Red Staple, which previously specialized in tools for creating iTunes Extras, is jumping into the eBook space with a new HTML5 authoring tool. Although Apple has altered its iBooks Author EULA to be a little more author-friendly, Red Staple's product does offer some interesting alternative features that may make it more appealing to independent authors.
The tool is based entirely on the web and is able to put out two different types of eBooks: standard ePub 2 books and books that include audio and video embeds based on the upcoming (but still not yet widespread) ePub 3 format. Authors can create books for free by signing up at Red Staple's site, but the cost comes when you attempt to export your book: $29 for books under 500 pages with the standard ePub 2 format and $99 for larger books or books that include multimedia content. The service goes live today, with the ability to add video and audio coming later this week.
Why use Red Staple when iBooks Author is free? A few reasons: it will export to a standard ePub format when iBooks will only export to PDF, text, or the proprietary .ibooks format. That should make it easier to create eBooks that can be submitted to any store, including Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Google Books, and even private distribution. Red Staple doesn't wrap its eBooks in DRM of any sort (the individual stores handle that), and it will work equally well on Mac or PC (the company says that the Chrome browser works best). Red Staple books — both regular and enhanced versions — also work on the iPhone, a strange hole that Apple left open with iBooks Author.
CEO Lori Jordan gave us a walkthrough of the new tool, which should be available on February 8th. It involves a fairly straightforward process of uploading Word files (sorry, no text files allowed) and then cleaning them up once they're imported into the tool. You'll want to perform most of your formatting beforehand, as the tool is unwieldy for doing any serious text editing or formatting. However, you can add links, video, and audio once your text is uploaded and perform basic layout tweaks. If you choose to add multimedia, you'll have to export to ePub 3, which as of this writing is mainly supported by iBooks and a very few desktop e-readers— no word yet on when other e-reader platforms will adopt the standard.
Red Staple books sits somewhere between iBooks Author and standard eBook converter tools in this space, offering much less power and flexibility than the former but a small leg up on the latter. It also includes an automatic table of contents feature (which can easily be re-arranged), something necessary for Amazon Kindle books since KF8 doesn't include those automatically. Compared to other desktop ePub authoring tools, it's also a bit more bare-bones than some would like, but as a cloud-based creation tool it still should have some appeal.
We're not sure if the per-books price Red Staple is using will be sustainable as the eBook market heats up, but the company tells us that it also offers services to Authors like creating one-off Android apps and connecting authors with eBook distributors. The good news is that since you pay only when you export the file, you can try out Red Staple Books for free to see if you feel like it's worth the price.