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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Apple’s iBooks author forgets EPUB (as I should have expected)

By IRIS AMELIA

Okay, after watching Apple’s New York announcement on their initiatives regarding electronic textbooks, my incessant tweeting has finally ceased. For now.

While being glued to the event, a lot surprised me that (really) shouldn’t have, likely the result of my naïveté when it comes to anticipating trends. (Yes, I was the one who, way back when, thought the Amazon Kindle was “never going to catch on.” Oh, how very, very wrong I was.) I quickly forget the calculated business behind the making of an ebook—as a student in electronic publishing insanely obsessed with the innards of an ebook, I tend to overlook the obvious gestures made on the part of our favorite companies.

Of course, today I missed Apple’s, though I caught on after a quick double-take (okay, many double-takes) prompted by 140-character messages.

Perhaps this is the cynic in me, but Apple has positioned itself very smartly with their developments in education, including iTunes U, iBooks 2.0 (with high school textbooks priced $14.99 and under), and the hyped-as-heck iBooks Author program. Apple has wonderful, mixed appeals to pathos and ethos as they station their efforts toward improving education in the classroom, hoping to get these tools (as well as the products) “into the hands of not only every publisher and every author, but even every teacher.” After all, it’s for the kids. Won’t someone please think of the children?

But after a few discussions and some reflection, I know Apple’s main objective is profit. I mean, when isn’t that the case?

Two things came to mind when I reached this conclusion:

1)    The iBooks Author application does not create EPUB files.

2)    This progress in education is proprietary—it bears the Apple stamp. 

Pick a template, make an iBook. Source: Iris Febres' iBooks Author app

I was able to download iBooks Author as the keynote was wrapping up. (A note to Mac users: you can download iBooks Author from the App Store only if you have Mac OS X Lion installed on your computer, though there are some workarounds.) As soon as I saw the application’s interface, I knew Apple was catering to the masses. But why is the end product not for the masses?

I speak specifically of EPUB, the standard ebook format available for the majority of electronic reading devices. When you create a book in iBooks Author and decide to save your work, the following file extension is given to your book:

Saving this as isatest.iba. Source: Iris Febres' iBooks Author app

This file type, .iba, is obviously not .EPUB. You can’t even export the file as an EPUB—your options are an iBook (a .iBooks file), a PDF, or plain text.

But if you actually unpackage the file (see Twitter for details), under the hood it functions essentially identically to an EPUB.

Apple wouldn’t be able to make money with EPUB because the .iba format, in contrast, locks a user to an Apple-branded device. In order to read these $14.99 textbooks, you’re going to need a $500 iPad. Johnny better start saving his allowance so he can do his homework.

It is my blind hope, then, that if Apple wants more students to access these interactive materials, they should lower the price of their magical tablet significantly, in order to accommodate this growing audience. (A girl can dream, guys.)

If Apple wants this academic opportunity to reach a wide population, it should consider throwing EPUB into the mix. Expanding to every other device (sans Kindle) will not only allow for greater accessibility, which I think is a key message they’re trying to send through this whole deal, but it would also encourage users to explore devices and see what’s best for them. Apple devices can read EPUBs anyway, so wouldn’t the users feel that sticking with an iPad is a safer bet?

Sigh. I know they won’t budge, though—proprietary control is far too lucrative to pass up. But I’d love to be surprised.

Iris Febres is an electronic publishing grad student at Emerson College in Boston, Mass. She recently completed a master’s thesis called Looking Back at Lourdes – a graphic novella she wrote and illustrated, and subsequently coded into EPUB. She is also the co-organizer of the Boston #eprdctn meetup. Follow her via her blog (epubpupil.wordpress.com) or Twitter at @epubpupil.

7 comments on “Apple’s iBooks author forgets EPUB (as I should have expected)

  1. Keira Lyons
    January 24, 2012

    This just in: Apple’s iBooks Author app is downloaded by more than 90,000 people in the first few days since its debut! (For more, see: http://www.techday.co.nz/macguide/news/90000-authors-download-apples-publishing-tool/21871/?utm_source=Publishers+Weekly%27s+PW+Daily&utm_campaign=5f59e45aa3-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email.)

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This entry was posted on January 23, 2012 by in News, Opinion, Technology and tagged , , .

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