April 2, 2018

Apple makes it even easier to make e-books that no one buys or reads


It’s become a staple of modern journalism to report on the marketing presentations of major tech companies. Apple, of course, invented these spectacles with Steve Jobs standing on a dark, empty stage and unveiling the Next Thing Everyone Wants.

Over the years, these shows have become more and more anticlimactic. With spin-offs spinning off spin-off spin-off after spin-off, they’re more an excuse to get people writing about unimpressive changes to technology.

This is the meta part of the article where I realize that, even as I’m about to do a snarky assessment of an Apple show, I’m still in some way accomplishing the behemoth corporation’s marketing goals by giving it with my attention in the first place. Goddammit.

At last week’s Apple Education event, the successor to the iBooks Author platform was launched. iBooks Author allowed people to write and publish their own e-books, in epub format. It linked directly to iTunes and was built to rival Amazon’s CreateSpace platform.

You know, self-publishing. Fun. Yay.

Today, Amazon’s CreateSpace represents ninety-one percent of self-published e-book sales — in other words, Apple lost this battle worse than a chipmunk against a warthog. A beaver against an anaconda? A cockroach against Thor’s hammer? Point is, Apple lost.

Apple needed to pivot, and they just have, with a new offering, released with an on-the-nose name: Digital Books.

According to Shannon Liao at The Verge: 

Instead of calling it iBooks Author… Apple is now calling it Digital Books. Students can make a book for a group project and these “books” can include photos, videos, or even Apple Pencil illustrations. Users will be able to create books from pre-made templates.

It looks and works almost in exactly the same way as iBooks Author, except now you can use the app directly on an iPad. And, wow, you can use the stylus on it, too.

At Apple InsiderStephen Silver quotes Apple’s Greg Joswiak as saying, “Teachers love using their Macs to create digital books that bring subjects to life in a way that no paper book can… With interactive features, videos and photos that you can customize, you can make the content relevant to the kids in your class, because students light up when they see their school, or their friends, in a real book.”

In no way did any of that sound like books, but okay. It»s great that Apple is still trying to compete, but it feels sort of half-hearted to claim this as an educational product. Technology, assuredly, is useful for teachers. But using this program to market at a $329 device just feels absurd.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.