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Redefining the eBook
By: Andy Weiss
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Though I write for this blog, I'm not a writer in the traditional sense. I have several book ideas and, yet, have never put pen to paper. For me, the barrier hasn't been as much the time or the discipline needed to write as much as it has been the odds of anything I wrote ever being published that has stood in the way. Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing started to open that process up and, last week, Apple tried to rip it wide open with iBook Author. But is it really as groundbreaking and innovative as it could be? Does it redefine eBooks? That may be a stretch, but the potential is there.
 
To put the Apple’s publishing announcement in perspective, let's jump back to the introduction of the iPod — a pivotal moment in the shift of the music industry. With that launch, Apple unveiled both the hardware (iPod) and software (iTunes) that enabled people to exert more control over how, when and where they consumed music. More recently, Apple introduced GarageBand, in its various forms, as a tool for aspiring musicians to record and distribute their own works. The three components, thus, completed Apple’s music ecosystem from creation to consumption.
 
With eBooks, Amazon and the Kindle have led a bunch of that legwork. Apple’s own iPad is not only the gold standard of tablets, but also a very popular eBook reader and plays an important role in this ecosystem. So where does iBooks Author fit? The reality is that it is no more than GarageBand for eBooks and, in essence, a me-too product. That is a somewhat uncharacteristic move for Apple.
 
The real miss is truly redefining what an eBook could be through the integration of the hardware (iPad), software (iBooks Author), and distribution (iBooks). The widgets baked into iBooks Author provide a certain level of interactive and experience but they seem to have left a lot on the table. Think about what choose-your-own-adventure stories did to the linear narrative. Or how Jennifer Egan used PowerPoint slides to forward the story in A Visit from the Good Squad. Or even how Dan Sinker anonymously posted to the @MayorEmanuel Twitter account to give a fictionalized, real-time narrative of the 2010 Chicago mayoral race 140 characters at a time.

Each of those examples flips storytelling and the level of interaction and engagement between writer and reader on its head. Port that same thinking to a multi-touch, media-infused, connected device like the iPad and that’s where iBooks Author falls short. It needs more widgets that expand outward across channels and deeper into the full capabilities of the iPad and not just what can be ported into the eBook reader experience. Imagine if you could flow characters' Facebook accounts in parallel to the narrative playing out in the book. Or add your own comments to the photos in their Flicker account and even retweet something they said. That’s what I’m talking about.
 
iBooks Author is a start. But it feels like it’s up to the new pack of aspiring writers to truly redefine the eBook medium.


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About the Author
Andy Weiss is a digital direct marketer, consumer evangelist, change agent, and cultural anthropologist.
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