I Wish Apple Loved Books
February 7, 2017
There's an old joke, "how do you know when your friend is a Vegan."
"Don't worry," the answer goes, "they'll tell you."
The same is true about Apple and projects they are passionate about.
Listen to Jony Ive describe the Apple Watch and you know he loves traditional time pieces and was passionate about improving the experience. Look at the Health Kit team and you know they care about improving lives with this device. You've got a team involved in imagining what this device can become.
Two years in a row Apple devoted valuable time at their developer conference to Apple Music. There wasn't an announcement either year that made any difference to developers and yet we heard from Bozoma Saint John this past year and Jimmy Iovine the year before. We saw a video featuring Zane Lowe talking about his years of experience as a radio personality before being wooed to lead the efforts at Apple Music's Beats 1.
You might like or hate what Apple has done with music but from programming and content, to software, to Air Pod headphones that you can control from your watch - Apple clearly has a passion for music.
This year's keynote included a piece on Swift Playgrounds and teaching everyone to code. I love Swift Playgrounds and have revamped my latest book so that readers can follow along on their iPad or on their Mac. I don't like the Learn to Code content. The creators seem well intentioned. They want a cool experience for young users. They want something that demos well. They want something that allows them to teach "Hour of Code" on their devices using their software. But the project clearly wasn't staffed with people who are passionate about pedagogy. These are not people who live and breathe teaching young people. These are designers and engineers - not teachers. If you are going to enter the world of teaching, you need people as experienced passionate about teaching as the watch people are about watches and the music people are about music.
I've joked that if Eddie Cue loved reading the way he clearly loves music, then iBooks, the iBookstore, and iBooks Author would be amazing. Not only aren't they amazing, they aren't even good.
It's like they've assigned a committed carnivore to design the meals and cook for Vegans. You need someone who loves and understands vegetables and shares the commitment to not using meat or meat products.
How do you find someone who loves books and reading?
Don't worry, they'll tell you.
I don't believe there are a significant number of people who are passionate about books and reading involved in iBooks, the iBookstore, or iBooks Author.
I was an early embracer and adopter of iBooks Author. I could produce beautiful books. The software was initially frustrating but they improved it in significant ways early.
Then they stopped.
It was as if the development team was needed somewhere else. Features weren't added and obvious areas to address were ignored.
At one point they added support for the ePub format but it wasn't really solid support.
iBooks Author could have been a trojan horse into the personal publishing business. It would have been classic Apple. Instead of small authors going to Amazon's platform, they would have started with iBooks Author. Apple should have made it easy for them to push to Amazon as well. Why? Because these people wanted to publish on Amazon but they weren't considering publishing with Apple. Thousands of authors would have come to Apple to create content and stayed with Apple after publishing content there.
OK, so iBooks Author is essentially abandonware, what about iBooks and the iBookstore.
I left the iBookstore a year ago and have recently come back.
I left because I wanted to update my book from the iBook format to epub and Apple wouldn't let me offer it as a free update to my readers.
You might think there are technical restrictions and reasons for that. No. If I had moved in the other direction - taken my epub and transitioned it to iBook format I would be allowed to offer that to my readers as a free update but not if I moved to epub.
So I started selling "A Swift Kickstart" as an epub on Gum Road.
When I sell a book I get an immediate notice. When I want to update a book, I send an email to my readers and they know they can go get a fresh copy. When a reader has an issue, I can often resolve it for them. I can sell into every country I want to and if there's something I need to correct in my book, I just upload a new version.
Yesterday, I uploaded my latest version of my book to Gum Road and to iBooks. Within minutes I was getting email notifications of sales of my book on Gum Road.
An hour later my book was approved for sale on iBooks. This is remarkably quick. It used to take days. I looked online and my book wasn't on the iBookstore yet. Also, my name was still listed incorrectly.
In the tool for uploading your book to the iBookstore, the prompt for the author's name reads "Last Name, First Name". So I entered it that way. So my book appeared on the store as written by "Steinberg, Daniel H" and was not connected in any way to any of my other books. It turns out it's been like that for months - I just found out about it.
I called customer support and opened a ticket. The person was as nice as can be and said they couldn't change it but I could upload a new version of the book with my name corrected and then they could fix it.
So I called customer support yesterday after I uploaded the new version of my book to check that the name was fixed.
Derrick told me that it probably was but I couldn't be sure until the book appeared on the store.
But, I told him, iTunesConnect says my book's been approved - can't he check.
Well, he said, it has been approved but it might not appear on the store for a day and I should check back.
As I found out later when the puzzled emails started to pour in to my Inbox, my book hadn't been approved. In fact, the existing book was pulled from the store for violating Apple policy. The version that had been for sale on the store for two months incorrectly used the word "iBook" as in "When I released this iBook." Apple wants you to refer to it as a book. Using the word "iBook" in this context violates Apple policy and they had removed my book.
Then they went home.
I fixed the problem within minutes and uploaded it.
Apple rejected my upload. The version number wasn't larger than the version number of the current book for sale on the store.
But they had rejected version 0.3 so it wasn't for sale on the store. This was a correction that would be updating version 0.2.
No. Because they approved it before they rejected it my version had to be incremented.
So I incremented it and uploaded it.
I'm hoping that when they get into work this morning, they'll check that I fixed what I needed to fix and they'll sell my book again under my actual name.
I love books and I love pedagogy. I wish there were people I could talk to at Apple to help them serve these two communities.
A final two examples - Swift playgrounds are a wonderful teaching tool. Apple gives their content away free. It would be nice if teachers and authors could sell content. It would encourage more people to develop rich content. Some people prefer to learn from video. As an individual, I can't give the content away in iTunes University and I can't sell it in iTunes.
I'm probably going to end up doing more in Gum Road over the next year. That's ok. The people at Gum Road have been great.
I just think it's a shame that there isn't a nexus of passion about books and education at Apple like there is about health and music.