, making it easy to create multi-touch, multimedia-intensive experiences. Metrock said he is asked once a week about a Windows equivalent of iBooks Author. “It doesn’t exist,” he says.

Jason LaMar, an Apple Distinguished Educator and author of “Ohio: Pathway to the Presidency” mentioned that Apple hates the name iBooks Author because it undersells what the app can actually do. It’s the closest thing Apple has to a modern-day reincarnation of HyperCard, and it even has a built-in publishing conduit to the iBooks Store and a reading app, iBooks, that’s bundled with hundreds of millions of devices running iOS and macOS.

That might sound like a ticket to publishing fortune, but it’s sadly not the case. Denise Clifton of Tandemvines Publishing, who worked on the investigative reporting book “An Air That Still Kills,” said that the iBooks Author version was the best and most advanced, but sold fewer copies than any other.

Even giving an iBooks Author book away for free isn’t enough. Despite the fact that Jason LaMar’s book was promoted by Ohio’s Secretary of State, was recommended to every school superintendent in the state, and is the top education book in the iBooks Store, only 3000 copies have been downloaded from the iBooks Store.

It’s no secret that Apple doesn’t pay much attention to iBooks Author.

. . . .

iBooks Author was one of Steve Jobs’s final initiatives, and he had ambitions to conquer the textbook market, as detailed in Walter Isaacson’s biography, “Steve Jobs.”

“The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt. But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money,” Jobs told Isaacson.

It wasn’t until after Jobs’s death that Apple launched iBooks Author (see “Apple Goes Back to School with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U,” 19 January 2012), but even so, it was a revelation to publishers, seemingly poised to change the industry. Michael Cohen’s “Why iBooks Author is a Big Deal” (21 January 2012) is a perfect encapsulation of that early optimism. Even initial concerns were optimistic because Michael was afraid Apple was about to take over publishing!

But as we now know, that didn’t happen. So what did?

Metrock and many others cite the 2013 antitrust ruling against Apple as the event that killed Apple’s enthusiasm for publishing. It was both expensive and led to years of cumbersome antitrust monitoring. If you want to understand the legalities there, you won’t find a better explanation than Adam Engst’s “Explaining the Apple Ebook Price Fixing Suit” (10 July 2013).

“Most people think it took Apple’s appetite away for innovating in the digital book space,” Metrock said.

. . . .

Metrock suggests that no one at Apple has the heart to kill it because it’s one of Jobs’s final legacies. “If this weren’t Apple’s, it would have been killed,” Metrock added.

. . . .

Apple seems content to let the entire iBooks Author ecosystem stagnate. Metrock highlighted how Apple remodeled the iOS App Store for iOS 11 while the iBooks Store remains unchanged, with poor discoverability. “If you’re a small or medium-size publisher counting on revenue, the iBooks Store is not for you, unless you can get on the front page, but good luck with that,” Metrock said.

Link to the rest at Tidbits and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG will reiterate his prior opinion from the time of the original antitrust litigation – Apple and its five co-conspirator publishers, the Price-Fix Six, were incredibly stupid in their illegal behavior which, at a minimum, should have raised a forest of red flags for managers and their attorneys.

From an antitrust legal perspective, the verdict of the trial court was pretty much a foregone conclusion. None of the participants were in the least bit intelligent in their actions. Many other price-fixing conspiracies have done a far better job at structuring and concealing activities in a way designed to avoid adverse legal consequences. Some of the intelligent conspiracies have been successful and others have not, but the Apple/Big Publisher conspiracy was doomed from the start.

Apple, Big Publishing, Ebooks

14 Comments to “iBooks Author Conference Highlights Worries about iBooks Ecosystem”

  1. “There has been a lot of talk lately about how dedicated Apple is to its professional users, the ones who use Apple hardware and software to make their livings.”

    So for the professional and non-professional users that don’t use Apple hardware will never know if iBooks Author is of any use or not.

    I had someone else telling me a few years back that I just ‘had to try’ this great program that made writing so much easier (funny as he isn’t a writer.) No, I can’t remember if it was iBooks Author, but it was another ‘Apple only’ type program and I pointed out I wasn’t running any Apples at the time. He insisted it didn’t take much – heck, it would run on an iPad. Took a while to convince him that I wasn’t interested more hardware to do something I was already doing with what I had.

    As has been pointed out, Apple seems not to care that much about their iBooks, so going the iBooks Author route doesn’t seem to be all that useful.

    YMMV as they say, different programs are more/less helpful than others (and some of us stick to what we’re used to.)

  2. I remember being colossally disappointed in Steve Jobs over this. He was so innovative when introducing the iTunes infrastructure. Everything was designed to outperform all competitors through ease of use, technology, and price point. When I heard Apple was entering the eBook space, I had big hopes. Then I heard of the deal he made with the devils of the industry. You’re right. It was completely ill conceived and ignorant. It was counter to what Jobs was known for. I suspect that dying of cancer distracted that sharp mind of his.

    That being said, I still sell more through iBooks than another other competitor, aside from Amazon. So they’ve done some things right, but the creators sited are correct in that iBooks Author is simply not leveraged as a marketing tool by Apple. Who knows how much say the Price-Fix Six still have over that ecosystem?

