The problem with ebook apps

Phew, what a past couple of weeks! First of all, iPhone4S and Siri goodness. Then, Steve’s passing away (may he rest in peace). Then, my accidentally deleting the database for this blog(no, I didn’t have backups; no, there don’t seem to be any automatic Dreamhost backups in place; no, I don’t really care about it enough to ask them; I find the Internet too crowded with non-removable stuff anyways and I think a change will do me good).

But the thing that really kept me busy these past two weeks was working on my TouchBooksReader ebook app framework and its website. Before you leave this page to go there, let me tell you a few things: TouchBooksReader was the focus of most my development efforts since 2009 til now and it represents a reusable iOS static library together with UI resources(Xibs, images) that I(and anyone willing to pay the license) can use to put together nice looking powerful ebook apps like Self Help Classics, Business Inspiration Classics and more. Basically, I extracted and isolated all the ebook-reading-specific code and put it into a reusable library. And after the last two weeks, TouchBooksReader even has a site, of which I am pretty proud, considering my limited (web)design skills(best looking site I’ve ever built – and maybe I’ll add a post soon about how I made it with Twitter bootstrap and nanoc).

Now for the sad part. According to a phone call I got yesterday, Apple is kind of no longer accepting standalone ebook apps (giving you the only alternative to publish them on iBookstore), unless they are really new or cool or whatever else you want. Or if they are in languages where iBookstore publishing is not available(which explains why they reject great English-language ebook apps, but accept thousands of lame Asian-language ones).
Sure, their guidelines do mention that they will reject ‘apps that are simply a book‘. But, for me, this means that book apps have to bring new features or interactions not available in iBooks app (and, indeed, my framework brings many such features). Moreover, the particular app they rejected was a collection of books (again, not “simply a book”). Still no luck.

Boom! That’s a lot of my efforts blocked.

Obviously, there is a single thing that I can do – Keep calm and carry on.

  1. Send again/Send some more. The official guidelines are still not infringed by any ebook apps developed using TBR, and if one reviewer thought they were it doesn’t mean others will think the same.

  2. Bring new interactivity. Especially for single book apps published for/by self publishing authors, acceptance is conditioned by new interactive features(think “Al Gore’s Our Choice“). Certainly, I might not be able to achieve such great piece of software and interactivity goodness, but it’s still a solid direction to focus on.

  3. Foreign language content Like the Apple representative told me, as long as iBookstore isn’t implemented in a particular country/language, ebook apps in that language are likely to be approved. China, here I come.

  4. Single app with in-app-purchase Last but definitely not the least, this was something I should have done years ago, when Apple first introduced its IAP api. Having one ebook reader with downloadable books had always stayed on my backburner, but I always lacked the motivation to implement it. Here it is.

The lesson of today’s post? When God closes a door, it opens a window. Might be the window is too high, or too narrow, or that you can’t reach it. But there is always one, there are always alternatives, and when dealing with the AppStore you must always be ready to change direction.

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