Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why iBooks for Mac Matters (Goodbye, PDF!)

We folks who create ebooks have been waiting for iBooks for Mac for a long time as a testing tool. Copying EPUB files from one device to another is a hassle and being able to see a book right where you've created it is frankly, this side of wonderful.

But of course, we #eprdctn people are not at all the point. Apple's release of iBooks for Mac in its new Mavericks operating system is a huge step for ebooks and EPUB because it makes EPUB available where people want to use it: on their desktops. The fact that this is the very same format—and the very same files—that works in their ereaders and tablets is icing on the cake.

Have you ever tried to send someone an ebook? It's not fun. Most normal people out in the world have never heard of EPUB and if you start explaining how to download a Firefox extension or make them buy a program to open it, they'll smile (if you're lucky) and go do something else.

Up until now, if you wanted someone to be able to open an ebook easily, you sent it in PDF format. And frankly, PDF is a dead end. It works ok on a computer, but it's miserable for reading on smaller devices. (No apologies to you PDF folks, sorry, and don't flame me in the comments. I don't care that on some Android devices, a PDF is slightly readable. I want an open, universal, flexible, standard format, and that's EPUB.)

What's PDF's great advantage? After years of downloading Adobe Acrobat Reader, most people have it on their computers, and when they double-click a PDF, something miraculous happens: it opens.

The last Pew Research Center poll about ebook reading (April 2012) says that more people read ebooks on their computers than on any other devices. In fact, 42% of the Americans who had read an ebook had read it on their computers, similar to the 41% who read on black and white ereaders, 29% on cell phones, and 23% on tablets. And that was 18 months ago, in the US.

In Spain in 2012, just to give one example in Europe, 55.8% of ebook readers use a computer to read their ebooks, compared with only 6.6% who use ereaders. According to the Spanish Publishers Guild only 9.7% even own an ereader. (I wished they gathered data about mobile phone reading, but they don't.)

At any rate, until Mavericks, if they were reading on a computer, they were reading in PDF. But Apple changes that. Not only has Apple released a fairly decent EPUB reader—that supports both EPUB2 and EPUB3, and both fixed and flowing formats—the most important thing is that iBooks for Mac is included in the Mavericks installation automatically.

That means people don't have to even know iBooks exists. You send them an EPUB file, they double-click it, and it opens.

open iBooks

ibooks open

Pure magic. They can read all kinds of ebooks, as large or small as they like, with JavaScript, audio, video, media overlays (read aloud), and in Asian languages with right-to-left page progression where necessary. It just works.

Now, why was that so hard?


  1. The problem remains in two different levels. First is that Windows and Android still don't have a decent reader where they are both more widely in use than Apple products... Apple points the correct direction by design. I hope they'll follow it...

    But there's the lesser important aspect of the problem... Adoption rates... Apple products are wildly updated so besides older hardwares, one can expect that Mavericks will be the default OS of any Mac user in just weeks!.. That's great!

    However, Android is a mess for major release updates and people tend to stay with their OS if they're using Windows... That's why MS had to support XP until recently (which they've released nearly 15 years ago!). So even if MS and Google steps in "EPUB readability by default" it won't immediately solve our problems of "sending an epub" I'm afraid...

    But enough with depressive attitude, right? Let's celebrate for a moment, it's great news anyways...

    1. All valid points, but the hope is that where Apple leads others will follow and it will become as much a norm as PDF

  2. Those sending a friend an ePub might want to use Get Information (command-I) to make sure the file's "Open with" is set to iBooks. On my Mac, the default for all ePubs was Adobe's Digital Editions until I changed it.

    It'll be interesting to see if Apple eventually releases a Windows edition of iBooks. They did with iTunes. That should help their ebook sales.

    An additional advantage of iBooks is that it makes it much easier to readers to browse through books than the clumsy and cluttered with other stuff interface of iTunes. In iBooks, ebooks are central not an add-on.

    There's also something I just discovered that's great for authors. It's a way to direct potential buyers to the Apple webpage for your book.

    1. Find your book in iBooks

    2. Control Click on the book's title and select "Copy Link."

    3. Paste that link where ever you want. It links to a browser webpage for your book as here:

    Many people prefer to check things out in their browser before committing to buy in an app. From there they can click on a blue button to "View in iBooks." That's much easier than telling them how to find the book in iBooks.

    Now if I can just discover how to make Apple update that book's those screenshots. I've sent in revisions twice but neither has passed through. No error messages, just nothing. I has a similar problem updating the text of that book's companion volume (Hospital Gowns). Apple had to set up a special procedure to enable me to do what ought to be straight-forward and easy. Strange! One advantage of ebook publishing ought to be easy updates and revisions.

    --Mike Perry, Auburn, AL

    1. I'm pretty sure the Open with setting is applied to one's own system and not to individual files. That is, you can set it to whatever you want on your system but if you send it to me, it'll follow the rules I've set out on my system.

      Great tip for the links. I've been going to the Link Maker, but your system is much more efficient!

  3. Does anyone know this: How do you add the (apparently standard) options you see at the end of many books in iBooks on iPad - the options to "rate this book", "write a review", "tell a friend" and "More books by ..." - When you press these "links" they open inside the iBooks App?

    1. I have found the answer which is: "These are added by default by iBooks once the ebook is published on the iBookStore, there is no way to manipulate those functions."

    2. Thanks for this Sonojohn!! I was wondering this myself!!!

  4. When you are authoring a book, it is easy to get it on your iPad with the BookProofer, but when the book is finished and you add it to your library, how do you get this final version to the iPad?? I have checked my sync preferences for both the iPad and iBooks and it should sync but these versions do not show up.


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