iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

Summary:Part II in the continuing iBooks saga, where we try to submit a book to the iTunes store -- and fail.

Update: There has been much back-channel discussion on this article, both from other book publishers with the same problem, and yes, from "knowledgeable sources". I'm looking into the information I was provided, will do some testing, and will write a follow-up, probably on Friday June 4. Stay tuned.

Update #2: Six tips for getting Apple's iBooks to accept your ePub file

Last week, I discussed a weird quirk in the Apple iBook policy, where I discovered I couldn't use my iPhone developer account to upload books to the iBook store. Both use Apple's iTunes Connect system, so it was weird that Apple explicitly disallowed developer accounts from also being book publishers. Ah well, it gets better.

This week, let's discuss what happens when submitting to the iTunes store results in a total fail.

I recently finished a book called How To Save Jobs, published by ZATZ Publishing. The book's been donated to a nonprofit and the electronic PDF version is being given away for free. This weekend, I tried to submit the book to the iTunes iBook store -- and ran into a game-killing snag.

Converting to ePub format

First, I spent two days converting the book from the designer's InDesign files to ePub format. InDesign CS4 (haven't tried this on CS5 yet) has a nice little export tool that generates ePubs, but the resulting files aren't really suitable for prime time. The front matter was all jumbled up, images showed up at the end of chapters, and the program tried to embed fonts -- a no-no for most ebook readers.

ePub files are .zip files with the .epub extension. So set your zip program to open .epub and you'll be ready to roll. All of the files are either XHTML or various XML control files, so the process is pretty simple -- if boring and tedious. I eventually cleaned the files up, pulled everything together, packaged it all up, and started testing.

I personally don't have an ebook device. I read books on my iPhone and on my laptops, tried the Kindle and hated it, and haven't decided to get an iPad yet. So I tested the book using the downloadable Adobe Digital Editions epub reader. My ePub file opened fine.

My next step was to validate the file. Apple's iBook producer documentation recommended a site where you upload the ePub file and see if it validates. Oops. Initially, my file didn't validate. As it turns out, the mimetype file must be the first file in the zip file. This isn't necessarily easy to do on Windows, but I eventually figured it out. Use Windows Explorer to create a zip file and put the mimetype file in first, then add everything else.

The problem was solved, and as you can see, the file validated:

Making it work on the iPad

Since my goal was to make the book available in iBooks, I sent a copy of the ePub to our own Jason Perlow to see if he could read it on his iPad in the iBooks app. He could not.

Hmmm... it validated using Apple's recommended validation tool, but he couldn't read it. He did complain my file was bigger than he expected (I'd used high-quality JPEGs), but otherwise, why would it work on Adobe Digital Editions, validate, and still not work in iBooks?

I had only two ideas: make the JPEGs smaller and convert the line endings to Mac-endian. I did these two steps, re-sent the file to Jason, and this time, he could read it. Here's a photo of the book running in iBooks on Jason's iPad. Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story.

Publishing the book in the iTunes iBook store

Next, I launched iTunes Producer, entered in all the appropriate metadata and imported the assets as instructed by Apple. The program reported a couple of errors (iTunes Producer didn't like blank lines in the book's description field), but otherwise, things seemed to work. I removed the blank lines and tried again.

iTunes Producer reported the file validated and then, when I clicked Deliver, the application again reported the file validated and gave me back a big green checkmark, which any normal person would assume means "all is good in iBook land". But all was not good.

I expected some kind of email or confirmation, and when I didn't get anything back from Apple, I went online to iTunes Connect and clicked Manage Books. As you can see, there are no books shown:

Uh-oh.

Well, it is Apple and it was a holiday weekend, so I decided to wait until Tuesday and check again. I did that yesterday morning. Still no luck and no books shown.

Hmmm... At this point, I started getting suspicious. I looked all over, trying to see if anything had gone wrong. I dug through the Mac, looking for log files and files that had been created or modified since my upload attempt. I also tried submitting the file again using iTunes Producer, on the off chance that I missed something obvious. I didn't. The package had validated and the big green checkmark was displayed again.

Then I tried all the iTunes Producer menu choices. I finally found a menu item called "Package History" and this is the dialog box it displayed:

As you can see, there are a bunch of import errors. The dates make sense, since I tried re-uploading a few times to see if there were any errors reported. No errors were reported during the upload, and yet the package history shows "import error".

Now what?

Now what? My file validated in multiple ways. It works in the Web-based validator, it works in a variety of ebook apps and devices, including iBooks, and it validated in the iTunes Producer application. And yet, there's some kind of "import error".

This has to be on the Apple server side. Clearly, everything worked on the client side, and the uploads were successful. But since the one dialog box that reported errors used the words "Fetched 3 statuses from Apple," I'm guessing the server-side had some kind of problem.

What kind of problem? Who knows? Can I fix it? Not if I don't know what to look for.

The good news (ok, not really) is that Apple has a nice Contact Us link right in iTunes Connect:

It's almost as if they want you to contact them if you have a problem uploading content. Almost.

I clicked the Contact Us link -- and this is why Apple infuriates me. There is no contact information. Instead, there are two screens that, effectively, say "Good luck, chump".

Here's the first:

You get to choose "General Bookstore Questions" as the only option. I did, and pressed Done. Then you get this screen:

Notice that that there's nothing about contacting Apple for help. Nothing at all. There is no contact information whatsoever about how to get further help.

So, that's where we stand. The book I tried uploading validates completely, yet has a mysterious "import error" on the Apple server side. There's no one to call. There's no one to write. Just dead air. Just Apple. Just business as usual.

If you've got any idea how to deal with this, let me know or post in the TalkBack below. You can also download the ePub version of the book directly from HowToSaveJobs.org. If it doesn't work on your e-reader, please let me know.

And, in the meantime, if anyone hears anything from Apple about the mysterious "import error" ... oh, who am I kidding? It's Apple. We stand a better chance of getting an answer back from Santa Claus than any form of Apple support.

Note to Apple: Please give me an excuse to say something nice. I know you guys read this site, so how about throwin' us a bone, here?

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Laptops, Mobility

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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