Opinion: iBooks Author – why photographers should care

Opinion: iBooks Author – why photographers should care
iBooks Author, the new ebook authoring app from Apple.

iBooks Author, the new ebook authoring app from Apple.

Yesterday, at an event in New York, Apple released an update to its iBooks app, along with an all-new authoring application that makes it very easy to create stunning interactive books for the iPad. On the surface of things, this seemed to be an education-related event, with a focus on using the authoring tool, iBooks Author, to create textbooks for sale through the iBookstore.

But if you watch the video of the special event, you’ll see that Phil Schiller, Apple’s VP of worldwide marketing, makes a point of mentioning that iBooks Author can be used to create much more than textbooks. This is where things start to get interesting.

A few days ago, I posted the following rant to my Google+ page.

I just had a bit of an epiphany. I’m reviewing a book for +This Week in Photo (TWiP) and I realized that I can’t really review it – or any other book – in terms of its design and presentation. This one book is available in three or four electronic formats, not one of them alike. How do you a review a book – especially a book on photography – without commenting on its design and layout?

I think ebooks are going to have to get to a point where they match print books in terms of aesthetic beauty. Ebooks on photography, for example, really ought to match their printed counterparts. +David duChemin is doing this to a huge extent with his Craft and Vision ebooks, but the big publishers have to get up there and do this too.

ePub is a lame format, as is the Kindle AZW format. Neither really addresses aesthetics – which is fine for novels and non-fiction books with little or no graphic content. PDF, I’m told, is still the best way to do this, but why is that? My iPad’s Newsstand is stocked with titles that at least attempt to figure out how to publish to new devices like this.

Some book publishers are doing this – +Joe McNally‘s book, “The Life Guide to Digital Photography,” (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/life-digital-photo-guide/id409182961?mt=8) was released as an app for iOS. Granted, it’s not a masterpiece of publishing (the book is a masterpiece in other ways), so why not his other books? Why not “Sketching Light?”

Other books I’ve liked in app form on the iPad: Andrew Zuckerman’s “Music” (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/andrew-zuckerman-music/id399856670?mt=8), Bob Davis’ “Lights, Camera Capture!” (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lights-camera-capture!/id399732384?mt=8) and Al Gore’s “Our Choice” (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app//id432753658?mt=8).

Clearly, it can be done – and rather well, too. No publisher should have the slightest excuse to publish books that look like HTML 1.0 pages designed for NCSA Mosaic, not when there are plenty of technologies out there to give them far better options.

Two days later, Apple made my wish come true.

The rant above points to why this new development is important for photographers. For the first time, photographers have an ecosystem that makes it really easy to design and distribute a self-published book without having to host their own ecommerce system (much like David duChemin does with his “Craft and Vision” series). Nor do you have to rely on the traditional big publishing houses to get yourself published.

More importantly, photographers have a means of creating ebooks that don’t look, as I mentioned, “like HTML 1.0 pages designed for NCSA Mosaic.” As I said in my rant, the ebook version of the book I was reviewing was not laid out well, mostly because of the limitations of the ePub and AZW formats. The new .ibooks format does away with those limitations – download the E.O. Wilson foundation’s free biology textbook and you’ll see just how potentially powerful this new platform is.

Some of you may ask, “Why not go with a big publishing house if you have the chance?” For that, I’ll point you to Trey Ratcliff’s recent article for Gigaom:

After many months of hard work, I finish the book and fly out to San Francisco to have dinner with some of the senior execs at Peachpit. I’m excited. I’m about to have a book in Borders and Barnes & Noble (this was before Borders went out of business); my mom and dad can go into a store to see my book and everything. In a way it’s all very personal: New authors can’t help but think about their parents walking into a store to see their child’s book. I can hear my parents talking about it to their friends at the coffee shop. This is a big moment for me.

Anyway, back to dinner. I’m sitting there in a nice restaurant in San Francisco with all these executives of a major publishing house. It’s one of these power dinners of lore. We’re there to discuss the upcoming launch of the book, and I’ll never forget what happened. They asked me, “OK, Trey, what are you going to do to market this book?”  You could have knocked me over with a feather.

My young publishing life flashed in front of my eyes.

Little-known fact: the big publishing houses design, edit, and print your book, then send it out to bookstores. When it comes to actually marketing your book, they do absolutely nothing. Not one darn thing.

The word that comes to mind is disintermediation.

If you’re going to have to do all the marketing yourself, why not take one extra step and do the layout for your book the way you want it, in a manner that works for your particular style, rather than your editor’s style? Don’t have the skills to edit and lay out your book? Partner with a graphic artist who is willing to work for a cut off your book’s sales and you still end up with the lion’s share of profits, as opposed to the amount that authors get after a book has been published in the traditional manner.

Another criticism of the iBookstore is that it’s an iPad-only platform. You can’t distribute those .ibooks files – or PDFs created with iBooks Author – outside of the iBookstore. That’s a fair criticism, and I do think that the EULA (End User License Agreement) needs to be relaxed so you can do whatever you want with at least the PDF files. However, to say that you can’t make money off your book because it’s iPad-only is a fallacious  argument. Just look at Scott Kelby’s Light It! magazine, or Virgin Media’s Project Magazine. Those are iPad-only releases, and are, according to their publishers’ claims, profitable enough.

If you write something that’s compelling enough, that you put enough of an effort into marketing, then you stand a pretty good chance of making some money. Those chances are a lot better than the chances of you getting picked up by, say, Peachpit to write a book for them. Now you have the tools to create your own photography book with a layout and look that’s aesthetically pleasing, and the means to distribute that book. There is simply NO reason for photographers looking to put a book out to pass up on this new platform.

UPDATE: Talk about getting in on the ground floor: There’s already a website that’s selling third-party templates for iBooks Author. Check out http://premiumibookstemplates.com. I saw at least three templates that are perfect for photographers and they’re in my shopping cart now.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter or find him at anymedium.com.


  1. Something that those looking to publish with Apple (so to speak) will need to keep in mind is that once you publish it to the iBooks store, you CANNOT sell it anywhere else, EVER AGAIN, unless you give it away, for free. This includes if your book is denied by Apple. According to the EULA, whether it’s approved or not, you CANNOT sell your book anywhere else, EVER.

    Just something to keep in mind.

  2. why is it so difficult to convert a pdf to epub for a photography book publisher? I have created photo books in indesign that look great in pdf and will not stay together in epub. the quality is not as good as pdf and the images and text are all over the place when converted to epub?

  3. Regarding the comment above:

    “Something that those looking to publish with Apple (so to speak) will need to keep in mind is that once you publish it to the iBooks store, you CANNOT sell it anywhere else, EVER AGAIN, unless you give it away, for free. This includes if your book is denied by Apple. According to the EULA, whether it’s approved or not, you CANNOT sell your book anywhere else, EVER.”

    This is actually not the case at all. Apple updated their TOS to clarify and explain that if you create your book with iBooks Author and export it in their .ibooks format, you can only sell that .ibooks file on Apple. Considering that at the present time, it isn’t really possible to sell your book in that .ibooks format anywhere else, that is not a big deal.

    You can still take your text and content and create a PDF, EPUB, MOBI, etc and sell it on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.



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