In my last column, I talked about my opinion that current eBook formats are not really suitable for RPG publications, where typically a greater level of control is required over the precise layout – unlike a novel where the ‘flow’ formats of an eBook work well.
This month, I decided to try my hand at producing a publication using Apple’s new application iBooks Author. This software is aimed at the textbook market, allowing electronic study guides etc. to be produced and sold through the iBooks application on an iPad. The key point is that the application is a layout tool, so gives the ability to create PDF-like publications, with precise control over layout, fonts, images etc … so maybe this would be a realistic alternative to the Adobe format for RPG publishers.
The software is free, and downloadable via the App Store, so it’s simple to get up and running. Essentially it operates like many other desktop publishing tools, allowing you to place text and other content within frames, add pages and headings etc. When the time comes to preview your work, you hook up your iPad, start the iBooks application, and download straight onto it!
So far good, but then the problems started…! Firstly, in somewhat typical Apple style, the application works absolutely fine – as long as you follow the grand plan laid out for you by Apple! Go off-piste even slightly, and things suddenly get a lot harder! As the app is designed for textbook authoring, a typical chapter-based organisation for your document is assumed. A number of layouts are provided out of the box, but if they don’t suit what you want – well lets just say I found it pretty difficult to create my own…
Secondly, try as I might, the layout on the screen did not seem to translate properly to the iPad – especially the right-most column, which always seemed to get lost in the margin – infuriating when you can’t find any way (or any help item) to resolve this:
Another part of the app that I was looking forward to exploring was ‘widgets’ – little snippets of interactive content. Unfortunately, in the end these left me pretty underwhelmed. The ‘Interactive Image’ (example shown in the screenshot above) allowed labels to be added to an image that would zoom in when tapped – a reasonable gimmick -but you couldn’t do anything neat like link to another page (e.g. to monster stats). The ‘Gallery’ option was also very frustrating. I wanted to use this as a space-saving way of displaying a set of stat blocks for an encounter, but just couldn’t manage to get the images scaled sensibly!
In summary, iBooks Author is a neat idea, but it currently seems to have a number of bugs and functional gaps that prevent it being a solid publishing tool. It will be a while before this format seriously threatens the venerable PDF for layout based publications! However, it’s not a million miles away: if the niggles were ironed out, and the app evolved to be more general-purpose in nature, we might be on to something…
Apple only lets you sell iBooks created with Author via the iTunes store, which might be another put-off for prospective RPG publishers given the significant cut Apple would take! Thankfully, you can distribute publications for free … so take a look at my sample if you’re interested – and of course are on the Apple side of the techno-wars 🙂
To load it to your iPad, first download and add the file above to your Books library in iTunes, then go to the ‘Books’ tab on your iPad page in Devices. Ensure the option ‘Sync Books’ is checked, select ‘Rats Below’ in the Books Pane. Hit the Sync button, wait … and then enjoy reading in the iBooks app!