On Thursday, Apple announced its new textbook model for its iBookstore. In addition to its support for EPUB3, this new iBookstore allows publishers to create textbooks with integrated quizzes, grading, interactivity, and distribution features.
To take advantage of the new textbook publishing platform, Apple has additionally produced an application called iBooks Author for free based on the same interface as Apple's popular iWork applications. Here are some of the highlights and what you need to know as a publisher.
Apple has created a distinct difference in use between the portrait and landscape orientations for the iPad. Vertical is intended for people who are interested in reading the main body of the textbook while the figures are minimized to increased readability. Pages are cascaded together into a long document, much like a website.
When the document is landscape, however, the figures become larger and a more graphic-rich experience is presented to the user. Each of these provide different user experiences to the user for different purposes.
A book cover is required for all publications. Much like any other page, you are able to add blocks, elements, text, images can be added to the cover. Note: interactive elements such as video, widgets and HTML widgets cannot be added to the cover.
Intro Media is an optional video or image that can be displayed before being navigated to the table of contents when launching the textbook. This could be for instance an introduction video by a teacher or professor to describe why to take the course, or a simple video a create excitement about a topic.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents is automatically generated based on the structure of the textbook (chapter, section). This way students can easily navigate to the appropriate section they need to read when they launch the textbook.
Glossaries are an important element of textbooks. They allow students to look up words that they do not understand. Fortunately, iBooks Author makes it even easier for students to look up terms, but also for content creators to generate a glossary.
In traditional textbooks, one often has to aggregate and create a separate page for glossary terms. Within iBooks Author, content creators can add terms to the glossary very easily by just adding a term. They can even drag related terms to allow students to see what other terms might be associated to a word. These terms can even be added during the editing of a layout using the Glossary Toolbar (go to View > Show Glossary Toolbar).
The glossary is also easy for students to use. They simply have to select the word on the page, and tap glossary to get the textbook term for the selected text. They can even use the built-in dictionary on the iPad if needed.
Chapters, Sections, and Pages
The structure of documents is very clearly hierarchical, similar to your standard textbook. Documents within iBooks are divided into the same sections you will commonly see in a standard textbook:
The highest parent in the hierarchy is a Chapter, which can contain many Section children elements. Inside of a section are the pages. Pages are the elements that contain any of the layouts that you would typically see for a print product.
Paragraph and Character Styles
Much like the features offered in other Apple iWork applications, iBooks Author also contains all of the paragraph, character, and list style and Character Style features. When creating a textbook, there are already pre-defined styles that are generated. These styles, in addition to custom, are able to be used to help standardize the look of content.
Much like issues relating to web-based typography, fonts within the application are limited to the ones that are available on the iPad. While over the years the amount of fonts that are available have increased, this could be a limiting factor for some designers.
There would be no purpose of using a digital textbook without the advantage of interactive elements. Fortunately, iBooks Author provides many "widgets" to allow content creators to create interactive elements within their textbooks to support self-learning as well as collaborate and test.
Gallery allows you to easily create a variety of different related figures displayed in one frame. This figure can have a main caption with a sub-caption describing each image. This may be useful for describing a process like mitosis or giving examples to support a statement You also have options to show thumbnails or even create accessibility descriptions for readers with disabilities.
Allows for images to be labeled to help easily explain the different elements of a diagram or a photo. When clicking on the label, the image can even be zoomed to give a close up on that section of the image.
Can create a questionaire to ensure that students are catching the right information within the section. Students can interact with these quizzes, going through a series, and get an answer of how many questions they had correct.
Apple already makes a really good presentation software called Keynote that, much like PowerPoint, can be used to describe presentations or slides. These slides can be integrated directly into the textbook, allowing the student to cycle through different presentations as needed within a figure on a page.
To extend functionality of iBooks, you can even add HTML5 frames directly into layouts. It is worth noting, however, that these HTML5 elements must be created using Apple's own Dashcode application as it packages it up into a neat package to properly embed.
All content is able to be annotated with different highlight colors as well as sticky notes. Users are then also able to go and see all of their annotations in one spot.
All text content is searchable. This allows users to easily and quickly find the important subjects that they are looking for within the textbook. When searching, it will even show the context of where it is within text.
Previewing content on the iPad is quite easy. It only requires having an iPad with iBooks 2.0 installed. With the iBook app launched, one just needs to simply click the preview button and the textbook will instantly display pn the iPad. It is quite easy.
Content created with iBooks Author is for display on the iPad only. The application was designed to utilize the functionality built into the iOS and distributed using Apple's own iBookstore.
There is one nice feature though: unlike Apple's App Store apps, iBooks do not have to go through the iBookstore to share among friends or colleagues. This means this platform could additionally be used by classroom teachers to formulate lesson plans and curriculums. Any of the textbooks produced are designed for print-only output.
Distribution of iBook textbooks is available exclusively in the iBookstore. Publishers can create iTunes Connect accounts from Apple to create their new textbooks. The price of textbooks is $14.99 or less and has many of the major backers including McGraw Hill Education
The Limitations and Issues
- No workflow support Apple's iBooks Author is designed around one textbook to be designed in one file at a time. Sections cannot be dragged from textbook to textbook, which would prevent any of the benefits from editorial workflow systems like vjoon K4 Publishing System or Woodwing Enterprise.
- Platform restrictions While the iPad is a wildly popular tablet device, publishers and authors want to publish to multiple channels and devices. This app is thus going to create more work for those publishers to achieve that end.
- Font Limitations Fonts can be important to the brand recognition of a publisher. The limitations of fonts on iBooks could be a significant design limitation for publishers.
- Textbooks only While time will tell how the iBook platform may expand, iBooks Author is geared towards developing iBook textbooks only. This would not be suitable for other publication types. In addition, textbooks are limited to high school right now.
- No back catalog With all the interactivity and changes to the conventions of the book, it requires publishers to rework their textbooks to utilize the benefits of this platform. While this is beneficial, many current textbooks are in Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress and reworking would require significant resources. What's more, it is not clear what the future interoperability of the iBook format would be, requiring publishers to possibly have to redesign completely for different systems.
- As mentioned on All Things Digital, the cost of the textbooks isn't necessarily cheaper. While the initial textbook cost is cheaper, this is meant for a per-student per-year model. This model may be less suitable for high schools and more suitable for college students.
- Limited options There are only currently eight textbooks available in the iBookstore today. While this may grow, the limitations highlighted here may put off some larger publishers from backing this platform. However, Apple's target market may be geared more for variety and specialization of textbooks rather than some of the larger ones that are available by larger publishers.
Apple is offering easy creation tools with distribution to allow students to swiftly access textbooks on their iPads. This has been one of the first major digital initiatives that is backed by major publishers that has not been simply a scan of the print version, such as CourseSmart. Some of the interactive features create compelling new expectations for digital publishing. iBooks currently is geared and restricted to textbook creation...for now.
This platform and strategy will go a long way towards Apple gaining a larger influence within the publishing field, however it is important to understand where this are lies for current publishers. Here is a blog by my colleague and DPCI Founder, Joe Bachana, on the some of the business challenges around iBooks Author. Enjoy!