Hands on with iBooks Author: The desktop publisher grows up

iBooks Author (s aapl) is like a candy land for aspiring, adventurous writers; it’s easily as intuitive as something like Keynote, iPhoto or iMovie, and it integrates smoothly with all those programs to allow you to use content from each in creating your e-books. It’s a natural fit for creating the kinds of textbooks Apple showed off at its event Thursday, but it also presents a great opportunity for authors who want to be at the cutting edge of new media formats, but lack the necessary technical expertise.
Creating layouts in iBooks Author is easier than any comparable tool I’ve come across, including Adobe’s InDesign (s adbe) and Quark Xpress, and the ability to instantly see on your iPad through iTunes how the final product will look and feel really helps with the design process. Switching between portrait and landscape orientation is as easy as tapping a button.

You can add any kind of media using a pop-up media drawer, or by dragging and dropping elements from your desktop. Apple provides ready-made widgets for interactive galleries, images, in-line video, chapter review, Keynote slide shows, 3-D .dae files and HTML code. Each of these offers additional custom settings, like captions and headings, to make sure you can present your multimedia elements exactly as you want. The interactive image feature is particularly cool, because it requires almost no media creation skills; you can simply upload your photos, then set view points that zoom in and pan on the image as required when clicked, and also provide a helpful description of what a reader is looking at.
If you just want to publish your work for private distribution, it’s easy enough once you have the elements in place; just hit the “Publish” button and save it to the folder of your choice. Then you can distribute the file to whoever you want, and they can manually upload it to their iPad via iBooks through iTunes.
For those looking to publish their title in the iBookstore, there are only a few more hoops to jump through. Create an iBookstore seller account at Apple.com, download the iTunes Producer application, create an active contract if you don’t have one at iTunes Connect, and then make a sample version of your book. Books on the iBookstore max out at 2 GB and are of course still subject to Apple’s approval process. Apple has more about the distribution process in its official iBooks Author FAQ.
I have a confession: I used to publish poetry anthologies in college when I was doing my graduate studies. I admit that here only to point out that this would’ve been a great way to create something like that quickly and cheaply. It’d be even better if Apple would update iBooks Author to also work with iOS’s Newsstand, but this is still a lovely start. Especially since while titles can be distributed through the iBookstore, they don’t have to be, with the big caveat that Apple’s licensing agreement specifies you can’t charge money for iBook Author books distributed outside its own marketplace.