Apple iBooks Author Reinvents eBook Creation

by | Jan 20, 2012

The big news in the ebook world today was the launch announcement of Apple iBooks Author and an update to the Apple iBooks ereader app. These new products are squarely aimed at ebook creation:

  1. iBooks Author—A new Mac-only software tool for “creating media-rich interactive books for iPad.” Their primary target at the launch is textbooks, and textbooks are a pretty big, juicy target. Apple wants to give professors and publishers a way to create books that cost less, can be kept up to date easily, and which incorporate rich media like audio, video, drawing tools, animations and more.
  2. iBooks 2—This is an update to the iBooks app for iPhone and iPad, and is designed to show off the books produced by iBooks Author as well as incorporating a lot of other new features.

Apple iBook Author
I’ve just downloaded the apps and started to dive in. Over the next few days I’ll be working with the software—which is free, by the way—to layout a sample book and take a good look at the controls and all the enhanced kinds of content we can now include in these books.

You’ll also want to know if this software can be used to produce more typical text-only books, so I’ll be looking at that as well. I can tell you already that the font selection is much larger than other Apple apps on the iPad, with 57 fonts to choose from. This may not be as good as it sounds.

I’m sure that in releasing this easy-to-use app, Apple will hope to start driving more traffic—and more sales—to its iBookstore. And who knows what kind of content DIY authors will start to turn out with a free tool that allows you to incorporate all kinds of multimedia assets within your book?

In the meantime, there’s a good article with hands-on videos here, from The Verge:

iBooks 2 hands-on: Apple’s reinvented textbook

Here’s more of a programmer’s take on it, from TUAW:

iBooks Author: Under the hood

And from Mashable:

Hands On: Apple’s iBooks Author App

Does an easy-to-use ebook creator for the iPad hold any interest for you? Let me know.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Jeremy Kemp

    This interesting overview. I dug pretty deeply into the iBooks tools and ecosystem in a video here: It describes a sample book – the first self-published for sale. “Kid’s Love Bugs.” I’m still a little queasy about the Embrace/Extend tactic that Apple is using against the epub format. But these Keynote interactives are way cool to have in a book. The video touches on Collada models from Blender/Sketchup and placing a DashCode widgets. Enjoy!

    • James

      “I’m still a little queasy about the Embrace/Extend tactic that Apple is using against the epub format.”

      yet that’s a key part of the reason you have EPUB3 in the first place–because Apple helped drive it.

      Look, folks: it’s called *iBooks Author*. Notice the first word. This is a tool. For authoring. iBooks content. Period. And a damn good one at that.

      At this point, I’m just beginning to laugh at the tempest in a teacup. I’ve rarely seen such a level of misunderstanding and whininess over such a thing.

      Here’s a suggestion to readers: why aren’t you expressing such outrage at Amazon’s tool that (a)only works for preparing Kindle content and (b)doesn’t support EPUB3?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Jeremy, thanks for the link to an excellent video on iBooks Author, really well done. Anyone interested in having a look at what this tool can do should check out Jeremy’s video.

  2. Dan

    This is only attractive to educators who want to put their own textbooks together and lack the technical skills. Why would any serious publisher use this? Create it as an ePub3. You can still sell it in iBooks, you just don’t have the chains around your ankles.

    • James

      “Why would any serious publisher use this?”
      Serious publishers are *already* using it–the big three in K-12 were even beta testers.

  3. LK Hunsaker

    Anything that helps overcome the outrageous college text book prices is a plus in my book — as long as they don’t take a “we have this and you don’t” stance and push the price for e-textbooks up too high, also. That will happen without competition. It’s why Amazon had to lower their Kindle price once Nook and others came out that were at least as good. Text books are so high because kids have no options. That needs to be fixed.

