Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Apple's iWork Suite is composed of three applications: Pages, a word processor and page layout application, Keynote, a slide show app like Powerpoint and Numbers, a spreadsheet app like Excel. Microsoft Office (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.) is also available to MacOS X users. The essential difference is that iWork is focused on elegance and ease-of-use whereas Microsoft Office is focused on power, cross-platform compatibility, feature parity and so on.

An update to the iWork suite late last week included a new export option for Pages. The Pages app can now export a document as an .epub file, the predominant standard for eBooks. While there have been other WYSIWYG editors for producing ePub documents such as Sigil and eCub, Pages is the first mainstream commercial application to support ePub export. What's more, Pages is somewhat ahead of the standard by enabling the inclusion of audio and video media in an ePub document.

In addition to the Pages update, Apple has provided this support page which describes a number of ePub best practices and includes a link to download a very helpful sample file that can be used as a template or a source from which the proper ePub styles may be imported. I used it as a template by saving that file with a different name and then replacing the content with my own.

The key to creating a properly formed ePub document is to select the appropriate Pages Section types (Title Page, TOC, Forward, Chapter, etc.) and use the appropriate Paragraph Styles as you insert the content.

Here's a brief tour of the Pages template showing how Sections and Paragraph Styles are used to define the structure (cover, TOC, chapters, etc.) of the exported ePub file. First, we look at the template as Apple provided it and then with a different file name and different content.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

We've talked about publishing via RSS and via OPDS Catalogs but that is all about publishing unencumbered EPUB documents without payment to the author. While that may be your intent, there are other options. It is also possible to market an ePUb document and be compensated for that work. One attractive option is to use Apple's iBookstore which uses the agency model: you set the price and get 60% of all sales with Apple getting the remainder.

There are two basic approaches to using the iBookstore, doing all the work yourself or getting some help from an approved aggregator.

Your first step should be to acquaint yourself with the rules. They are simple and few in number. Go to
iTunes Connect where you will see this :

... be sure to use the drop-down menu to choose "Books."
Here you'll see the requirements for submitting an eBook to the iBookstore.

The next two screenshots show the application and the info requested prior to uploading your .epub files. Of course it is essential that your book be exactly as you intend it to be. Involving an editor or at least other literate people as critical readers would be a wise move before uploading.

If this seems too much to bear, you always have that second option which is to involve an Apple-approved aggregator. For a small fee, these folks will handle most of what needs to be done. However, they generally do not support or market the book. That's your job and it can be a mighty challenge. There are lots of comments by other authors on this point so it's good to make an effort to find, read and consider the experience of others.

You'll want to investigate the requirements of each aggregator as they are not all the same. Smashbooks, for example, has a Style Guide that you should consult well ahead of time. Their style guide is an .epub file and they only accept manuscripts in the form of a Microsoft Word document. Smashwords also offers the option to publish via other venues in addition to the iBookstore.

Monday, August 9, 2010

An ePub document need not be a full length novel or textbook. It could well be a set of class notes, a handout, a monograph, or any other instructional support document. So, rapid and easy publishing of .epub files is of great interest to academics these days now that students have a wide variety of hardware and software that is optimized for reading the ePub format.

All one needs is access to a server with an RSS feed capability. In Georgia, all university system faculty have access to the USG Podcasting Server which is very easy to use and has the ability to dynamically generate RSS feeds. However, any standard web server can be used if you can create and maintain your own RSS feed, a simple text document that follows the
RSS 2.0 Standard.

The following screencast will take you through the process of uploading an .epub file to the USG Podcasting Server, copying the subscription address to share with students and then follow the student path of subscribing to the RSS feed with the iTunes application and synchronizing those eBooks with a mobile device running Apple's iBooks application.

Note: If a student doesn't have an Apple device running the iBooks application, there are other options that we'll examine in an upcoming blog post covering the many ways there are to read an .epub file.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Now that we can create ePub-based eBooks quickly and easily, our thoughts naturally turn to finding ways and means of publishing those digital books and other ePub documents. There are several options to consider so I'll take them on one at a time in successive blog posts. This post will deal with establishing an online catalog that enables remote access to your book collection. Depending upon who you share the address and optional password with, this could be just for your personal convenience or it could be where your students go to discover and acquire ePub documents (books, monographs, handouts, etc.) that you have made available to them.

A tool that can help us achieve this end is the free, cross-platform application called "Calibre."
Calibre has many attributes such as managing your eBook library, converting eBooks, syncing to eBook reading devices, viewing eBooks and providing you with a content server for online access to your book collection. It is this last capability that we'll be focusing on here.

Calibre's content server is based upon the
Open Publication Distribution System (OPDS). Many eReader applications such as Stanza are capable of browsing an ODPS catalog by categories such as newest, title, ratings, publishers, series, authors, tags, etc. and then downloading selected items. The catalog can be password protected. Here's a screenshot of the server settings:

One thing that you'll want to be sure of is that you network administration has arranged for access via HTTP port 8080 or whatever other port you have configured the server to "listen" to for requests. There may be a firewall in place that would prevent that. If that is not possible, just use port 80 which is the default port for HTTP. If you can surf the web, port 80 is open and, so, this should work.

Here's a screen shot showing Stanza on iPad browsing an OPDS catalog:

It's also possible for Caliber to send eBooks and magazines via email. Here's the setup for that: