Three weeks ago, Apple launched an exciting new app: iAuthor. It sounded very promising. Using iAuthor, you can drag and drop to make enhanced ebooks. iAuthor and iBooks2 were released on the same day with the intention of making it easier for students to use interactive textbooks. All textbooks sold on the iBookstore are priced at $14.99 or less. But anyone can use iAuthor to make their own enhanced, interactive ebooks and sell them on iBookstore. At first, the articles about iBooks2 and iAuthors was very exciting.
After a few days, however, all the restrictions and drawbacks became apparent. On top of that, recent data shows that e-textbooks are not that popular. Although 46% of students are interested in buying textbooks on an iPad, only 10% actually use a smartphone or tablet for classwork.
My co-workers and I sat down on Tuesday to experiment and learn as much about iAuthor as we could so we could determine its usefulness for Simon & Schuster. Here is some of what we found:
- drag and drop is easier than coding, for certain things
- The widgets are cool, especially the interactive images
- iAuthor outputs an ebook that is both fixed format and reflowable, so you don’t have to design twice (vertical and horizontal views)
- If you’re used to programs like InDesign, then iAuthor feels clunky and a little disappointing
- Crack open the ebook, and you’ll see some very messy code
- It still takes a lot of time and effort to make a beautiful ebook, and these types of ebooks only apply to certain books (cookbooks, highly designed books, etc.)
- Apple only penetrates 10% of the ebook market, and if you make a book on iAuthor you can only sell it via Apple
- Because an iAuthor book is in the .iba format, there’s a chance one day this format will be outdated and unusable, and you will have no way of accessing the book you worked so hard on
My personal opinion is that iAuthor is great if you’re designing a digital-only book. You’ll have to plan to take advantage of the widgets, because a text-only ebook will not be worth making in this format. However, you should also be sure that your target market uses iPad, since they are the only ones who will be able to see it. Still, for people who don’t know programming, this is a good tool (though not terribly easy to use, at first).
It’s too bad that everyone is using their own proprietary formats. This makes things more complicated for everybody, and consumers suffer because they have to have multiple tablets and ereaders to access all their content. This also limits creativity, since ebook producers have to spend all their time formatting ebooks for all devices, instead of being able to think of cool new features they could add via one universal program/format.