Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Producing Digital Photobooks on Apple iBooks

Have you ever thought of producing your own eBook for release to the public? Or have you toyed with the idea of a photobook for the iPad or Tablets? Well if you did, let me tell you about the caveats.

Photobooks Layout Specific

Digital photobooks is all about the layout. There are no two ways around it. You need to have control over how your images flow and you cannot design a photobook using the .ePub or .mobi format. Remember that ePub format is good for text heavy books. It is awful as a format for photo books.

Alternatively, you can use PDF documents but there is currently no capability for it to be truly interactive. Sure you can add a media clip but beyond that, you are stuck with a digital book.

Adobe's idea of PDF is to allow books to be read on all platforms, but to do that, they try to sell you the kitchen sink just to do it. For example, Adobe believes you should author your PDF eBook with a set of tools like Adobe InDesign. Use it's content server for DRM protection and encryption before distribution. What is wrong with this model? Well you don't have to look very far to see how it fails.

Adobe has a vested interest in seeing you design and build an eBook with its slew of unnecessary software. You can for example use Google Docs to generate a PDF. InDesign is far too complex to use and it is an overkill. If you work on a Mac, you can export any file in Pages document to PDF. No need to use InDesign at all. What's more, Pages also exports in ePub format.

Kindle has its KDP format, which unfortunately won't work with photo heavy books. Websites like smashwords.com are platforms where you can have them sell and distribute your eBook but NOT your photobooks.

Apple's iBook to Make your Day

The problem with photobooks is not new. I tried one, using blurb.com and it failed miserably. This book making site allows you to publish into both print and digital but the digital version came out looking pretty bad. Then came Apple's iBook Author.

Apple has a iBookstore app that basically sells eBooks but it was initially aimed at creating interactive school books. The idea was to convert the heavy books carried by children into digital versions so that they can fit everything into an iPad.

What it offers is an amazing interactive experience through the use of widgets. You can add picture galleries, create pop quizes, add movie and music files, etc. There is even a clickable experience on a image map where you can zoom in and zoom out of a image to see the highlights.

Drag and Drop, fire at Will

This seemingly easy to use software runs only on Mac Lion OSX. Ok, this means you need to have a new Mac to use it. But that's not all. You can of course buy a cheaper Mac Mini but it will still cost you around US$1,000 including the cable, keyboard, mouse and display. Trusted you can use your 32inch HDTV with a HDMI cable, I personally think you are better off getting a dedicated monitor to use this.

iBook Author is free to download and use. It cost you nothing except that you need to have a Mac Appstore account.

Then comes the publishing to the iBook Store. Now this is tricky. You need to pay US$99 to be a member of the Apple publishing community and that's on a yearly basis. Then you have to get an IRS clearance which is relatively straightforward. Once the paperwork is done, you still have to submit your book for approval.

As a rule, you should not have books that are deemed to be politically insensitive, have pornographic elements and be religiously insensitive.

Please note that the iBook Newsstand is currently only available in selected countries.

eBook Alternatives?

There aren't any that comes even close to what the iBook format can do for now. Having considered PDF as a viable alternative, you are in fact restricted by the parameters of PDF as a format for distribution. But this is not to say that it cannot be done. If you are looking to producing a pure picturebook with no text and no layout required. The PDF format is fine. Not all digital bookstores sell PDF type books. But if you are going to produce a picturebook, you may as well create an experience around it. This will go a long way to giving value to your customers.

DRM Piracy Warnings

All digital media can be pirated. This includes the Apple iBook format. You can of course jailbreak your iPad and download these interactive books for free when you find them. The best part of it is that the iBook format only works on iOS. It is not compatible with Kindle, Nook or any Android tablet.

PDF and ePub can be digitally locked with authentication. DRM type ebooks are sold by publishers and can be enabled before distribution to Amazon but its use and effectiveness is questionable. For one, you cannot ensure that your ebook would not be distributed on a P2P site. And those who know can technically bypass the DRM feature quite easily.

Stolen Images from Picturebooks

Yes, you can capture a snapshot of an image in an iBook and have that saved to your gallery. Once this happens, a digital copy can be distributed. There is no way you can prevent this on the iPad.

Once you know this and are prepared to deal with it head on, then you will accept the responsibility that after publishing your book online, the images will be leaked out. Even if it is at medium resolution, it can still be up-scaled with the right software by about 3 times without any noticeable degrading of the quality.

Going forward, you will have a pretty good idea on what to expect from this. Armed with the knowledge given here, I trust you will make the best judgement on whether to publish your own eBook and deal with the consequences.


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