    I also don’t understand the anger over selling something you create with free software they paid to have developed in their own store only. Why aren’t people just as angry at not being able to read Kindle books on their Sony Readers and so on? Not all of us have or want an iPad or iPhone just to download their free app, or have any wish to read novels on our computers, so the Kindle is still a very exclusive book format. People seem to think that’s fine. I only buy ebooks if I can read them on my Sony, which takes the epub and pdfs.

    Word is different. It’s a purchased product. That’s how they make their money. Why should Apple offer a free product and then let you use it to sell your content elsewhere?

    The only thing I don’t quite know from the above comments and what I’ve read about it is: You can sell the same book in a different format elsewhere or you can’t? If you can’t, that’s bad business, as bad as the KDP garbage that makes authors take their books off every other market. If you can, why the uproar?

  4. Matthew Rowe

    As an indie writer stepping into the e-book realm I thought this was quite exciting, but I’m a bit put off if its books are only available on the ibook store (which I think can never compete with Amazon for literary works) and require an ipad. That’s a relatively small audience, but I love that I could have complete control of creating my e-book. I’ll keep an eye on it.

    However, I can say that if only I could draw I would do a wealth of things with this app. As well as a novelist I am also a TEFL teacher and I could create some good study aids with this… and on less educational front, animated comic books. Oh the ideas!

  5. James

    And for clues as to Apple’s educational book strategy, look at iTunes U. It’s where most of the textbook content in fact is likely to be distributed from.

  6. James


    “Over the next few days I’ll be working with the software—which is free, by the way—to layout a sample book and take a good look at the controls and all the enhanced kinds of content we can now include in these books.”

    It’s already been described in detail elsewhere online. Essentially, it’s EPUB3, with chiefly HTML5 output, but its output is only viewable on iBooks.

    “You’ll also want to know if this software can be used to produce more typical text-only books, so I’ll be looking at that as well.”

    Well, yes–it’s right there in the screen caps you made. PDF and text are two of the three options. So–for authors looking to use Apple’s tool to publish elsewhere, any other publisher that takes PDF as input works.

    “I’m sure that in releasing this easy-to-use app, Apple will hope to start driving more traffic—and more sales—to its iBookstore. ”

    I think you missed the chief intent of this–textbooks. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s part of a larger focus on education and educational tools. Though it may get used for it, Apple’s intention here with the tools and iBooks update is a better way to do textbooks (and similar books), not novels.

    “And who knows what kind of content DIY authors will start to turn out with a free tool that allows you to incorporate all kinds of multimedia assets within your book?”

    They’ve been doing it in the iBookstore for 2-3 years now. What’s nice about this tool is it’s easy to use, and provides a lot of drag-and-drop functionality. Authors beware, though–it still requires a fair bit of learning and practice to build a book with it–and it’s not a “write once, publisher everywhere” option. Yet.

    So far, I love the tool. And for better or worse, I think Apple’s perfectly content leaving the 99-cent e-book trade to Amazon.

  7. Greg Randall

    As often is the case the conversation takes a right or left turn and many of us start to roll our eyes to heaven. Having written a good non-fiction book that focuses on an aspect of city/urban planning (THAT will help you sleep at night) I have always believed that it would make a great textbook or at least required reading – but for college kids as noted above at over $40 for the hardcover it was cost prohibitive, I now have a way to repackage the ebook that is on Amazon (with 65 images) and try to create something more exciting and interesting. Thanks Joel for clearing this up and thanks to everyone else for their input.

  8. Sam

    Question from one still looking for the vacuum tube under this MacBook; Am I learning from this discussion today that our little children’s picture book will not be returned to me from LibraDigital in a format usable by Kindle, Nook and the iBookstore? Am I learning that these competing firms are going to restrict my marketing? The brick and mortar outlets have made no sole proprietary marketing claims to our print version. I know new Fords are not sold on Chevy lots, but…
    Gee, I hope I am misunderstanding this.

