Wednesday, October 20, 2010

First fiction ebook in iBookstore with video!

I had hoped to write this article using one of my own books as an example. In August, as I wrote here, Apple changed the rules for submitting ebooks with embedded video. If you are interested in publishing a book with video, and downloaded the updated iBookstore Publisher User Guide 1.3.1, you might have been worried about the requirements it contains.

For example, it says you must have a black frame at the beginning and end of every video.

It also says that final files must be produced with Compressor 3.5.2, which, for the record, is only included with Final Cut Studio and Logic Studio Retail, which even when discounted by Amazon, cost lots of money. I count myself among those who thought, "Oh, maybe I don't have the proper tools to put video in my ebooks."

Then, I got a nice note from Jeffrey Dinsmore who had bought my EPUB book and had happily used it to publish an exciting new project that combines short stories with short films. He was thrilled that their new ebook had been accepted by the Apple iBookstore. He says it's the “first fiction ebook in the iBookstore with embedded video”.

It's pretty interesting as a book, that is, enhanced ebook. It's curious to have both media right there in front of you, and to read one and then view the other and think about how and why they were presented differently. You can download a sample and see for yourself, though I don't think any of the videos are contained in the sample. Luckily, you can see them on the Awkward web site.

But that's not why I'm writing this post. I'm writing it because Jeffrey proved, by getting his book into the iBookstore, that those extreme requirements in the iBookstore Publisher Guidelines aren't really requirements. They're recommendations. When I asked him if he had followed the guidelines about black frames, using Compressor, and using a specific resolution of the source video, he replied, “I did absolutely none of the above ... just slapped the .m4v files in and crossed my fingers!”

So, there you go. If you want to publish an ebook with embedded video or audio, all you have to do is follow the instructions as outlined in my EPUB book.

P.S. I wasn't able to get any of my own enhanced ebooks into the Apple iBookstore, not because they weren't technically accurate, but because Apple considers them to be “examples”, despite the copious step-by-step information they contain. I'll keep trying. Meanwhile, if you get your enhanced ebook into the iBookstore, please let me know!


  1. I suspect there's a need to inject a little realism into this dream of a fictional ebook with video. The cost of doing high-quality video is far higher than simply writing out words or creating a script. Thanks to modern TV and movies, the average viewer's expectations are very high. I recently watched a 30-second political ad being filmed next door. Even though the plot was simple and everything took place at one location, it took about ten-people most of a day to create it. You can see it here:

    (My apartment is behind the trees to the left and for the record I think the tax is a bad idea. Many of those rich enough to be taxed by it is rich enough to come up with ways to evade it. It won't produce the claimed tax income. It's revealing that the rich who support it are either retired (like Gates Sr.) or in fields like investment where their income is easily moved out of state. Those rich who oppose it tend to be people with large local employment who can't move that easily and often those who're plowing every penny they earn back in their business to grow it, creating jobs in the process. That's why high taxes on the rich tend to cripple growth.)

    Yes, as an experimental project with eager-to-pioneer volunteer labor, you might be able to create a good video a shoestring and that's possibly the case here. But how many authors have those connections and those kinds of friends? Very few, I suspect.

    Nor does in get any easier when you're creating a video documentary to go with a non-fiction book. If you want to quote a few words from the Berlin Wall speech by President Reagan in a book, you can do it with the greatest of ease. Fair use for print is very powerful.

    But if you want to display a video of those same words being said, you may find yourself in big trouble. The only sources may be the news media and they will insist, with the backing of the courts, that you must pay them hefty fees for even a few seconds of a speech that is itself in the public domain. That is why historical documentaries are so messy and expensive to create, as illustrated by what happened to the civil rights movement classic, Eyes on the Prize. That situation may be wrong, but for now it is the law.

    What would be marvelous and what is likely to be relatively inexpensive are video interviews with the author. I'd love to be able to get books in which there's a prequel in which the author introduces the book and a sequel in which questions that might arise get answered. It'd enrich the reading experience and make an otherwise invisible author visible. And sit it's just the author talking, the costs wouldn't be that high.

    For that matter, I'd also love to see Jane Austin novels in which someone plays Jane Austin telling us about her book. With one actress in a period costume and one or two people doing the filming, the costs could be kept within reason.

    --Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

    P.S. If you watch carefully, in that Gate's Sr video you'll notice that peeking out through the window from underwater he doesn't have his glasses on, but when he pops up, allegedly a few seconds later he does. That's because the two shots were filmed separately with the same camera repositioned. Even pros don't get everything right.

  2. Thanks so much for the mention, Liz!

    Michael, regarding your comment, you're absolutely right that creating a quality film requires an incredible amount of work and attention to detail. We are lucky to be based in Los Angeles and know a fair amount of people in the film industry who were interested in lending a hand with the project, but I agree that it's not practical to expect that any indie publisher with a camera will be able to produce a film worth watching.

