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February 6, 2012 / davebirss

The Apple iBooks nightmare

This is what I wanted to do to my iPad. Fortunately, I showed some restraint.

Following on from my last blog post, the situation with Apple’s iBooks Author hasn’t got any better.

I’d set myself the challenge of writing and publishing a book in under a week. I succeeded in writing the book in five days. I hardly slept during the process. And spent an unfortunately high proportion of my time looking at a spinning beachball on screen. So when I completed the book, I couldn’t wait to hit the magical upload button.

But that was just the start of the problems.

This follows on from last week’s post.

I’ve decided to go with an aggregator

The first option of registering for US tax seemed too scary for me. So I went for the alternative.

I had a look at the European Apple-approved aggregators and decided not to go with either of them. One site was just in German and the other was a French site with bad spelling. Not a good sign when we’re talking about literature! So I looked at the US options and plumped for Lulu.

There were a couple of reasons for this:

– I’d used them before and had a good experience

– They would also allow me to easily create a printed version of the book.

They also said that they could convert your print-ready book design into an ePub format. That seemed like a bonus to me. I’d been flummoxed by the ePub format and anything that handled it for me would be most welcome.

Now it was down to some more work

Designing for print

Once I’d chosen the dimensions for my Lulu book, I went to Pages and created a document template. I’ve done a bit of design in my past, so that wasn’t too hard. I wanted something quite classic and easy to read, so I chose my font and set my gutters respectively.

I then had to copy the text from a PDF version of the iBook and paste it into my Pages template. This was a lot fiddlier than I had hoped. I also had to go through the text and remove any reference to interactive stuff. Then I exported it as a PDF. Arduous but pretty trouble free.

Next I had to create my cover design. I used Pixelmator (an affordable Photoshop alternative) to put that together according to the given specifications. However, when I uploaded it, Lulu knocked off a few millimeters around the edges for bleed. That’s pretty expected. But it wasn’t mentioned in the specifications and I had to guess that it was about 5mm all round. I rejigged my cover design accordingly.

Once the cover was uploaded I just had to decide on the price. One of the great things about Lulu us that it can sell your stuff on other places, like Amazon. However, if you do that, the money you make drops dramatically. So I’ll be directing all online book sales to Lulu – even although it’s not got as much literary kudos.

What about ePub?

So at this point I look for the options to add the ePub version. There are none. Hmmmm.

So I had to create a new project using the eBook wizard. And that meant I needed a different ISBN. Which, in turn, meant that I had to go back and update the book with the details, re-export it and upload it all over again.

I eventually tracked down the ePub creator. And it didn’t work for me. It works with Word docs and stuff – not Pages files or PDFs. Bugger!

I scratched my head. I spent some quality time with Google. And I eventually found that Pages has an ‘export as ePub’ option. I never realised it was right there in front of my face!

Yay! Let’s try that!

Oh balls! It doesn’t work. And it recommends I download a best practice template to base it on.

Helpful. But annoying.

So I had to create yet another Pages document, importing all of the text all over again into a new ePub-friendly template.

After a couple of hiccups I got it to export.

I email the sparkly new ePub file to my iPhone for a quick preview and … holy shit! What a mess! It looks absolutely nothing like I intended.

There began hours of tinkering, exporting, previewing, swearing, rinsing and repeating.

And still there was no way of getting my pretty front cover attached to it properly.

My potty mouth was something to behold.

I hacked a workaround by importing the file into Calibre, editing the metadata and uploading a new cover image from there.

This meant an even larger loop of work for every iteration.

I eventually got my ePub into a state where it didn’t embarrass me too much.

I uploaded it to Lulu and set the price.

And now to uploading the interactive iBook

There! As far as I was concerned, I had fulfilled the obligations. I had found an aggregator. I had given them a valid ePub file. I was now ready to upload my iBook.

But wait!

It seems that Lulu don’t do that. Or any of the other aggregators.

What the blithering heck?!

I’ve just been down Apple’s recommended alternative route to discover that it isn’t an alternative route at all?

I’ve been duped!

I’ve done all of this work and found myself no closer.

I’ve asked Lulu. And I’m still waiting for a response.

Apple don’t even let you ask them. They direct you to a forum. So I asked the question there and got a lovely, helpful response. It seems that I’m not the only one with this issue. Take a look at this forum thread, if you dare:

Bob almighty!

If I want to sell the interactive iBook I’ve worked so %#$@ing hard on, I have no choice but to register for a US Tax ID. And that may mean that I have to do US Tax Returns as well as British ones. And the process could take weeks or months before I can get the book into the iBooks store.

So for now

The book will be available very soon.

Just not as an interactive iBook.

It will be available as an eBook in the iBook store – and lots of other stores –  and also as a glorious printed version.

I may also release an audiobook of it next month.

