After watching the iBooks Textbooks launch and having a little (like, 2 seconds) noodle around with Apple's new iBooks Author app, my thoughts turned immediately, inevitably, to my own gig - the illustration racket. I think this might be a Big Deal.
To talk from the top of my (admittedly uninformed) head for a minute - if there is now a way, however restricted it may be, to self-publish to the iBookstore, that's gotta be a Big Deal, doesn't it? As a starting point it has to be. Writers, obviously, should be freaking out, but what about illustrators? What about designers or DIY zine makers, knitting enthusiasts or poets? Can we now in theory distribute our books, our portfolios, our zines, our patterns and comics to millions of people? Jesus, if that's the case then yeah, it's definitely a Big Deal.
Depending on how flexible the tools turn out to be (looks like an ISBN may be required) and how expensive (I think you're charged to be listed on the iBook / App store), this could be really interesting. Imagine a digital, animated zine available to anyone with an iPhone or iPad for a couple of quid. Imagine an english student and an illustration student collaborating on a book and making a fortune. Imagine someone like Swatpaz making an interactive adventure story for kids and charging nothing for it because he's a nice guy. Best of all, imagine every illustrator (or agent) given an elegant way to distribute portfolios to anyone who might be interested. That'd be bananas.
Aye, there's a dark side too. The image of a classroom with kids all in rows, pecking away at their iPads (their expensive, fragile, wouldn't-take-it-to-school iPads) is, y'know, creepy. Things'd surely descend into fart apps and cyber-bullying madness by second period. And exactly how much sway should a big technology company have in education anyway? I'm not smart enough to know.
Every step we take away from pens & paper is a step we won't take back. We all love print. We all love glue and photocopies and posting our little envelopes. I don't think anyone wants to see that stuff go away. But, even if books do decline, even if it's better to do most things digitally, there'll still be a place for paper, just like there's still a place for vinyl. Don't worry about that, concentrate on the new stuff!
So what to do? I dunno. I should probably do a little more research and play with the apps properly. That'd be a start. This post is a thinking-as-I-go kinda deal and I'm likely way off with a lot of this - do Apple really want every Tom, Dick or Harry hucking rubbish all over the place? Seems kinda messy. Maybe by launching these products Apple will motivate someone else to do something similar. Regardless, I can't wait to hear what the guys on 5by5 have to say about the whole thing. John Gruber's take is already interesting. Will I make a book? Hmm, I'd certainly like to. Does that mean I will? Um…
Right now all eyes are on education, but it'll just take one clever sod with one clever idea to open the door for everyone. And y'know what? Whoever does that'll probably get a Big (book) Deal out of it.
EDIT: I have just noticed that I refer to the iBooks Author app as 'iAuthor' in the title of this post. Despite this being incorrect I will let it fly because I kinda like it.
Going by David Smith's post, it looks like anyone may be able to distribute an iBook for free anywhere. But if you'd like to charge for your book, you need to go through the iBookstore.
Whether Apple is right or wrong to be so controlling is an argument for the tech blogs. To me, and other makers-of-stuff, this may mean that anyone could easily offer a free portfolio / zine / whatever for download on their site. Maybe good for offering a free digital version of a for-money physical book. Even for personal use, this might be really nice - you could create a collection of work for a client and take it to them on an iPad. Then, if they like what you've shown them, send them the link to download their own copy.
Further follow up: after playing a little more with iAuthor and also listening to Andy Ihnatko's thoughts, it's become clear that iBooks is essentially only useful for making Textbooks at this time. While that's frustrating, I feel that my rambling ideas still stand. This post may become more relevant with a future edition of the app (it's called iBooks Author, not iTextbooks Author after all) or if a third party releases an equivalent easy-to-use ebook publishing platform in the wake of Apple's lead.