The Demise of iBooks Author

Yesterday we got the official word that iBooks Author, Apple’s app for creating and publishing their proprietary iBooks ebook format, is shutting down. As someone with a lot of experience with iBooks Author and its eBooks, I’ve known this day was coming, and it still makes me just a little sad.

When Apple announced iBooks Author, they pushed it as a textbook tool. At the time, I’d half-written an electronic book about going paperless, and I was in misery as I was testing methods to embed video and rich media in a PDF and the then-existing ebook formats, all of which were absolute garbage for multi-media. During the iBooks Author Keynote, I immediately began thinking about it not as a platform for a biology book but instead my nerdy Field Guides. As soon as the app was available for download, I installed and started testing it as a platform for my Paperless Field Guide. The rest is history. The platform was exactly what I needed. I was able to make a book I was proud of and embed two hours of video training. 

I released the Paperless Field Guide and it did better than I could have imagined. In 2012, Apple named it among the best books in the iBookstore. I had my platform and continued with additional Field Guides built in iBooks Author for several years. 

The problem was a failure to iterate. Throughout this process, the iBooks Author app never evolved. Indeed it started to feel creeky and never quite got to the level you’d expect for an app to build books. I’ll always believe there was a significant memory leak (though friends at Apple still argue with me about this). As my books neared completion, every time the app would slow to grind and I’d catch myself saving after changing a single word in fear of crashes. During those years, I learned all of iBooks Author’s quirks and got very good at building quality ebooks in a rickety app.

Moreover, I was continually banging my head into the size limits. iBooks Author books are capped at 2GB. That number was the bane of my publishing workflow. Over the years I had to cut so many topics and videos just because they wouldn’t fit under that 2GB cap. The lack of evolution for the platform and the 2GB limit were wearing me down.

With the iPhone Field Guide I hit the wall. After that book published, I started asking people in the know about the future of iBooks Author. Specifically, was Apple going to fix the app, and were they going to lift that 2GB limit? Nobody really knew, and it was that lack of certainty that led me to leave the platform.

I vividly remember sitting in the back of a Lyft as I returned from Cupertino thinking, “Okay. What’s next?” That led me on a journey that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Learn.MacSparky platform. As is often the case, I chose the new platform in direct response to the problems with the old platform. With my new platform, there are no caps for Field Guide sizes. The 2GB limit is no longer in my way. (As an example, the Photos FG has over 9GB of video.) Also, the move allowed me to take complete ownership of my product. Now, if a customer has a problem, I can usually fix it, rather than giving them an Apple email address and praying. The switch to my own store has also been more lucrative. I no longer have to give 30% of every sale to Apple.

Overall, my publishing journey has been a good one, and I’m thrilled to be exactly where I am now with the Learn.MacSparky platform. Nevertheless, I still can’t help but feel bittersweet about the demise of iBooks Author. The original team behind iBooks Author got it. When first released, there were no acceptable ebook publishing tools, and they made a powerful one. There is no way I could have published the Paperless Field Guide in 2012 without iBooks Author, and I will always be thankful for that. If I have any regret, it is that Apple didn’t continue to keep the gas down on iBooks Author. I’m sure they good reasons, and they certainly had other priorities, but, as an early believer and user, I’ll always wonder where we’d be if Apple used its super-powers of iteration in ebook publishing the way they’ve done in so many other areas of tech.


A Note to iBooks Customers

If you purchased any of my iBooks based Field Guides, your books are not going away. While Apple is killing the tool, they will continue to publish the iBooks Author books, and the ones you’ve purchased will continue to work. All of my future Field Guides (Paperless, Second Edition is next!) will be published through Learn.MacSparky.