  9. Steve

    First time posting, but I’d like to clear up some misunderstandings people have about Apple’s new iBooks Author and format.
    1) The new standard is still ePub. ePub3 I believe, but I am not sure yet, you can also remain it to .zip and take a look around.
    2) Apple has added some additional HTML5/CSS3 to do some of the things they wanted and hence your export is both a derivative work and also designed to work solely with iBooks 2. I assume if a standard ePub rendering engine attempts to look at a renamed iBook it will simply fail to render Apple’s additions. Similar to how some of their previous ePub2 extensions caused problems, but the changes may be enough to stop even this.
    4) Their other free dev tool Dash Code can make the new HTML5/CSS3 widgets used in the program.
    5) The EULA doesn’t stop you from redistributing free works created with the software only commercial works.
    6) iTunes does NOT use a proprietary music format, not book related, but that was mentioned. iTunes uses MPEG 4 from audio to video.
    7) iBooks Author does not prohibit you from using LibreOffice, Gimp, or Inkscape to create content for an iBook or for any other format. iBooks Author is the packaging and formatting tool for pushing that content to the iBookstore in what Apple hopes is a compelling and unique way.
    Apple’s EULA restrictions could be leaner and allow for broader commercial sale, but this is a tool designed solely to make interactive books for iBooks. I am not sure why people expect Apple to release a free tool for someone to build new KF8 books for the Kindle Fire. Apple is out to sell iPads and this tool is designed to help deliver content to the devices they sell.
    Creative Commons, GPL, and other license have restrictions on derivative works for personal or commercial use. Commercial restrictions on software are not new or uncommon. Could it be different? Yes, and it’s perfectly fine to advocate for such change, but people’s “outrage” is either a knee-jerk reaction or a misunderstanding of what the software is doing/allowing.
    I hope that clears some things up with everyone.

    • Eric

      Most of the outrage I’ve seen to iBook Author’s restrictive EULA is neither knee-jerk nor a misunderstanding. If Microsoft decided to pilfer 30% of your earnings from books written in Word, and tell you if and where you can sell those works, they would be pilloried. Yes, software restrictions have been around for years, but the ZDNet article clearly highlights the most sinister danger of this license. That is the clear (or perhaps only implied) message that Apple need not select your book for distribution, but retain sole publishing rights nonetheless. Writer beware. Lie down with fruit; get up with flies.

      • Joel Friedlander

        Steve, thanks for the thoughtful response. And I think there’s a world of difference between Word, a commercial product for any kind of word processing, and iBooks Author, a free product designed for one thing and one thing only, to feed books into the new iBooks2 app and into the iBookstore.

        I would liken it much more to the service provided by Amazon that converts your Word files to Kindle format for free. It happens behind the scenes, and you don’t have any involvement in the process, but you can’t use those files anywhere but the Kindle store. So if Apple creates a somewhat similar process but gives you complete control over it, it’s still pretty much the same: a proprietary product you can use for free if you want to distribute your books through the company’s store.

        • Dave

          But the difference with publishing on Amazon is that my ebook can be read on my pc, smartphone and a variety of tablets including on the iPad…however, the iBook reader is restricted to only Apple platforms so my ebook audience is restricted to only those with access to Apple technology.

          If Apple would develop a cross-platform ereader then I may accept the restriction to sell my ebook only in their storefront instead of my own website or other e-bookstores.

          Amazon certainly is also trying to capture content publishers but … they have realized that there is a strong advantage to unrestricted distribution.

          • James

            “If Apple would develop a cross-platform ereader then I may accept the restriction to sell my ebook only in their storefront instead of my own website or other e-bookstores.”

            You’ve got it wrong, and it sounds like most self-publishers jerked their knee a bit too quickly. In a nutshell, here it is:

            Apple doesn’t claim exclusive rights to your book built with the tool–they claim the rights for books output in the new iBooks format AND SOLD in the iBookstore.

            Honeslty, I’m not sure how it could be any clearer. I think many self-published authors have an Amazon-centric bone to pick here, or think that software companies exist to provide free tools for their competitors.

