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

by | Apr 28, 2010

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

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Anna Taylor

    I am hearing that footnotes, endnotes and indexes cannot be converted to e-book format. This would be a serious problem for a nonfiction book we are almost ready to publish. Please clarify this, and do you know if anything is in the pipeline related to addressing any such limitations? Thanks.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Anna, that is incorrect. There is no problem getting your footnotes and references into an ePub file, and they can be hotlinked together, as well.

  2. Dusk Peterson

    I haven’t read far enough into your blog to know whether you mention this elsewhere (I just found you via POD People), but a lot of the self-publishers I run across are using Calibre to convert their text to ePub from other formats, then using the ePub editor Sigil to brush up the results.

    I too have mixed feelings about the digital revolution. On the one hand, I’m partially sighted; I won’t normally read PDF e-books precisely because I can’t choose the type style and size.

    On the other hand, I’m the child of a book designer. I read articles on typography just for fun.

    I think texts that can be easily converted into digital formats – novels, for example – are likely to become more and more often sold in digital formats. However, I don’t see children’s books or other books that depend strongly on illustrations or formatting as making an easy transition into the digital world. And where they do go digital, PDF or some variation on it is going to be the most likely format.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Dusk, thanks for the info. I’m not too familiar with Calibre although I’ve heard people discuss it, and I don’t know Sigil at all, so more homework for me.

      Storyist, which I mentioned in the article, also looks really good for quick export to ePub, and I’ll be reviewing this software soon.

      My thinking is pretty much the same as yours: books without illustrations or complex non-text elements like tables, graphs, charts etc will transition quickly to digital simply due to the convenience and cost. Other works may go digital via PDF but i think that trend is slower. This may leave the printed books as more high-end items, but only time will tell.

      I appreciate your contribution, thanks so much for visiting.

  3. Joel

    Mike, these are exciting times, that’s for certain. Kindle has an installed base of about 5,000,000 readers, so it’s probably a good idea to get your books on there. Easiest is to have someone do it for you. I just read earlier today that Apple has already passed the 1,000,000 iPads sold mark, so hold onto your hat!

  4. Mike Lipsey

    My head is spinning. I haven’t even managed to get Amazon to Kindle my books. But I definitely want my next two books to also be eBooks. I’m finishing a third book of epigrams and rewriting my book on the plumbing industry (9 chapters are on my website) and starting to think about what I might be doing differently in the future.

    It’s exciting to be alive in a time when new media develop so rapidly. Thanks for keeping us up-to-date on these developments.

  5. Joel

    Betty, you seem to have enough projects to keep several people busy, but I know that one day that book will be a reality.

  6. betty ming liu

    This is so interesting. And, exciting. You’ve gotten me excited about the possibility of publishing a book — someday.



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