But the one piece of brilliance that I wanted to give to the world will be mouldering on my hard-drive for a little while longer.

Possibly for ever.

And my love/hate relationship with Apple grows a little more sour by the minute.

January 31, 2012 / davebirss

The problem with iBooks

Last Tuesday I set myself a challenge.

I decided that I was going to write and publish a book in a week.

It’s all thanks to iBooks Author being so lovely and simple to use. All I had to do was knock out a few thousand words of inspired genius – and then upload it to the Apple Bookstore.

So on Sunday night I achieved the first part. I finished all the words. I’d even had a bit of a spanner thrown in the works when I was talking to Al and Jules at St Lukes about the book and they pointed out another section that should go in.

There was also the problem that iBooks Author got more turgid the more I wrote. My book isn’t long – only about 80 pages – but it’s crammed with interactive stuff. It got so slow that I couldn’t have any other apps open and I still spent three quarters of my time looking at the spinning beachball of eternal frustration. The finishing touches to the book were done through gritted teeth and potty-mouthed outbursts.

Regardless, I finished writing my masterpiece in 5 days. That gave me 48 hours to proofread it and upload it to the bookstore. That sounds achievable, right?


The Apple experience stops here

I made a big mistake. I assumed that the Apple experience would continue all the way through the process. I assumed that there would be a nice simple process where you upload the book, you add a description, you set the price and you enter your bank details to get your cut of the cash.

It’s nothing like that.

And I was slightly sickened when I slammed head-on into some massive obstacles.

And for those of you thinking about doing your own iBook, here’s a wee bit of insight.

As soon as you hit ‘publish’

There’s a lovely happy arrow in the menu bar of iBooks Author. It was the one button I was so looking forward to clicking on. That meant that I’d finished my book. This was a big moment for me. It opened up my browser and give me a screen with two nice simple options.

I knew which category I fitted into. This was going to be alright.

I clicked on ‘Create a Paid Books Account’.

Here we go!


This is where Apple wave you a cheery goodbye and leave you to fend for yourself.

I found myself thrown smack into the firing line of some pretty nasty bullet points.

I’m dyslexic – which may be unusual for a writer – so this kind of thing scares the living crap out of me. It’s just a nasty grey block of official text to me. It takes real effort to get into this stuff.

I took a deep breath and tackled the first bit: the system requirements.

I’m OK. I’ve got a pretty new Mac.

I pass with flying colours.

Next bit: the content requirements.

At this point I find out that I need ISBNs for all the titles I intend to distribute. Blithering arse! I know nothing about this. I’ll come to this later.

I also need to be delivering the book in ePub format. What’s that? Does iBooks Author do that for me automatically? More confusion. Let’s return to this.

Now onto the Financial Requirements.

Holy blinkin’ mother of Bob! I need a U.S. Tax ID? What? Really?! I have enough issues with the British taxman – and now I have to compound that with entering a contract with Uncle Sam’s penny pincher?

This all seems like a freakin’ nightmare to me.

Time for some research.

What the hell is an ISBN and how do I get one?

I at least understood what an ISBN number was. It’s the unique ID for published books. But I didn’t have a clue how to get one.

Hello Google, how you doin’?

It seems that there’s only one UK company licensed to hand out ISBNs. It’s Nielsen:

As you can see, their site is so bad that it doesn’t format properly on my Mac! The menu in the top left goes over their logo. And the headlines in the right hand boxes go over the lines.

Not only is it a design-travesty, but it is a mass of text with no clear way forward. And a table at the bottom informs me that I’m going to have to buy a batch of ISBNs – the minimum batch being 10 of the things for £118.68. OK. I think I may be able to stretch to that.

I bookmark the page and decide to move on to the next point.

What is an ePub format and how to do I get the book into one?

I look at the export options for iBooks Author. Nope. I can export as a PDF. I can export as text. And I can export in iBooks format. No ePub.

So I click on the Help menu and select iBooks Author Help. There’s got to be something there. I type ‘epub’ and get no results.


I’m forced to do more research. And after half an hour I work out a kind of workaround.

I can export the book as a PDF and then use an app called Calibre to convert it.

Great! And Calibre is free. Woohoo!

The problem is Apple adds all sorts of crap to the PDF. Like “ iBooks Author” on every page.

And my two column text layout confuses the order of the text. All the words are there. They’re just in the wrong order.

Close. But no banana.

More research.

And then I find an app called Sigil that allows you to edit your ePub file.

I’ve started to tinker with that. It looks pretty good. But it’ll take a lot of work.

I may be better rebuilding the book in Pages as a linear text document with added images – and then using Calibre.

Still trying to work that one out.

Am I now going to be chased by the US taxman?

I then look to see how easy it will be to get a Tax ID from the IRS. And try to find out my tax obligations if I do that.