    I’m hearing word that Tim Cook is training a replacement. I can’t say I’ll be sad to see him go. Perhaps the next CEO will spend less time basking in the glory of the press and more time restoring the company’s quality control and focus.

    • You know those ads they have where the silhouettes of people dance around and rock out to their itunes music?

      Where is the similar set of ads where silhouettes of people are shown quietly but enthusiastically reading and discussing books on their ipads?

      • People would have to reasonabley believe anyone actually read books on their iPad. Not many do.

      • Where is the similar set of ads where silhouettes of people are shown quietly but enthusiastically reading and discussing books on their ipads?

        The absence of such ads is a pretty good indication they don’t intend to do much in that market.

    • There does appear to be a rolling-together of the ibooks store and the ibooks author app. They are different things. the store absolutely needs help, but ibooks author is dying, straight up.

  3. When a firm has the best product in the world, and does nothing with it, it’s a good indication they don’t care about competing in that market. They are content to let Amazon have it.

  4. Despite the fact that Jason LaMar’s book was promoted by Ohio’s Secretary of State, was recommended to every school superintendent in the state, and is the top education book in the iBooks Store, only 3000 copies have been downloaded from the iBooks Store.

    This is telling. I couldn’t find the author on Amazon, so is he exclusive to ibooks? If so, that would explain why he had so few downloads. Three thousand people in Ohio who listen to the Secretary of State get their books through Apple. How many more get their stuff through Amazon?

    • I think you miss the point that this is not just an ebook. I downloaded a sample to verify this. It opens with a slideshow and music. The book is interactive and includes videos and music you can click on. You couldn’t read it on a Kindle and the Kindle app for tablets wouldn’t support the format.

  5. This is an example of what I saw at the Highway Department in the 90s. We were moving from hand drafting to CAD. As the Highway Department we had to look long term on what we used. The software had to last for decades to fit the design life cycle. Little did we realize at the time how ephemeral software is, so it was a losing battle from the start. I spent most of my career routinely converting all of our files to the next “great” software system, because people insisted on having complete access to all of their old files.

    Being Captain CAD, I was on the various product committees to purchase software. There was one time that a beautiful program came along, that solved many of our problems. When we found out that it was written by one guy, and one guy only, we had to pass. If he was hit by a bus, we would be in trouble.

    Reading the article, and finding out that it is like HyperCard, I want to start using iBooks Author, but just like HyperCard, no matter how beautiful the software is people would have a limited access to the result. I’ll play with it as a hobbyist, knowing that it may vanish all too soon.

    That’s what happened to me before. I discovered HyperCard, became excited by the potential, then it was discontinued. Just my luck. HA!

    Another example is OneNote from Microsoft. I just bought the latest Word for Mac and it came with Office. I tried it out and it looked amazing. Then I discovered that it was Cloud Based, and could not run standalone. I instantly shut it down. From what happened at the Department I cannot depend on some “Cloud” keeping all my files. Over the next 20 years there will be three major “Cloud Fails” where data is lost or corrupted.

    There is no “long term” storage by a third party.

    If I start doing ebooks along with paper, I will plan on having to reload the ebooks to a new system as vendors vanish, and ebooks mutate. Ebooks are ephemeral, that’s why I hesitate to get trapped on that upgrade treadmill once again.

  6. Apple is a an iPhone company.
    Deal with it on those terms.

    • Im afraid youre right Felix
      I’d hoped for full broadcast quality film studio capacity built in; video satellite transmissions in real time with no checking of pixels, built in; a suite of ‘come withs,’ including flawless epub/ mobi/kindle/nook/ sonyereader, itunes, POD formatting by pressing of five buttons or less; an entire radio station with all presets, syndication access, backup and auto transcriber of all audio broadcasts; a full bleed photos website builder, build it, with store/ done in five minutes; their own version of picmonkey except with cut out and heal functions. There is more.

      The things many of us folk here who are multimedia talk about, boils down to one thing really: Apple, You couda been a contendah.

      Sure cell phones have c video, and ok camera lenses,sure they can do handsprings galore through apps. But I dont play games, or need a flashlight or a magnifying glass, etc. I want to work on cinema screens, and do, but the gerryrigging of all the c that apple took away and other software developers abandoned or sold their nifty REALLY USEFUL and SIMPLE software to some company that made it into slog-ware– as allynh mentioned, weirdo things apple put on which are useless, my cpu setups look a little Rube Goldberg.

      Surely cell phones have been literal life savers, and let people far and near behold one another esp deployed and at holidays when one cannot come home. But if for Apple cell phone is king, Im not sure people stumbling along the streets and sidewalk, even on mtn hiking paths where they might still have a shred of tower beam, staring into their tiny cell phones, at tiny print and tiny pictures, is an improvement.

      I dont know Felix. I just maybe have had too much faith in who I think are the geniuses of the world: people who use mathematics for magical means, such as to build hardware, develop amazing software. It my mind, that incredible sky had no ceiling.

  7. From what I can tell any book made with iBooks author has to be sold via Apple and only Apple. I swear Apple could murder people and everyone would ask for the murder phone 8s.

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