Apple disses ebook developers at its peril

by Liz CastroI'm feeling really grumpy today, and I've traced it back to a Twitter conversation last night in which I discovered that Apple has been giving support and information on how to create their new fixed-layout ebooks for iBooks 1.2 only to a select group of ebook producers, and under non-disclosure agreements (NDA).

I just don't understand why Apple wouldn't want to help all ebook developers make great looking ebooks that display beautifully on the iPad and so help sell millions of units. Instead, those of us who aren't on the list have to sleuth out, through time-intensive trial and error, just what will work and what won't.

Sure, that's my job. I'm good at explaining how to do things and figuring what people want and need to know and putting it in a way that makes sense. I don't need them to help me. But what I don't understand is why they don't want to. Why do they want to keep their documentation a secret?

That's not Apple's strategy for Safari, whose documentation is very useful and complete. Perhaps that is because they realize the web does not belong to them? The only way to compete is to offer a powerful browser and to explain to people how to get the most out of it.

For iBooks, though, it's all hush-hush. Perhaps they don't want to admit that they're new fixed layout "illustrated books" are nothing more than glorified PDFs— EPUB files in name only. Perhaps not invalid, but many of these fixed layout books are almost impossible to read because the type is so small, and they are all but unusable on smaller screens than the iPad. What is the point?

And Apple has been less than forthcoming with information about earlier versions of iBooks as well, publicizing books that violate the very requirements listed on their web site, promising to follow the EPUB standard, but picking and choosing just which pieces to support.

The ebook market has taken many years to take off, since both readers and books are needed to make it go, and both were lacking. When ereaders were so expensive, few people had them, so there was little demand and thus little production of ebooks. For me, the iPad was a fiendish way to get ereaders into the hands of millions of people who were curious about ebooks but reluctant to spend $400 on a standalone ereader. iPad buyers could justify the price because of all the other things it could do. All of a sudden, millions of people had an ereader, and were clamoring for more books. It was only after the iPad existed that the price of the Kindle and Nook fell to the ground, encouraging even more people to jump on board. More ereaders means more demand for ebooks, which makes ereaders more attractive, and so on.

Apple's strengths in the ebook market are its beautiful color ereaders (e.g., iBooks on iPad), its support of HTML5 to include audio and video, and its embrace of the standard, non-proprietary EPUB format. These features are a big part of why EPUB is still a viable option, in the face of Amazon's juggernaut.

But an ereader is only as good as the books you can read on it. The iBookstore is practically empty. I hear from more and more people that they would like to buy books from the iBookstore but what they're looking for is not available. No wonder, if Apple is keeping its documentation under lock and key. I would love to help people make gorgeous books for the iPad and iPhone. Apple, you ignore us at your peril.

reposted from Pigs, Gourds, & Wikis

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