          • James

            “Amazon certainly is also trying to capture content publishers but … they have realized that there is a strong advantage to unrestricted distribution.”

            Amazon does not fully support the EPUB3 format–unlike just about every other device maker and publisher out there. Amazon also maintains their own distinctly proprietary format. I’m not clear what you mean by “unrestricted distribution”–it’s Amazon, for example, that wanted Apple to allow it to push its ads onto Apple’s hardware in any way it liked.

    • Pan

      1) Nope, it’s almost epub.

      Look here :
      and here : (from a co-chairman of the W3C Working Group).

      Actually, they took EPUB and made it something quite proprietary. the iBooks format works with custom CSS properties that are not standard nor documented.
      To sum things up :

      – proprietary extension of CSS Media Queries
      – proprietary xml namespace
      – “contains a weird where the target is really a SVG document. The behaviour of this link element is undefined from a standards’ point of view. Conceptually, this is plain wrong. A SVG document instance is not a stylesheet. It could be used by a stylesheet to define exclusion paths for instance but it cannot be called a stylesheet.”
      – a definition for a proprietary namespace @namespace ibooks “”. The format clearly extends HTML5 and we have just no idea how.
      – proprietary prefixed properties. Apple has chosen to use custom properties to define strikethroughs, underlines, margins, and heights in various contexts, with no standards-compliant fallbacks.
      – The XHTML files contain object elements with types such as application/x-ibooks+flowhead and application/x-ibooks+shape that tie in with the way the file is laid out in undocumented ways.
      – The CSS link to .plist files with properties called -ibooks-line-hints.

      The .iba (ibooks) format clearly extends CSS (and therefore EPUB3).

      – “Extended underlining is based on an old draft of CSS 3 Text and some of these proposed properties were dropped by the CSS WG after discussion in www-style.”
      – “The ability to control the size of each column and column gap was recently discussed in the CSS WG. The Group decided that allowing setting of individual column width and column gap width is not a feature considered for the first REC of this document. So Apple is here extending the CSS Multi-Column Layout Module and never told us about it.”
      -“iBooks offers a mechanism for regions and exclusions. It is a system vaguely similar to – but still different from – what Adobe proposed with CSS 3 Exclusions and Adobe’s proposal is the document the whole CSS WG is working on.”
      -“This piece of code is going to be gobbledygook to all web browsers and all ePub reading systems. I don’t see an easy or straightforward way of converting this piece of CSS into anything understandable by other apps.
      It is one thing to deliver a format that is ePub3 in all but name. The differences between the iBooks 2.0 format and ePub3 seem all but trivial. But when that format is built around non-standard extensions to the CSS rendering model and all of the XHTML and the CSS are built around that extended model, the file is likely to forever be useless and unreadable in other reading systems.”

      As a result, “If someone tells you that iBooks format is EPUB3, don’t believe it. It’s not EPUB3, it’s only based on EPUB3, and it raises a lot of issues that both publishers and customers should carefully look at.”
      They took an existing, open standard for content like EPUB, adding a few proprietary extensions. This is just the definition of standards abuse. In fact, they are trying to force IDPF to adopt ibooks format as EPUB3…
      The people who are going to use iBooks Author won’t bother about that. As a matter of fact, they won’t even know it happened. But, this is really mad. IDPF chose the Adobe proposal, Apple made its own format based on the standard they promised to fully support when they released iPad 1 in 2010…

      • Steve

        Thanks for reply Pan.

        I am sorry my post wasn’t clear, I did break up some points, but as your links more clearly show it’s ePub3 with various HMTL/CSS extensions.

        However, I would say your second link is slightly more inflammatory and in my opinion incorrectly characterizes the implications of the EULA, the extensions Apple uses, and the use-case for iBooks Author.

        I would also point out that not only Pages, but OS X Lion itself has standard ePub tools for making ePub files. Apple has chosen to extend ePub to try and make the iPad more competitive, but that doesn’t make ePub useless, or even unsupported by the industry or Apple.

