February 7, 2016
I've used iBooks Author and published books on Apple's iBookstore for four years and appreciate what they gave me. I'm thinking it might be time to experiment with other tools and outlets.
Apple shipped iBooks Author four years ago. A month later my book on TDD with Kiwi was available on the iBookstore.
I had written books for traditional publishers like O'Reilly, Pearson, Wiley, and the Pragmatic Programmers but decided to explore what was possible if I wrote books that would only be distributed electronically.
The eBooks were media rich. I animated code builds. I included videos and graphic novel pages leading people quickly through getting projects set up.
I loved this new freedom - but there were issues.
That isn't quite right.
I can't let people know that the book they are buying is a beta. That violates iBookstore rules.
Initially I got some low reviews from people who didn't realize that they had three chapters of a book that would later have more chapters. I just wasn't allowed to tell them there was more coming.
I understand this restriction from Apple's point of view. Imagine someone who buys a book thinking there will be more. The more never ships or doesn't ship in a timely manner. That customer might want their money back and there is no mechanism to allow that.
I put a lot of time into writing my Swift Kickstart book. At some point I would like to charge people for a significant update. But I don't want an existing customer to have to buy the book all over again. I'd like to offer existing customers an upgrade at a low rate and charge new customers the full amount.
There's no mechanism for doing so.
I don't have lists or emails for my customers because they aren't my customers. They are Apple's customers who are buying my book. But this means I can't let them know when another book is available. I can't let them know when a book is so old I need to take it out of print. I can't tell them when I'm going to be running workshops based on the material in the book.
This isn't unique to the iBookstore. I taught for many years through another company. All of my class lists belong to that company because that's who had the relationship with the customer. I have no way of reaching those students to let them know I've updated the class and am teaching it in their area or that I have a new book they might like.
This customer relationship isn't a complaint I have with Apple or the training company - more of an observation that I would like to have a (limited) relationship with my readers and students.
Readers have asked me to make the type in the books resizable.
On the one hand, I would love to make the text more readable. On the other hand, if you enlarge the text size then the code may wrap to the next line and be harder to read. I love that iBooks Author lets me produce a page as if it were a page in a book. I recognize that people need to enlarge text to better read it.
So I'm moving my books to ePub.
But the iBookstore doesn't allow me to move any of my existing books to ePub.
One of the nice things about the iBookstore is that regions have been added and magically I can sell in new countries without doing any work. Apple collects the money, distributes the book, calculates the taxes, ...
The downside is that some countries aren't included in my agreement.
Sometimes this is because the iBookstore doesn't sell to these countries. That makes me sad but I understand it.
Other times customers can get books from other publishers but smaller publishers aren't allowed to sell to this country yet.
India is a country that I can't sell to at this moment. I also can't sell in China. There are a huge number of developers in these countries I'd love to be able to reach.
On the other hand, Apple takes care of the DRM.
I know that as soon as I go to ePub and drop the DRM I'm going to see my books on streaming sites. I'll have to evaluate that when it happens. If enough people are honest then I can afford to keep writing books. If not, then I'll have to find something else to do.
I can't update the cover of my books in the iBookstore or the description without a support ticket from Apple. These can take a week or more to resolve. So when I update my book to support the latest version of Swift, it may not be clear to readers for weeks that the book is updated.
Wait - you say - can't they get automatic updates through the iBookstore?
That feature doesn't always work. Often they have to delete their existing book to get the updated version on their device.
This isn't a huge deal. I tend not to link to Amazon if I can help it. But there are books that aren't available in the iBookstore that I would like to link to as they are resources. If Apple doesn't sell the book, why shouldn't I be able to point my readers to Amazon? And ...
I know. It sounds like I've lost my mind.
Here's the point. Amazon has a ton more titles than iBookstore. Apple should want to make it easier for more of those Amazon books to appear on the iBookstore as well. If they gave me a nice tool for creating books that run on the Kindle and it was trivial for me to submit that book to the iBookstore as well, there would be more books on the iBookstore.
I can create glossary terms but I can't create an index with iBooks Author. I would love to provide readers with words that they might use for concepts and direct them at the words we use in the book and where to learn about them.
Each chapter of my book is a separate file.
I learned to do that because iBooks Author has difficulties with large files.
When it's time to ship or update my book I have to copy and paste each of these chapters into one file.
I'd like a master document that lets me just list the chapters in order. I could easily change the chapter order or insert a chapter. Really I'd love to do that down to the section level but can't.
There are many reasons this is true but I'll restrict myself to two.
The html and css that it emits is horrible. I use paragraph and chapter styles which I have defined ahead of time. There should be a natural way to convert this to html and css.
If my designer makes a change to my template, I can't reapply the new template to an existing chapter if my book is an ePub. I can if it's not an ePub.
We upload our books to the iBookstore using iTunes Producer. If it's an existing book we need to hand enter the title, subtitle, author, description etc all over again along with the prices. It doesn't read this information from the record that it accesses.
Also the upload silently fails if you create your book while another .iBooks file exists. Silently. And the folks at Apple support can't see what went wrong because it happens at our end. I now know to move the old file into another directory before pushing the "Publish" button.
I can't help but think that if Eddie Cue loved to read as much as he loved music that iBooks and iBooks Author and iTunes Producer would get more time, resources, and attention.
A few of the complaints were about the iBookstore but many of the complaints are about the tools. But if I'm not using the tools, then the calculation becomes different.
I love many of the things about the iBookstore and appreciate what iBooks Author has allowed me to do. But, I think it's time to experiment with other avenues for book production and distribution.