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iBooks Author, Digital Book World, And The Rise Of Voice And AI

The news that Apple is formally discontinuing iBooks Author is no surprise to those following the software, but it certainly does mark the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.

On the heels of selling a previous business, the year 2014 saw me learning new skills and picking up the trail of new interests. Publishing had always been one of those, as I viewed with fascination the fact that anyone could publish a book, for the first time in human history, with mitigated or outright removed gatekeepers that previously would've blocked their way.

I was blown away by iBooks Author, a relatively simple and yet shockingly powerful piece of software that was one of Steve Jobs' final legacies before his passing in late 2011. He had been very interested and invested in the software, resulting in Apple rolling it out in grand style in early 2012, which in many ways served as a tribute to him.

My company, Score Publishing, had gotten involved in interactive content creation with the software and began hosting the iBooks Author Conference from 2015 through 2017. Our keynotes each year were, respectively, The Mozart Project's team, Southwest Airlines, and NASA. Groups no one would have thought were using iBooks Author, even Apple's own personnel.

My frustration in not seeing interactive content creation - books with multimedia or fancy features embedded - not discussed with the same level of respect by the publishing industry played a role in our acquisition of Digital Book World from a very troubled F&W Media in late 2017. The iBooks Author Conference had grown to the extent where it was time for us to produce a more comprehensive publishing event. As it turned out, acquisition was the easiest route to take for this.

Since then, DBW has been radically revitalized, selling out last year, and is on the verge of sellout again (albeit in our limited capacity format), with only a few passes remaining.

My disappointment extended to the fact that iBooks Author, by virtue of being free and deeply connected to Apple's iBooks Store where content could then be monetized, represented a potential means of authors and publishers of all types being able to generate wealth. Unfortunately, Apple's disinterest in continuing down the rabbithole Steve Jobs had started down short-circuited what could have been. Books created in iBooks Author were very hard to find, and the lack of support from Apple meant a rising tide of bugs crept into the software that slowly but surely drove people away.

iBooks Author did do one great thing for us, though - it lead me and my team into the realm of voice technology and conversational AI. Not surprisingly, this is yet another area where Apple has squandered significant potential over the last decade.

Companies we worked with to create interactive content were vanguard enough to also have their eye on voice, and in late 2016 as Alexa surfaced, we began getting asked about what Amazon was doing, and what all this "voice stuff" was about.

I had no clue. But I started learning.

Today, anyone playing a relevant role in the growth of voice technology and conversational AI will have a job for the rest of their life. The skills are that important, and they cater to writers and authors and those who possess literary and language skills, rather than strictly to those able to code.

Further, and the publishing industry hasn't fully awoken to this yet, but conversational AI is about to utterly re-write the organizational chart for publishing houses. Operational roles, including production, and marketing roles, specifically, will change dramatically as voice technology and AI transforms what publishers will need and what they won't need. Digital Book World is on the forefront of this evolution.

Many of the people I met through our work with iBooks Author are now instrumental players in why Digital Book World has grown into the conference so many now call essential. These are the true innovators, the change agents, making waves through "the wide world of publishing" across the world.

Some in publishing talk about how "interactive content never really took off," which wholly ignores the rise of voice tech, where interactive content now lives. It still has the same challenges iBooks Author books had, but it has a much stronger galvanizing force behind it, which is a motivated Amazon, as well as the reality that voice is part of who we are as human beings, beginning from the mother's womb.

And for all the conversation about privacy, and the controversial role Amazon has played in shaping the publishing industry for better or worse, the fact is that enterprising publishers and authors who want to lift themselves up - those that would've found their way to iBooks Author five years ago - are now gravitating to the Alexa ecosystem, where free tools and a raft of support await them.

Let's hope it lasts this time.

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