The e-learning exercise for the sixth week of EDUC5860 – Issues in Digital Technology in Education was to create an eBook or a mobile app then Tweet a link to the book to the class at the class hashtag, #EDUC5860. I chose to explore and create an eBook rather than create an app as I’ve been a life-long fan of books and most other printed matter. Creating an eBook is something that I’ve wanted to do for some time now. Being that I really enjoy working with most Apple products I decided to use Apple’s iBooks Author app as my tool for building and delivering my eBook. I recall watching the press conference that introduced the iBooks Author app and I’ve been extremely keen to try it ever since.
I’ve been a life-long comic book collector and tend to read a good number of books. For this reason I was looking very forward to the iPad when Apple first announced it. I waited until the second generation iPad was released before making my purchase. My main intent for the iPad was to move my comic book collecting and reading to the digital world. I’ve just got too many boxes of comics in the basement and physical comics are becoming rather expensive. Not to mention, with the iPad I’d be able to carry as many comics and / or books as I want on any given day. I’ve been extremely happy with the iPad as a reading device and have even been using it extensively in my MEd courses for doing my readings, research and making notes. One advantage that the iPad has over dedicated eReading devices is that it can read nearly any format of digital book publication available from comic books such as .cbr to ePub, mobi, PDF, etc provided you have the right app.
Since the iPad is capable of reading so many different formats I was really disappointed to find that Apple’s iBooks Author only allows you to publish in basically one of two formats – Apple’s proprietary iBook format or PDF. While the ability to produce a rather slick looking PDF is nice they can often be unwieldy and misunderstood by many. I found that the PDF version of my iBook turned out pretty well for the most part, aside from all the hyperlinks that I’d embedded turning to a garish red colour which did not match with the very nice colour control the iBook Author app allowed me to use. Additionally, iBooks Author allowed me to embed a full video in my iBook and this could not be reproduced in the PDF format. I know that Adobe Acrobat Pro allows for videos to be embedded in a PDF, but I have not found any way to play back a video in a PDF outside of using the Adobe Acrobat Pro software that created the PDF in the first place. This is what I mean about PDFs being unwieldy and misunderstood. So, I experienced a bit frustration with formats which is something I also spoke to in last week’s forum discussions about eBooks. We essentially have a format war like that between VHS and Beta or HD-DVD versus Blu Ray. This is always all about big companies wrestling for their piece if the pie and it’s the end users or consumers that suffer the expense and incompatibility issues. eBooks make for a nice package but I feel the whole concept of a book may eventually fall to the wayside. Apple’s recent updates to its iOS operating system and now OS X are moving to a look that veers away from simulating real life objects with textures and drop shadows to a more iconic look. Apple’s original intent was to segue people to their digital world by giving them things that were recognizable, similar to Windows with its files and folders as perpetuated by Microsoft. However, Apple feels that end users are now comfortable enough and familiar enough with their product and online environment that such visual cues and indicators are not as extensively needed anymore. I have a feeling that this is what might eventually happen to eBooks. Right now, eBooks carry all the familiar tropes of physical books that we are so familiar with such as covers, pages, chapters, volumes, etc. But, at the end of the day don’t all the multimedia functions that distinguish an eBook from a traditional book make it a niche website? Adding hyperlinks, videos and audio components to a book just seems to be turning it into a website if you ask me.
Some Reflections on the Process of Creating my iBook
For those interested in reading my iBook in its entirety, you can find it on iTunes: Rock’n’Roll, Comic Books & Bubble Gum.
I’ve been wanting to do my own eBook for quite some time. The eBook and the internet have really changed things for writers and other artists I know when it comes to self-publishing. Of course, artist have always been able to self-publish, but in the past it’s been a lot of cutting and pasting and photocopying and the widest distribution you were likely to get was getting your book out around whatever city you live in. The internet and apps like Apple’s iBooks Author – which is the app I chose to create my eBook with – provide a level of ease and professionalism that has previously been unheard of. Not only have the internet and these apps provided tools for creating your book, but they’ve also provided a means of distribution and a marketplace. Your book can now be distributed to a world-wide audience at the click of a button and even, potentially, make money from sales if you so choose to do so. Edits, updates and corrections are also exceedingly easy in this digital format.
While it’s easy enough to just throw together a portfolio of one’s artwork, I wanted to make sure I also include some level instruction or new knowledge, even it if was at a beginner’s level. On the page pictured above I took the opportunity to showcase my own workstation and tools and provide links to some of those tools for anyone interested in learning more about them or perhaps acquiring them. In addition to the tools I made a point of providing a link to one of the podcasts that I’ve found very valuable over the last few years in learning about the professional illustration industry and the people who work in it, how they got into the field and the processes and tools they employ.
Again, in an effort to provide some level of instruction and learning I felt it was important to include a process section where I could explain the basic workflow steps that I use in creating a piece of art. Seeing the workflow and process of other artists is something that has really helped me to learn this art form and how to use these digital tools. Working digitally gives you the great advantage of being able to save and document the various stages of your process as well.
Finally, I wanted to make sure I utilized the unique, multimedia functionality that distinguishes an eBook from a traditional book. Here I was able to embed a video. As well, I curated a series of tutorial videos on YouTube from various individuals that provide instruction on how to use the particular app, Procreate, that I was demonstrating in this section of my book. Again, this saves me a bit of work in that I don’t have to create my own series of videos or explicitly explain all the instructions myself. And, by linking the reader out to other artists and tutorials I felt I was helping direct them to a much wider array of instruction, ideas, styles and opinions, providing them access to a really wide and far-reaching community of like-minded individuals.
Some of the limitations or frustrations I found in working with iBooks Author:
- You can only create in two formats – iBooks and PDFs
- iBooks limits you to publishing your book on iTunes and can only be used on Apple devices
- The PDF is a rather universal format, but when you save your work in that format you lose the functionality of rich media such as videos. You do maintain hyperlinks but they all become a bright red colour, where with iBooks I has able to make the links any colour I wished to match my layout
- Waiting for the book to be vetted by product control at iTunes was a bit nerve-wracking and time consuming, but in the end you’re getting a level of quality assurance and professionalism that you can’t really get too many other places. Customer services was also friendly and quick to respond when my book took longer than the estimated 24hrs turn around time to get approved to be on iTunes
- My biggest disappointment with iBooks and other eBooks is the format war and lack of consistency in formats. I feel like this is detrimental to being able to use eBooks to their fullest potential as teaching tools because everyone has a different device and no matter what format you create your eBook in there is likely to be some compatibility issue somewhere along the way
To end on a positive note – I never looked at a single tutorial or bit of instruction on how to use iBooks Author. I just picked it up and started using it. It’s very intuitive, slick and powerful. I think eBooks provide a lot of new opportunity for learning and sharing knowledge, but the process of creating an eBook also provides a ton of potential to learn from – from organizing your thoughts, laying them out, choosing colours and designs that are easy to read and follow along with to publishing on iTunes.