Matt Gemmell

TOLL is available now!

An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

iBooks Ideas

writing & publishing 3 min read

I was intrigued that a few people saw my recent article about iBooks Author as a criticism (in the negative sense). That wasn’t my intention at all, and indeed I’m very enthusiastic about the ecosystem (iBooks Author, its file format, iBooks 2 as a reader/viewer, and the iBookstore as a storefront and delivery mechanism).

My piece simply acknowledged that, as in any situation, there are trade-offs to be made, and that a book isn’t a project to be undertaken lightly or without due consideration. I’ve thought about it a bit more, and I’m becoming increasing aware that the interactive features of iBooks 2 could be game-changing for many genres of book - not just textbooks.

Earlier today I posted a list of fifteen suggestions, and received a few more in response, and thought I’d write up that list to hopefully inspire potential authors and even traditional publishers.

  1. Choose Your Own Adventure. Books where you can select which path the story should take, making decisions so you’re more involved in the narrative. Previously, we did this by conditionally turning to one page or another.

  2. Mystery novels. Let me see the clues, or hear the hesitation in a character’s voice. Let me inspect a scene. Very few mysteries, as written, allow the reader to make an informed guess (or deduction) as to the culprit. Richer media lets us truly involve the reader.

  3. Action. Include climactic or cliffhanger scenes as visuals, or mood-setting music or video. It might even improve the chances of your novel being optioned for a TV or movie adaption.

  4. HTML 5 Tutorials. Since the iBooks 2 format allows embedding of HTML 5 code, tutorial material can include actual working examples in each chapter.

  5. Wedding album. Photos, guestbook messages and even videos can be included in a virtual coffee-table book for everyone to enjoy, not just those who paid for a copy of the DVD from the videographer.

  6. Your portfolio. Designers, developers, musicians, video editors… the list goes on. An interactive portfolio, showing your best work in the most effective way, complete with contact information and links to your online presence (or web portfolio pieces). For iOS developers, particularly, this would be powerful marketing.

  7. Your family history. Genealogy fans can include the old home videos, scanned photographs, links to census data, and so on.

  8. Band biographies. History, trivia, music, live performance videos, photos and interviews.

  9. Movie Novelisations and Companions. With embedded extra-value clips from the big-screen version. Or: a director’s commentary, with special effects notes and interviews.

  10. School Reports. Your child’s report on his or her vacation, trip or project doesn’t have to be static. We all have still and video cameras in our pockets these days, so why not use them?

  11. Cookbooks. Recipes, with interactive how-to videos for those tricky souffles or macarons. Or even for the non-tricky bits, to help those who are clueless in the kitchen.

  12. Skill-training. Whether it’s genuine (like origami) or humorous (“100 things every man should be able to do”), it’s a lot easier to learn by watching and replaying rather than simply reading and looking. I could do with a bowtie-tying guide. This also has strong possibilities for martial arts, crafts, public speaking, law enforcement and more.

  13. Instruction manuals. Build your Lego kit, assemble your Ikea furniture, or convert Optimus Prime from a truck into a robot. Run through the process step by step, seeing exactly how everything moves and goes together. Even user guides for software or hardware, or videogame strategy guides.

  14. Episode guides. A souvenir guide to your favourite TV show, complete with trivia, bloopers and extras.

  15. User Interface/Experience Design books. Read case studies showing the iterations of designs on real projects, and explore animation and interactivity in their own terms, without relying on static diagrams.

  16. Treasure hunts. I’m informed that HTML 5 widgets can (with permission) access your current location from within a book. Imagine the possibilities of that technology.

  17. Client proposals. Wrap up your pitch in book format, with interactive visuals, estimates, timelines, contact information and a profile of your staff.

  18. Rulebooks. Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, cricket, baseball… the list is almost endless.

And so forth. Now, granted, some of these ideas could be constrained by the current maximum selling price of $15 for an iBooks Author-created book, but I think the majority of the list would fit into that bracket (there are also other strategies, including splitting content between volumes, and so on, to say nothing of any potential future change in pricing policy).

I’m excited about the iBooks 2 ecosystem, not just because it’s got people really talking and thinking about education, but because it finally puts a powerful tool into everyone’s hands and says “show me what you can do with this”. Even if you have reservations about Apple’s walled garden, it’s difficult to ignore the huge potential of the technology itself.

Once you move away from thinking only in terms of textbooks proper, it quickly becomes clear that rich reading material has fascinating and exciting applications throughout the entire world of (heretofore) printed matter.


  1. If you’re interested in further discussion about iBooks Author etc, I’m probably talking about it on Twitter. You might want to follow me (@mattgemmell).
  2. I enjoyed C. Y. Reid’s sensible piece on why he’s in favour of iBooks Author. You should read it.