Apple has lobbed over their wall an interesting development in the ongoing will-they-won't-they tablet/e-book manoeuvres. They have made their 'TuneKit' tools (that create iTunes LP and iTunes Extras) available to download. Cool huh?
Oh, alright, I'll explain what it means.
One of the recent developments in selling digital music has been bundling the song files with other stuff: images, video, and text. All are presented in a stylised and designed format as a kind of interactive CD booklet. Think a cross between a DVD menu and a web site. This goes some way toward negating one of the problems with digital content: the lack of any physical object. It doesn't replace CD packaging, but it might make you feel better about not getting any packaging (especially when you're not paying that much less for the digital files, which I'd have considered a better incentive for driving sales). So far, this kind of bundling has been available to a handful of big record labels as a bit of an experiment to sell some classic back-catalogue stuff. They've called these bundled packages iTunes LP (for music) and iTunes Extras (for movies).
And the tool these labels have used to create the format is TuneKit. So now, Apple have opened up this tool to anyone.
Okay? Still don't see why I'm excited? Read on.
Consider the news against the backdrop of Apple talking to publishers supposedly over their top-secret-tell-anyone-and-we'll-kill-you tablet computer and e-reader and things begin to fall into place. TuneKit may end up being as much a misnomer as iTunes itself. The tool could be used for creating anything involving text, images, sound, and video. See where this is heading now?
Better yet, TuneKit uses open web standards (basically the same stuff that allows you to build web sites and applications) to build its content. Apple have suggested that anyone with a bit of web coding experience could pretty easily whip up some cool designs using TuneKit. Open standards also means instead of relying on closed ecosystems like the proprietary Kindle format or pretty much anything Microsoft have ever done, the resulting e-books could potentially be available for reading anywhere on any device. This is exactly the kind of interoperability digital publishing needs if it wants a de facto e-book standard. I've always argued for the PDF format, but this has some serious potential.
Of course, Apple is no benevolent society, so they may still throw a proprietary sting the tail. I hope not.
Still, this is encouraging and possibly a sign of how digital publishing will get shaken up next year. I have the strangest feeling 2010 will a hell of a ride. I hope I'm right.