Reports say Apple will announce 'Garage Band for ebooks'
The website ArsTechnica writes that its sources know what Apple is working on and will announce Thursday: "Garage Band for eBooks," a program or app that will allow users to create interactive e-books at home as simply as they can now make a home recording. If that's the case, just about anybody will be able to make the e-book equivalent of a not-good song set to the canned rhythms that come with the program; those with skills in visuals and interactive design may have a new tool they'll really make sing.
But "simple" and "easy" aren't actually words that apply well to the practice of designing e-books. The variety of devices and companies involved in the production and delivery of e-books means that there is not yet a universally acceptable formatting standard. Remember when websites had to be built differently to work in different browsers? Trust me, it used to drive designers batty; e-books are in the midst of a standards melee. ArsTechnica explains:
So far, Apple has largely embraced the ePub 2 standard for its iBooks platform, though it has added a number of HTML5-based extensions to enable the inclusion of video and audio for some limited interaction. The recently-updated ePub 3 standard obviates the need for these proprietary extensions, which in some cases make iBook-formatted e-books incompatible with other e-reader platforms. Apple is expected to announce support for the ePub 3 standard for iBooks going forward.
At the same time, however, authoring standards-compliant e-books (despite some promises to the contrary) is not as simple as running a Word document of a manuscript through a filter. The current state of software tools continues to frustrate authors and publishers alike, with several authors telling Ars that they wish Apple or some other vendor would make a simple app that makes the process as easy as creating a song in GarageBand.
Our sources say Apple will announce such a tool on Thursday.
Previous speculation about Thursday's announcement had put together talk of education and e-books to conclude that e-textbooks would be on Apple's agenda. The evidence includes what Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson for his biography, texbook publisher McGraw-Hill being a partner and Apple's own invitation to Thursday's "education announcement." Ars Technica puts all the pieces together, asserting that the new program/app will " 'digitally destroy' textbook publishing."
But just as e-book standards are thorny and complex, so is the world of textbook publishing, which faces different challenges at different levels. Academic books for university students are expensive, enormous, and the business is partially built around full-priced updated editions every few years. While updating e-books might become cheaper for the end user, it might not be such good news for publishers.
Meanwhile, textbooks for elementary and high schools must be vetted by state and local officials, an entirely different challenge. Arizona, for example, has banned ethnic studies classes statewide; this week, to remain in complaince and receive millions of dollars in funding, Tucson schools removed a number of now-banned books, including "Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement" by Arturo Rosales and William Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Does Apple really want to jump into the middle of that?
We'll find out for sure on Thursday.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Top photo: Media members look at Apple's iPad 2 after its unveiling at an event in San Francisco on March 2, 2011. Credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg