iBooks Author Follow-Up

This technical piece does a fine job of articulating the problems (from a standards-compliance perspective) with the output files from iBooks Author. The catch, of course, is that Apple has deliberately decided that they don’t want to support a standards-compliant ePub format: ‘The reason why Apple chose a non-standard layout model is probably because the ones currently standardised and proposed by the W3 cannot deliver the designs Apple is aiming for’.
So, in order to make a sizzly, animated, multimedia iBook, you need to break standards; I understand that, and I understand that Apple wouldn’t want its pitch to primary/secondary to be limited by the protracted process of getting standards approved. That stands to be a very lucrative market, for better or worse (I’m not convinced that primary/secondary education will be best served by increasing investment in glamourware) — but it bears relatively little relation to a greater eBook market, to which iBooks Author pays no particular attention. I doubt that Apple thinks ‘no one wants to read Don DeLillo’s novels or Dominic Crossan’s non-fiction works’; more likely, they think there’s much less money to be made by accommodating the production of those works. To repeat the general point that I was trying to make yesterday, the sustainable ecology for Apple’s glamour eBooks should extend to low-profit general fiction and non-fiction works (remember, low-profit isn’t no profit, and at the same time it’s low cost), in order to support the great carnivore, high-profit glamour iBooks. Kieran Healy appositely compares those enhanced textbooks to the multimedia CD-ROMs of days gone by: ‘Ironically, the best iPad apps for reading things — like Instapaper — work to make the iPad more like a simple, static, easily-read book or article, not less. If the iPad is going to make new inroads in education, let along transform it, I think it will be by way of specialized apps like these, and not through an augmented-textbook model that reanimates the corpse of Microsoft Encarta.’ I don’t think Apple is wrong to have gone big-game hunting — but I think they’d have been cleverer, and more foresighted, and better-attuned to the actual on-the-ground practitioners of education, to support more modest, flexible, inexpensive, standards-compliant, cross-platform eBooks.

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