      • James

        Apple helped create EPUB 3, and supports it. I think it’s great they’ pushing the design envelope–and most folks involved in the epub format development know that this will likely get folded back into the standard.

        Or, if you like, you can stick with Amazon’s distinctly proprietaty format. What’s stunning to me so far is the outrage by authors over tchnology development–when they’ve chosen to hitch their professional lives to the fickle fate of ebooks. Ebooks, like technology, are going to evolve, blur distinctions, and go where they were meant to go–interactive. Novelists who think ebooks will remain quaintly static on Kindles are starting to see just hat a bargain thy’ve made. In less than a generation, interactivity and dimensionality will be the standard–not static text.

  10. David Bergsland

    I’m real excited about this. As a former teacher of digital publishing at the college level, I can easily see me taking my self-published on-demand releases and kicking them up a notch into another market.

    I can see my “Practical Font Design” and/or my “Writing in InDesign” released as several teaching modules each—easily and quickly.

    Gotta get into Lion first and I’ve been putting that off.

    • Joel Friedlander

      David, I think a lot of other educators are going to feel the same way. There’s no doubt that the EULA is restrictive, perhaps unnecessarily so, but there’s also no doubt the the model for producing textbooks in the US is even worse, in my opinion. It’s been ripe for someone with the digital products and the weight of influence to come along and disrupt the entire system, and I believe that’s what Apple’s aiming to do here.

      It looks like going straight to the educators is how Apple is trying to go around the entrenched forces in this business.

  11. Dave

    yes… iBooks Author could have been an amazing way to drive authors to the Apple environment but with the EULA, why would anyone bother?

    Not only does the license state “you may only distribute the Work through Apple”, but “Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.”

    So if you do decide to embrace Apple, you may discover that Apple will not carry your ebook in their iBookstore and you’re left with an ebook that has zero distribution. What a disappointment!

    • David Bergsland

      I don’t see how they can limit content, just this special textbook version of your content. I’m already making separate, distinctive versions of my books in print (usually 3-5 formats), ePUBs, Kindle,
      dowloadable PDFs (at least 2 formats).

      This just gives me another option. Since virtually all my sales are coming through iBooks and Kindle now, I can see this really being a step up.

      • Liz Castro

        Well, now all your sales will be iBooks only, because books created with iBooks Author require an exclusive contract with iBookstore.

        • David Bergsland

          So, I put together stuff that is exclusively theirs. I’d have to do that anyway to get a textbook that would work in a classroom setting. Some of the things I’m thinking of would work in no other medium than an iPad anyway.

          It sounds like Kindle Select, but they only want a 90 day exclusive.

          Greed does strange things. It’s a sinful world. It’s hard to surprise me anymore. I just need to decide if their platform is worth the effort, but I think it is. (No one else can read it anyway.)

          • Anke Wehner

            The fact that their terms don’t seem clear to me on that point is what bothers me most. To me a book with identical content is the same book, whether it’s hardcover, softcover, epub or mobi.

            Maybe Apple just means to cover the files generated by their software, like Smashwords – but Smashwords’ terms very clearly state, “The author/publisher is not authorized to independently sell or distribute Smashwords-generated file conversions”, so there is no ambiguity.

            It would be unfortunate to join up with Apple assuming they mean that, rather than Kindle Select style exclusivity, only for it to turn out it is the latter.

  12. J S

    Thanks for the link to the Eula discussion. An attempted land-grab for content that can only be obtained through Apple .. par for their course. It’s probably in the iTunes system (it’s a proprietary music format too) but only musicians have seen that so far. Now Authors. More reasons I stayed away from Apple, and Microsoft. (I run Linux like Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, and so on; write my books on LibreOffice, make my artwork in Gimp & Inkscape..).

