Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Easy is Hard

As the #myFirstMac stories start to spread on Twitter, I think back to my first Mac. It wasn't mine at all. It belonged to a boyfriend in college. We mostly played this great interactive (!) game called Déjà Vu (Winchester Cathedral!) and I typed my research papers on it. I still have the invitation to my graduation that I made out of those little icons from the Cairo font.

A year later, in 1987, I decided to go to Barcelona. Lost in an office building on the way to an interview, I found a bulletin board with a tiny ad: "If you know the Mac and are a native English speaker, call us." I did, and got a job in one of the first companies in Spain who cared about Apple. They distributed and translated Macintosh software like PageMaker (1.2!), and they had written an OCR program called TextScan that they hoped to translate into English and sell in the US.

The office was filled with Mac Pluses and SEs. Those of us with two drives were the lucky ones as we could save our files without having to eject the system disk (remember that?) and swap them back and forth. While I waited for them to finish TextScan, I helped lay out the entire manual for PageMaker 2 on a 9 inch screen and learned the foundation of my future profession.

Around 1990, a guy from Apple Spain invited me to work on a magazine for the University called Ruedas para la imaginación (Wheels for the mind). One of Apple's brilliant strategies was to make it easy for college kids to get their hands on a Mac. The guy (now a friend!) handed me The Macintosh Bible, written by Arthur Naiman. It embodied the Macintosh spirit for me: This is the Mac. It's supposed to be different.

The second commandment was Easy is hard. That is the essence of Apple. They do the work behind the scenes so that it works the way you imagine it should.

I started a new company in order to translate The Macintosh Bible into Spanish. It was one of the first books ever published in Spanish about the Mac. I remember when we bought these huge $200 20Mb hard drives for the incredibly fast Mac II fx. I had a color screen and started going online (with Gopher and Compuserve) with a 300 baud modem.

Steve, I have spent my life helping people use the things that you have dreamed up, first to design publications, then to create web sites, and now to publish books. You have helped us all communicate and share our thoughts with the rest of the world.

One of the things that I always heard about you was that you had incredibly high standards and a very bad temper. You made it clear that it's not enough to have an idea. You have to work really hard to bring it to life.

I am honored to be a tiny part of your story. And I thank you so much for being such a big part of mine.

Monday, October 3, 2011

“Impressions of Greece” and when to use Fixed Layout (EPUB Gallery)

Update: I've just received the print copy of The Artist on the Road: Impressions of Greece from Richard in the mail. It's just as beautiful as the iPad edition. And just as inspiring.

Vertical ImpressionsAbout ten days ago, I invited you readers to send me your EPUBs so I could share them here and we could all look at the interesting effects that you are using in your ebooks. I received a number of really nice looking ebooks, and today I am going to share the first with you.

This first book that I want to talk about is called Impressions of Greece (The Artist on the Road) and was written, illustrated, and produced by Richard Sheppard. It is a collection of sketches, watercolor drawings, and journal entries as Richard and his father traveled around Greece. It's really nicely done.

Although one of the reasons that I wanted to create an EPUB Gallery was to showcase how people are using advanced EPUB features, Impressions of Greece is careful about which features it uses in order to maintain the book's readability. I think that's a very important lesson: cool features that make the book less readable are not really that cool. Corollary: There is a time and place for [your favorite special feature] but that doesn't mean it's appropriate for every book.

Impressions Horizontal

In this case, Richard originally planned to create a fixed layout book, which made sense given the large amount of really lovely illustrations contained in the book and their importance to the project. However, he quickly realized that fixed layout is not well suited to large amounts of text—which his book also has. So instead of insisting that his beautiful drawings be rendered full screen with fixed layout, Richard used a flowing format that makes it easy to read the text while allowing readers to expand the beautiful illustrations full screen with a double click whenever they choose.

Impressions - full screen image

In addition, in order to maintain the feel of his journal, Richard had his handwriting converted to a custom font and used that font to display his text in the book, by specifying that font in the file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<platform name="*">
<option name="specified-fonts">true</option>

While I'm not entirely convinced by the handwriting font—I like the feeling it gives the book but I find it just a tiny bit distracting (and I think more leading would help)—the fact that readers can override it by choosing one of Apple's generic fonts in the Font menu make this less of a worry. This is the balance of control between reader and designer that I appreciate: the designer offers how they want the book to be displayed, but the reader has the final say.

Impressions of Greece (The Artist on the Road) can be purchased in EPUB format from the Apple iBookstore, and in paperback from Amazon. You can find out more about Richard, his books, and his sketching on his web site, The Artist on the Road.


