iPad’s ePub: The “Book” of the Future?

POSTED ON Apr 28, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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A few weeks ago Smashwords made it possible to get self-published books into Apple’s iBookstore for sale on the iPad, and from what I read there are already several thousand Smashwords titles in the iBookstore.

Some of Apple’s approved content aggregators have also put out mechanisms for making contact with content creators and rights holders. Both Libre Digital and Bibliocore will take your information and have someone get in touch with you if you want to talk

Bibliocore, “… was launched by the same team that created TuneCore, the largest distributor of music, artists and labels in the world. We believe that all writers, artists and musicians should have equal access to the channels of distribution without having to give up rights or revenue.”

LibreDigital ” … has already delivered thousands of e-books to the iBookstore on behalf of some of the largest book publishers in the world.”

Bibliocore also states they take no commission on sales, that you will receive 100% of payments from Apple. They do this by charging fees upfront. LibreDigital, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite model. They announce no fees up front, and a “transparent” pricing model.

Constellation, from Perseus Books, is another Apple Approved EBook Aggregator. Perseus is ” … the largest distributor of independent publishers in North America, with more than 300 publisher clients.” Their focus is on independent publishers, and providing complete, end-to-end services not just for iPad but—ambitiously—for all types of digital distribution.

I haven’t explored these companies in detail, but I think it’s fascinating how many options are starting to open up with the rapid sales of the iPad. Many of the ads for content creators mention “over 300,000 iPads sold” and the expectation that Apple may sell as many as 3-5 million iPads this year alone.

Here Comes the DIY Option

According to an article by Dan Moren in Macworld the Storyist software—an intriguing hybrid word processor specifically designed to format and organize writing projects of all kinds—will now come with a direct to ePub export feature. You can create a book, add a cover, and upload it to your own iPad to sit on the iBook shelf alongside all your favorite authors.

Increased support for ePub conversion is also built into the new Adobe InDesign CS5, and you can see why. The demand from publishers of all sizes has increased exponentially over just the last four months. Even in my own design practice, every author now wants to include ebook conversions in their project right from the start. This week I received the first inquiry from a prospective self-publisher about whether it was still necessary to get the print book ready at all.

Over at Foodsville, Hewlett-Packard is showing one example of their new BookPrep system, which pretty much allows you to scan old books directly to ePub files, suitable for … well, you know.

More and more programs will likely come with the epub export option, and why not? It is the typesetting of the future.

Mixed Feelings

I assured the author I was talking to that it would be best to do the print book first if he had any plans to publish at all. Although a lot of the formatting will be lost in the conversion to epub, it will be maintained in the “original” book.

But I really started to wonder how long we’ll be referring to the print books as the “originals” or the “best edition” in the language of the Copyright Office. More and more it feels like the pace of the transition to digital books has picked up. Things are moving faster. As the beautiful full-page iPad ads continue to spread over the countryside, more and more people get accustomed to the idea of reading on tablets, phones, screens of all kinds.

Soon the word “book” will be like the word “leading” is now; a convenient descriptor that some people will remember actually existed in the real world at one time, but is only remembered now because of its name. Digital “books” are unlikely to resemble printed books for very long, and that is as it should be. Digital works—text and a host of other media and capabilities—are entirely different from printed books. Why should they continue to slavishly imitate a 500-year old form?

Typography will retreat, maybe completely out of the mass-reading space. Watching text reflow in your choice of fonts and sizes is pretty much the death of typography until someone comes up with a format that can be both designed and extensible. The implied elasticity of that future typography is dizzying to someone who is used to fixed forms on paper. How will they do that?

It’s questions like that that keep this revolution interesting. And this: What will happen next? Stay tuned.

Takeaway: We can watch as the epub format for ebooks and iBooks begins to assert itself as the foundation for the “book of the future.”

Image: Flickr.com / Renato Mitra

Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander

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