One click publishing to the iPad? Not quite . . .

One click publishing to the iPad? Not quite . . .

Ilex are an illustrated non-fiction publisher, and I run the photo list. We illustrated publishers are used to a certain level of abstraction; our projects leave our hands after months of careful crafting only to voyage out to the far east, stewarded by a production department and sales team who keep a great deal of the mucky business of making and selling books away from those who created them. The processes are time-honoured; everyone knows when the printers will finish, the boat will arrive, and the books will get to the warehouse. Not so publishing to tablets, especially the iPad.

We're game for anything (and I'm a bit of an Apple-nerd) so the iPad was a platform we wanted to be a part of. Apple's initial offerings – "traditional" ePub – were very disappointing for an illustrated publisher. Not just for us, it seemed, but for Apple too; stories of rejected files abounded with vague technical reasons and (I've heard) mentioning the existence of a Kindle edition. Using Apple's own Pages program to create ePubs didn't circumvent the risk of file trouble, but the latter seemed draconian. EPubs, it seems, were destined to be outsourced (once a find-and-replace for the word 'Kindle' had been completed).

To produce a digital illustrated book last year the best hope seemed to be the Adobe Digital Publishing System (ADPS), a set of extensions to InDesign, combined with an achingly slow cloud-based assembly and distribution service that meant a suitably nerdy print designer could set about creating a digital product using familiar tools and a few more panels than usual. The result, The Photographer's Eye, was a big success for us. ADPS has a magazine background, with Condé Nast's Wired acting as a 'beta', and we at Ilex actually view that as a positive. We suddenly had the tools to create and publish a magazine of our own, too (the result, Photographer's i  – geddit? – has met with a good deal of acclaim).

But whether you produce a one off product (a 'book-app') or a magazine, which Apple will sort in their Newsstand for you, you need to produce an app. Though ADPS does the coding for you, you must sign up as an Apple developer ($99 a year) and follow a ridiculously convoluted and quite technical procedure to get 'certificates'. (For reasons passing understanding you need to set this up under a different email address and user ID to your iTunes Connect account for publishing to the iBookstore). You're also required to generate a great deal of art for the different icons and orientations that the iPad can be held, and good iconography is quite a different skill to print design.

So, does the much-trumpeted Apple solution, iBooks Author, make it better? Well it certainly won't widen your customer base — in theory, at least, ADPS will work on Android devices too (though we found we had to steer clear of video for this to be the case). iBooks Author is a new program, so we packed off the same designer back to self-teaching land; it's a windy path strewn with risk, and without a dependable map, only Apple's somewhat optimistic help files. All the fonts need to be converted to the iPads limited selection, for one thing, which requires creativity on the designer's part. Even then, the publishing method isn't quite as one-click as advertised.

When I first tried to publish Pring's Photographer's Miscellany using Apple's tools, after filling in pages of metadata (including, infuriatingly, an individual price for each Eurozone country) an upload error occurred. Copying that error to the web and making the suggested changes in the 'Advanced' dialog and the book seemed to upload OK, but no. An 'unknown error' was reported a few days later in iTunes Connect's web interface.

Since speaking to a human is out of the question, I had to go back through the steps until I discovered that, unlike for the plain ePubs, you need to create an additional iBook to act as a preview for customers or Apple won't sell your book (so a known error then?). This meant duplicating the book in iBooks Author then deleting content, page by page, from the back. Save it as a separate file, and back to iTunes Producer (the upload too). Two hours later and, without fanfare, the Miscellany is finally in the store (though the publication date wasn't updated to acknowledge the delay, so it'll likely slip off the new titles list sooner than we deserve).

Anyway, if you'll excuse me, I have to keep pressing refresh on the Sales and Trends page...