If you would like me to review your EPUB book on my blog, all you have to do is send it to me. It can be fixed or flowing format, and though I'll need you to send me a DRM-free version, you can sell it anyway you like. Be sure to send me links where readers can buy your book if it's for sale. By sending me the file, you give me permission to display screenshots from the book and samples from the code on my website. I reserve the right to review just the books that I think my readers will find interesting (or that I find interesting myself!).

You can view all of the EPUB Gallery entries by clicking EPUB Gallery in the cloud of topics at right, or by searching for EPUB Gallery here on my site.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Use iTunes Producer to add new territories

Update: Be sure to read the second comment for this post, where it explains that you don't have to have the original packages that you uploaded; instead, you can download the original metadata and then edit it.

Yesterday, I railed against Apple for making it so time consuming to add new territories with iTunes Connect. That process is still excruciatingly slow, but thankfully, David Fox of Electric Eggplant found a faster way: with iTunes Producer. Here's how it works.

Open iTunes Producer. Then choose Open Package… in the opening dialog box.

You'll get a dialog box that lists the “packages’ of the books you've uploaded so far. A book package is the information that iTunes Producer compiles about your book when you uploaded it the first time, including the location of the EPUB files, metadata like the author, publisher, and ISBN, and the market information. The package names reflect the ISBNs of your books.

The process I'm going to describe will only work if you have NOT moved or changed any of the files associated with your book. You are going to upload the book again, so if you've moved the files around, those changes will be incorporated. Proceed with your eyes open!

Choose the book to which you wish to add new territories and click Open. (By default the saved package files can be found in the Playlists folder inside the iTunes Producer folder inside the Music folder.)

iTunes Producer will show you the information about your book just as it appeared the last time you uploaded it to the iBooksore.

Book info

Click the Territory Rights button at the bottom right. You'll see the original territories that you created when you last uploaded this book. Note that you won't see any territories you may have added through iTunes Connect.

Add territory

Since I had already started adding territories with iTunes Connect, the fact that only the original territories appeared here worried me. But I have found that you can add only the new territories desired in iTunes Producer and it does not override the list of territories in iTunes Connect, it only adds to it. That is, any countries that you added with iTunes Connect but that are not listed here should remain.

Click the Add Territory button just below the list of territories. Only the countries that you have not yet added in Producer will appear. Territories that you added with Connect will also appear. Choose the desired territories that you haven't yet added in either place.

The Territory field with its initial empty contents always flusters me a little, as if I'm supposed to remember which territories there are to type one. But once the cursor is there, simply press the down arrow to get the next one in the list, and then press Return. Remember that you do not have to readd the countries that you already added with Connect.

Note also that if you do add a country that you already added with Connect, the new information will override the old (say, if you changed the price or whatever).

Then add in the rest of the information for the book. You'll find that there is no lag between selections. This is so much nicer!

When you're finished adding territories, click the Next button and make any other desired changes.

Once you've made all the desired changes, click the Deliver button. (I have to say I always find it disconcerting that iTunes Producer automatically gives me an error on the last page because there are unsaved changes, and then automatically goes about saving those changes and eliminating the error.)


When you get the nice big green arrow, go on over to iTunes Connect to confirm that everything's the way you want it.

It may take a few minutes for iTunes Connect to update the information. Note, in this example, that I have uploaded all of the remaining 25 territories to this record but the first 7 that I had added in iTunes Connect are still the only ones that appear.

iTunes Connect

After a minute or two, I saw that iTunes Connect had reordered my books (ostensibly to put the ones with the most recent changes at the front of the list), and now lists the 32 markets in which my book may be purchased.

Many thanks to David Fox for alerting me to this much faster and better system!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Apple needs to improve iTunes Connect URGENTLY!

Update: Apple still needs to improve iTunes Connect, but at least now there's a workaround.

I am really excited about the fact that Apple launched 26 new iBookstores in Europe this week. As I explained yesterday, I think they have a good shot at a very large market. They have iPads and iPhones on the ground all over Europe and the potential to sell a lot of books. They use the open and standard EPUB format which most European publishers are already using to convert their books. The Kindle and Amazon have not yet made it past the big five (UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain).
But adding the new markets to an iTunes Connect account is ridiculously slow and time consuming. I'm just an independent publisher, so I don't know if they're facilitating the process for the big guys, but if they want to attract the smaller publishers in all those new countries, they're going to have to do a lot better.

Watch, if you can stand it, this video that documents how long it takes to add a single country to a single book. Note that I have a 5Mbps connection (tested with this morning).

That was almost 4 minutes. Now imagine if you want to add a single book to all 32 markets: that's over 2 hours. Now imagine if you have 10 books, or 20, or 200.

Apple, you must do better. (And when you do, I promise to document it here. Come on, we're waiting.)

More of my books