    For content formatting tools .. there are a lot of companies out there working on solving this step. Getting reasonable formatting will be a non-issue soon. I expect a free, freedom, and opensource desktop solution soon. Pressbooks is already in beta for their conversion of WordPress to produce books and output in multiple formats from ‘the cloud’.

    • Adan Lerma

      js, is the pressbooks beta for version of wordpress, mean for converting blog content more easily/effectively to ebook format? epub? etc


      • Joel Friedlander

        Adan, that’s exactly what Pressbook aims to accomplish. Using the WordPress interface to create ePub ebooks.

    • Adan Lerma

      thank you so much for the link david

      i have been an apple fan since my first computer in ’92, but the terms you point out remind me so much of everything we hated about microsoft

      i am stunned –

      not able to distribute for a fee or sell one’s work using their free software without their approval? wow

      thank you so much

      • David

        Your welcome, I do have concern over Apple’s annoucment of working with major textbook publishers in created etextbooks. With an EULA like this and an attempt to enter more heavily into the education system I wonder how they will be able to. The education system in America is bankrupt and broken. I’m from Michigan and consitently you hear of schools closing their doors and consolidating to save money.

        If Apple really wants to enter into that system they need to do two things. 1. work with others like amazon, google or microsoft to provide an affordable and versatile setup that schools can actually afford. 2. invest in the future of america in the students that will one day be running this country.

      • Joel Friedlander

        Thanks for the link, Joanna. I totally respect Holly Lisle’s decision to take her books out of the iBookstore, but not the arguments she uses to rationalize what looks like a very emotional reaction.

        It looks like the books created with iBooks Author will only run on the iPad. And the fact that Apple says they won’t commit to distributing anything you create just makes sense. Otherwise they give up control of their own retail store to anyone who wants to create anything, and that doesn’t make sense, does it?

        She says “software does not get to dictate the use of output,” which is simply nonsensical. What does it mean? Companies pour huge amounts of money into creating products. They issue them with whatever restrictions, at whatever price they feel will repay their investment and benefit their market. Why shouldn’t Apple be able to do the same?

        And since the software is free, basically an add-on to their retailing process, I just don’t get the outrage. They are not claiming any ownership or control of your content, after all, only the form that their own software creates, which you can’t use anywhere else anyway.

      • James

        It’ll be interesting to watch all the knee-jerkiness about this bit in the licensing agreement retract in the coming weeks. Apple isn’t trying to gain exclusive books rights, and thoughtful readers who aren’t devouring the two dozen “instant articles” about this bit will see what’s going on.

  13. Adan Lerma

    i think this is exciting news, though, like paul mentioned, it’d be even better if it weren’t limited to be used through the ibookstore only

    and, for me, is still the issue that apple requires an isbn and is not providing one, or not requiring one, ala amazon & barnes & noble & smashwords

    i am, finally, getting an ebook into the ibookstore via smashwords, but oh my gosh the re-do’s to get it right

    unlike paul, i’ve always worked on macs, and apple’s pages appl can churn out an error free epub file no problem

    but my main interest will be in how this applies to more traditional work, like poetry and fiction

    thanks joel, first info release i’ve seen on this

  14. Paul Salvette

    Another day, another proprietary eBook format that can only be used for one vendor (in this case, the iBookstore). Why can’t the heavies just use the new EPUB3 standard, or at least some variant of HTML5/CSS3? While I think the idea of electronic textbooks is a much-needed innovation, it’s frustrating that everything in the eBook world is progressing through proprietary and non-open source methods. Nevertheless, we have to play by their rules. I look forward to your insights on this new app, Joel, because I am definitely not a Mac person and could never figure this stuff out.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Authors might be interested in this development because we’ve been hearing predictions for a while about easy to use ebook creation software, and this looks like the most advanced system I’ve seen yet. And I just paid almost $300 for my son to buy 4 textbooks at university. For many years I watched him drag a 40 backback back and forth to school in order to access a few pages at a time in each book.



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