Amazon has just released a tool that will make it easy for anyone to create and publish a picture book. All you need is some art, some text, and the ability to point and click.
Most folks can do that, which makes me anxious that, as a book designer and creator of these interactive picture books, I'd be out of business. I can imagine authors of a single book, authors of stacks of books, and publishers of whole libraries of books flocking to this as a one-click stop for their publishing needs.
After all, Seymour Simon, prolific author of science books for kids, blurbs on Amazon's site that he loves Kindle Direct Publishing.
Are my worries warranted?
I downloaded the Mac version of the tool and did a simple test, importing a PDF of a completed InDesign mechanical.
It is indeed straightforward, for me. I understand books and know all the complicated terms (landscape vs. portrait, cover, font, font size, color).
Complicated? Well, I guess not. Most self-published authors know those terms, too, or can learn them easily. And certainly Seymour Simon knows them. So most out there could produce a decent book.
Book Creator has built-in defaults for many options, including text size and color, and pop-up magnification amount and style choices like background and border color. (Kindle picture books use pop-ups to enlarge text for reading on smaller devices; they are activated by double-tapping or swiping.)
But I wonder: while it's possible to create something that looks nice enough, with pop-ups that work well enough, is that sufficient? Don't we want to make books that are more than good enough, that stand beautifully apart from all the other books out there?
(Side note and as an example: when, while testing the Book Creator, I typed in an apostrophe and it came out all straight and slabby, not curly, I got aggravated, but I know how to make it nice and curly and so I did. But would everyone notice the difference, especially when the screenshots in Amazon's manual show ugly slab quotes? Does Amazon care about design?)
It is possible to customize a fixed-layout book using this tool (to add a color to the background of a pop-up, for example). My geek side loves that I can easily access CSS and HTML views of each page. For anyone who has hand-built even a few fixed-layout picture books, the code will be very familiar.
I hope that some authors and illustrators will want more than the cookie-cutter book that will roll off this new 'press'. Some will be happy to dig in and suss out the CSS and HTML and modify their books with beautiful typography and text designs and lovely pop-ups, maybe with background colors and borders that match the art. (Seymour Simon, I expect, would be great at this).
Others, though, won't want anything to do with opening the CSS and HTML tabs; if they do dig in, they'll be cross-eyed and crazed in an instant. I hope they remember that there are pros who can make their books unique and compelling instead of just okay and good enough.
Oh, one other thing:
Book Creator makes books that work only on Kindle devices. So, anyone who wants to sell a book for the iPad or Kobo as well will need to create a whole different version, some other way. Possibly using InDesign's new export-to-fixed-layout feature (which, as it happens, does not create Kindle-usable books, which you can use this new tool to create).
Who said the ebook world would get simpler? (Actually, no one, now I think about it.)