iBooks Author ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ) may be a fine tool for creating basic ebooks. But if you're an educational publisher and you want to produce electronic titles that are hundreds or thousands of pages long, with complex graphics, multimedia elements, navigational interfaces, and reader interactivity, iBooks Author won't be enough. But iPad publisher Inkling has another option.
The company calls its new Habitat publishing platform "cloud publishing" (to distinguish it from the familiar desktop publishing model embodied by iBooks Author). It seeks to replace existing publishing workflows, which are often just email- and FTP-enhanced versions of old paper-based systems in which authors, editors, and compositors send files back and forth.
Habitat moves all those materials to the cloud, where everyone involved can get at them easily and simultaneously, and it organizes the entire process of editing, compositing, and proofing those texts. Inkling itself has been producing textbooks with a system like Habitat for several years; now other publishers can sign up to use the same tools.
With Habitat, editors upload text and other book elements, and compositors assemble them; editors and project managers request corrections, and compositors implement them. The Habitat system keeps track of which corrections and requests have been implemented and which are still outstanding.
Habitat can also keep an eye out for common errors, such as inconsistent cross-references, broken links, and glossary problems. Those errors are rolled up into a summary view, so project managers can see what's been fixed and what still needs work. The system also maintains every version of the project, so publishers can review and roll back changes.
Once texts are finalized, Habitat publishers can output them in HTML5 and iPad-compatible formats. And when there are corrections to be made, they can be pushed instantly to every target platform at once.
The only catch is that Habitat won't be appropriate for everyone. Inkling's business model is based on taking a share of receipts of titles authored in Habitat. That means the company will be picking and choosing which publishers can use the system, and that means Habitat will be of interest primarily for large-scale commercial projects, not smaller-scale jobs. For those, there's always iBooks Author.