    One of the nice things about the new publishing platforms, however (along with the increasing ease of shooting and editing video), is that we can all at least give it a shot. For our book, the video is a cool addition, but not necessarily the focus ... besides the 5 stories that were adapted, there are 28 great short pieces in the anthology that didn't get the video treatment. The quality of the writing must come first; everything else is just a neat bonus feature.

    Jeffrey Dinsmore
    Awkward Press

  3. Liz, I wondered about the size of the vid being required or only a suggestion (as described in Sampler 1.3 as 300x150px).

    Was Jeff able to vary that size in his enhanced eBook? (Assuming he wished to do so.)

  4. Theoretically, you should be able to blow up the video as big as you want to, from my understanding ... we encoded the video by exporting for the iPhone from Quicktime. I haven't seen the movies on an iPad yet, but they look ok on the computer screen. Slightly pixelated, but we had to keep them small to keep the file size down. Is that what you mean?

  5. Hi Liz,
    Thanks it is a great article. Where can we download the iBookstore Publisher User Guide 1.3.1 ?

  6. Jeffrey, what was the pixel size of the exported Quicktime videos? Did they all export as 300px x 150px? Were they all the same aspect ratio or did they vary in their proportions?

    I'm trying to get a sense of how rigid the iBS is in video size as Liz had mentioned flexibility in the specs they mention in the Guide.

    Ramesh, the Publisher Guide mentioned is available if you join itunesconnect:
    it is free, but if you publish to the iBS via this route you have to purchase ISBNs from Bowker.

  7. Hi there
    I am a children's book author. I have downloaded few popular epub software programs (callibre, sigil, epub maker) and am trying to convert my illustrated print books in epub format. I also have done animations based on my print books. Now I want to offer the buyer of my ebook a choice of reading it on an epub reader (ipad, for example) and/or watch the animation. I know it can be done. I am looking for help in adding the animation to an epub file. The animation is in m4v format, and also in mov formats. I am not a programmer but I do know that I need to add some lines of code to my epub file so that it can offer that choice (read or watch animation) to that reader. Anyone here who can offer me tips or lines of code that I can embed in my epub file?

  8. Hi Liz,

    I am about to order your epub book. I have an illustrated childrens book as well as videos that I'd like to insert.
    I've noticed in Ibooks on Iphone that you can't enlarge images by spreading your fingers on the screen. Is there a way to get around this?

  9. @Jacob: Yup, that's true. Straight EPUB books can't be pinched and zoomed. You can however double-click an image to have it fill the screen. And no, there's no way around it.

    In Fixed-layout EPUBs you can pinch and zoom.

  10. Thanks Liz. Hmmm is it possible to make an EPUB book that combines Fixed Layout and Straight EPUB? I have a kids book that is kinda like a graphic novel, but there are a few 2-page spreads and I'm not sure how I should handle that. The 2-page spreads would look great, say on an iphone turned horizontal, but crappy when held vertical...
    Some pages could do traditional text that wraps, but some pages might be better off with the text embedded into the image layout.
    Hopefully this is covered in your second book about fixed layout which I think you will be sending me since I just purchased your EPUB book?
    One more quick question: Can a Fixed Layout also embed movies and hyperlinks, or is that only Straight EPUB?
    Thanks so much! I will send you a free copy of our book when it is in EPUB

  11. Hi Liz,

    I've been hoping to hear back from you on my last post, are ya out there? I'm ready for your promotional copy of your second book...

    Thanks mucho!

  12. Sorry Jacob, I've been swamped and haven't had a chance to test audio and video in Fixed Layout. They *should* work.

    And no, you can't combine fixed layout pages with regular ones.

    Meanwhile, I found your receipt and have sent you the Fixed Layout miniguide. Hope you find it useful!

  13. Hey Liz, I purchased your book online, but i'm still having trouble understanding how to insert the video into my epub file. Can you help please, email me at
    - Joe

  14. Liz, Terry White at Adobe says that html5 is pretty much now "officially" documented for embedding videos in EPUB, hooray. So my question is what do you think about the .FOLIO (.ISSUE) format that Adobe is rolling out for media-rich content? and do you think that EPUB is going to be able to adopt the flexibility to become the standard format for E-books with rich-media content (video, audio, etc...)

  15. @Jacob: Yes, I think the html5 audio and video tags are almost standard: soon to be part of EPUB3 and already accepted by both Apple and Amazon.

    I don't know much about .FOLIO (.ISSUE), but yes, I think EPUB will continue to evolve and become more flexible with respect to rich media.


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