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

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.

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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

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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Talkback

47 comments
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  • Theory

    Maybe Apple's server's automatically flag and don't allow any books from unknown/not trusted sources that have the word/name "Jobs" in the title/file name until reviewed by their Gestapo?

    Apple wouldn't want someone to upload an unsanctioned book about their fearless leader/F?hrer.
    Edesw88
    • I never would have thought of that, but you could very well

      have hit the nail on the head.
      John Zern
      • likely

        @John Zern
        maybe apple doesn't want whining bloggers from zdnet to pollute the ibooks store.
        banned from zdnet
  • Reminds me of a famous book

    If I may paraphrase: [i]Apple Is Just Not That Into You[/i]

    Maybe it is time for you to look elsewhere? That is good advice for pretty much everyone out there.
    NonZealot
  • Just shaking my head.

    www.apple.com/support/contact
    frgough
    • RE: iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

      @frgough

      Which one of those listed is for iTunes Connect and or Producer support? Now, I'm sure that if he called the iMac/iPod/iPad support line, someone could probably route him to the correct place. But if you're going to put a contact us link in the application, you'd want to think you could actually contact someone that way. Unfortunately it's not just Apple that does this, many companies do and it infuriates me to no end.
      Badgered
      • Yeah, it's annoying, but I have little patience

        who whine about their problems, but take no steps to solve them. The page I listed takes no effort to find, and calling and getting routed to the right department solves his problem. But I guess he doesn't get to go on a rant if he actually gets off his behind and solves the problem himself.
        frgough
      • RE: iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

        @Badgered, @frgough Unfortunately, that's for "end-user" support. Publisher support doesn't go through there.

        What's sad is that Apple used to be the shining example of how to relate to partners and developers.

        Also, I've now gotten a bunch of emails confirming others are experiencing the same problem, so it's not just (a) it's from me, (b) the book has "Jobs" in the name, or (c) it's free.

        I honestly hate complaining. I'd love to compliment, instead. But this sort of thing is deal-breaking. For me (and a bunch of other publishers, apparently), there's no apparent next step.

        Right now, I'm just hoping it's a bug in their server and if I resubmit in a couple of weeks, it just works.

        Sigh.
        David Gewirtz
      • RE: iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

        @David [i]Unfortunately, that's for "end-user" support. Publisher support doesn't go through there.[/i]

        Are you saying that you tried that number and they wouldn't route you to the correct place? If so, that would really suck.
        Badgered
    • RE: iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

      @frgough

      I stayed on the phone with them for almost 90 minutes. They could not route my call to anyone helpful and most of the people (yes, more than one person) didn't know what iProducer (whatever) is. Neither did the Mac store, nor was it listed ANYWHERE in the support groups.
      And just for fun the website says all you need is OS X 10.4.11, which I have... but the software itself says you need 10.5.
      I bought a Mac for this explicit purpose and this is what I'm getting? I'm going back to linux!
      steele42
  • a free book?

    maybe it is because your book is free - they can't make any profit from it. 30% of 0.00 = 0.00 and it is not worth their time. NOw say if you wanted $100 they might get off their butts
    stevejg61
    • free

      @stevejg61
      sure. that's why they have about 30.000 free books available right now.
      banned from zdnet
  • apple's user friendliness? A myth!

    I thought apple software "just works". Is "easy to use". Is appealing... Well well, ... this is hilarious;-) How many hours did it take you to find out that it just doesn't work?
    kikl
    • RE: iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

      @kikl Apple products do "just work" -- until they don't. And then they actively hide the information you need to troubleshoot the issue. Not that all is rainbows and sunshine on any other platform these days... Try troubleshooting DHCP timeouts on Windows 7 sometime...
      tronmech
      • RE: iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

        @tronmech

        <i>And then they actively hide the information you need to troubleshoot the issue</i>

        They also erase any cries for help you might dare post on their forums. Awesome they are
        tikigawd
  • I am having the same exact issue

    @david - I am having the same issue. We are an established independent publisher self distributing to many other eBook retailers. Our ePub files validate all over the place and are priced in tier 10 ($9.99). In the package history I see the same errors that you described above. I was wondering why I couldn't see my uploaded projects in iTunes Connect or I wasn't getting any response at all. One thing I just thought of is that I am running iTunes Producer on a PPC mac. Maybe for some reason an intel machine is needed? (I just tried uploading with an Intel machine and it didn't help) Very frustrating that I have no indication of what the "Import Error" is and have no one to contact about it.
    johnmcalester
  • I am having the same exact issue.2

    I just tried uploading on an Intel machine and got the same outcome. Import Error.
    johnmcalester
  • RE: iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

    This is a pathetic article. Please finish your research before publishing speculation. If Apple is rejecting your import for political reasons, you have to document that. You cannot just speculate. As I see it, you made some dumb error and you're too lazy to figure out if it is your error or if you are being unfairly censored. However, to make yourself famous, you choose the latter without doing your homework to really document the problem.
    OutfieldDan
    • RE: iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

      @OutfieldDan Outfield, you are in the outfield this time. I didn't say I think Apple is censoring the book. Why would they? I think you're confusing some of the reader comments with the original article.

      I believe there's either a server error or an undocumented formatting requirement not specified and, as of the time the article was written, had no further ways to solve it.

      I've since been given some interesting clues and we'll see what happens. Hopefully, I'll have more tangible technical details to post tomorrow.

      Sorry, no conspiracies here.
      David Gewirtz
      • RE: iTunes Publisher inexplicably fails to publish an iBook. Now what?

        @David Gewirtz
        I am always favorably impressed with cogent, level-headed responses (like yours) to irrational rants like that of OutfieldDan. Kudos.
        As a software developer, I've considered using the Apple Store as a conduit to personal profit, but your recent experience fuels my reservations, which were initiated by others' experiences with the App Store. Thanks for sharing.
        David A. Pimentel