I find this:

Another slab of official grey text. This stuff terrifies me!

I do, however, notice that it’s free. But it’s not immediate.

Gaaaah! Is there an alternative?

Let’s go back to Apple’s hail of bullets. Somewhere at the bottom it offers you an alternative if you don’t want to go through this system.

Great. Because I don’t want to have to address any of this nightmare crap.

There’s the option to go through an Apple-approved Aggregator. Sounds intriguing.

I click on it and get this:

Here’s a list of companies who can handle much of this ugliness for me.

I look at the European options.

The first is called Bookwire. It’s all in German. And it’s just a form.

I use the Google translate feature and it tells me next to nothing about what they do, what the deal is and how long it will take.


I try the second option – Immatériel. Clearly not a British one again. It gives me this:

I may be dyslexic but I still shudder at the spelling of ‘plateform’. Surely, if you wanted to attract business from the UK, you’d want to check the spelling of the headlines. My confidence is shaken. But at least it’s a better option than the German one.

I may go with this.

But I’m still not sure.

Or I may see if some of the American options will accept me.

It’s all part of the journey I’m on right now.

So is there a conclusion to this?

I feel that Apple have really let me down here. And probably more so because I’ve gone to so much effort to write a book!

What exacerbates the situation is that the process is topped and tailed by the characteristic Apple awesomeness. I started off using iBooks Author which (although it had my Mac on it’s knees) is very lovely and intuitive. It then finishes in the lovely Apple Bookstore.

These idyllic environments make the bit in the middle  – where Apple leave you in a hostile wilderness with no tools or help or advice – all the more horrendous.

I know I’ve been naïve with this. If I was a ‘proper’ writer, I’d have just gone through a publisher. But the wonderful thing about the internet is that you don’t need the middle-men any more. I publish my own podcast. I publish my own thoughts here. It’s easy to publish your own music and films. That’s the way forward!

I’ve looked online and not found any decent help with the situation. So I’m sharing it with the group. And when (not ‘if’) I find a way around this, I’ll share it again.

Well, that’s kind of taken the wind out of my sails about my book announcement!

At least my second book will be easier!

December 14, 2011 / davebirss

The Rules #84

Don’t try to change what people think.
Try to change what they do.

December 7, 2011 / davebirss

A discussion with Sir John Hegarty

Photo courtesy of Julian Hanford

Sir John Hegarty must be sick of me. I met up with him last week to interview him for the podcast (and a forthcoming book I’ll give you more details about soon!) And then last night we did an event together at the BBH office. As you can tell from the little halo above my head in the photo, I was on my best behaviour.

The evening was the first of a number of discussions organised by the School of Communication Arts focussed on the future of the advertising industry. Which, as you may know, is something I’m pretty interested in.

We were also lucky enough to be joined by the always-entertaining Robin Wight, founder of The Ideas Foundation and president of The Engine Group. And the room was filled with lots of other great advertising people, a representative from the Sector Skills Council and a number of star students from the school.

I wanted a record of the night, so I popped my digital recorder on the table for the duration of the event. So if you’ve got an hour and a half to spare, you can have a listen to what was discussed right here:

UPDATE: You can also see a film of it on the School of Communication Arts site right here

December 1, 2011 / davebirss

Could you give a shit?

As well as running Additive, doing the Future of Advertising podcast, writing books, working on TV programmes and lots of other crap – I occasionally keep my hand in as a creative. Because I can’t think of anything worse than being the guy who teaches but doesn’t do. Ugh!

So here’s something I was involved in a few months ago with The Viral Factory. It’s a new charity I came up with for a VH1 show. It’s called ‘Give A Shit’ and it simply asks you to spend your time thinking about something worthwhile when you drop the kids off at the pool/rake out your cage/crimp a length/chop a log/lay some cable.

The video – starring some foxy bint from Twilight – tells you more. Or see the website here.

November 28, 2011 / davebirss

What would you ask George Lois?


A couple of weeks back I sent an email I didn’t expect to get a response to. It was to the legendary Art Director, George Lois. And much to my surprise he responded and invited me around to his New York apartment to interview him for the podcast.

Wow! What a scoop!

George was right there at the creative revolution, working alongside Bill Bernbach. He is the hero of many of my heros. And his influence has been so great it’s spread well outside of the advertising industry.

There are so many things I want to ask him. But I don’t want to keep it all to myself.

What questions do you have for the great man?

November 25, 2011 / davebirss

What would you ask Sir John Hegarty?

Next up on my forthcoming interviews we have Sir John Hegarty.

Few people have had such an impact on British advertising as this man. And I’m over the moon that I’ve managed to grab some of his time.

I’ll be talking to him about his book. And asking him about the future of the industry.

But what would you like to ask him?

Fire away in the comments area.

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