UPDATE (JAN 2014): I just published another ebook, this one heavily focused on images, and found little has changed over the past couple of years – Apple’s system is still far and away the easiest to use, resulting in a smoother, more appealing final product. Unfortunately, as before, IBooks Author only works on Apple products and proved essentially useless for developing a Kindle book. Given that my sales on Amazon dwarf my sales on all other platforms combined, this is a significant drawback.
Addressing that drawback by using the greater layout, template, and design controls of the Creative Cloud products also proved untenable for Kindle. Amazon prefers submissions formatted in Word, with very limited layout and design options. Essentially, the layout is confined to text, then an image, then more text. Anything involving more complicated, professional layouts proved impossible. Meaning my time spent with Adobe’s products was largely wasted.
In the end, given the project was for an image-focused ebook to be delivered via Amazon and Apple’s bookstores, Creative Suite wasn’t necessary. I used iBooks Author to create a book with a fairly sophisticated, magazine-style layout for iTunes. Then I took the text from that book, pasted it into a Word doc, then added back in the images, to create a book with the layout of a middle school English paper to use on Amazon. The easiest method would have been to just write everything in Word, but the Apple system is so simple to use, and looks so much better (at least for an image-heavy book), it was worth the extra work. The end result however, is readers using a Kindle will have a clunkier experience than those using an iPad or Mac.
UPDATE (29 JAN 2013):If you’re publishing for an iPad-only audience, a class or work team where everyone owns the device as part of the project, then iBooks Author is far easier and quicker for creating new content, especially if it contains video or audio. Even existing content can be easier to route through Author than the Adobe suite, unless you’re a skilled Adobe user with content already set up in one of the suite’s programs (e.g. InDesign, Dreamweaver, Captivate, etc.).
If you’re publishing with the intent of maximizing sales however, the market for Author-based books (iPad only) doesn’t compare with the reach of the Adobe tools (iPad, plus iPhone, Kindle and Nook, Windows, Blackberry, and, oh yeah, the entire Android universe). The upfront time to learn InDesign and the rest is considerable, but so is the advantage in market size. Plus, converting from a book/publication to an actual app is possible with the Adobe products, should you so desire (i.e. you’d like to include audio or video in your book, which is still a no-go for most e-readers but normal in apps). Again, it’s not easy, but it’s possible. With iBooks Author, it’s not possible to sell/distribute outside of books on the iPad .
While my personal experience is hardly the sole measure of iBooks, I sell more in a few days on Amazon than a month on iTunes/iBooks (plus there’s no irritating little “i” in front of everything). So, before you start development, carefully consider your goal for the project. If it is to distribute to a team of iPad owners, and/or you’d like to relatively quickly and easily include audio or video in your publication, iBooks Author is the natural choice. If your goal is sell to the widest possible audience, then, no matter how easy it is, Author is not the best choice. You’ll either need to dive into the Adobe morass (though the advent of Creative Cloud at least makes it cheaper than before), swear off the entire non-iPad world, or wait and hope Apple someday updates Author to allow for publishing to other platforms (to shouts of joy echoed around the planet).
UPDATE (23 OCT): My ‘pre-jinx’ from yesterday appears to have worked – Apple just announced an update to iBooks Author, which should address some of the issues mentioned below. I look forward to downloading and testing the latest version as soon as it’s available.
UPDATE (22 OCT): iBooks Author came out in January and, except for a quick update right after release, we’ve seen no updates since. If the software is going to become a legitimate competitor to the Adobe suite, instead of just another “hobby”, Apple needs to up the pace, at the very least by addressing the bugs outlined below. If not, between the bugs and the limited, iTunes-only publishing option, Author is quickly going to wither on the vine – an outcome benefiting no one outside Adobe.
Previous postings focused on initial impressions from working with Apple’s new iBooks Author and on the challenge iBooks Author (hereafter just called Author because I’m tired of typing the little i in front of everything) may eventually pose to Adobe, especially to Captivate and elements of Creative Suite. This posting takes a more direct look at comparing Author with Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite.
First off, Author is completely free, both to download the software and with no additional per book up-charges, aside from iTunes’ normal cut. Though the included templates are still limited, additional third-party templates are becoming available for purchase, including Book Palette in the App Store and from iBooksAuthorTemplates.com (well done on being the first to jump on that URL). As mentioned in previous postings and reader comments, the software still has bugs (e.g. quizzes, Help Center, odd layout issues, oversized audio playback controls, etc.) but is intuitive and easy to put to work.
Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite is far from free ($395 and up, way up), with charges for both the software itself and for future book downloads (beyond a certain number included with the initial software purchase and in addition to the normal iTunes or Amazon charges). In exchange, you get a much more professional, advanced package, in essence, the one used to design most of what you read. The barrier to entry is much higher, if you aren’t already familiar with the programs involved, but that comes with far greater control over every facet of the book/product.
For me, someone not at all design-centric with my publications (as you can see from the blog), I’m fine with Author for creating most text-based items. However, when delving deeper into materials (especially, in my case, with educational materials) that require interaction, audio, or finely-tuned layout control, I still need Captivate and the rest of the Suite products. One day, one very special day, I’m going to completely ditch Adobe and all it’s charges, but unfortunately that day has not yet arrived, at least for some of my projects. Your thoughts?