No more DPS apps for indie authors

Summarising the issue:

  1. Digital Publishing Suite is an Adobe-hosted service that allows you to build apps in InDesign.
  2. You can build single-issue iPad apps for free as part of Creative Cloud, or multi-issue apps for a recurring monthly fee and per-download fee.
  3. Adobe’s removing the free single-issue service from May next year, meaning that updates to apps built with DPS will no longer be possible.
  4. InDesign’s EPUB3 Fixed Layout export is new, has serious bugs regarding embedded animations, and makes ebooks, not apps. I believe these bugs can largely be worked around, but right now the process is tricky and pretty specific, relying on beta software from third parties. It’s not mature yet.
  5. The one silver lining of the improved EPUB export is that Android support will be possible, though of course that will make testing much harder.

Of course, the news that just came out regarding Digital Publishing Suite (single edition has been discontinued from May 2015) is pretty disappointing for independent authors and consultants like myself.

Effectively, I can no longer make content-heavy apps for clients who don’t have the money (around $5000/year) for multi-issue Digital Publishing Suite apps. EPUB isn’t a true replacement, because EPUBs aren’t apps. While the difference between apps and ebooks can be explained — you view them in iBooks instead — not all clients are going to happy or willing to make the change. They, or their customers, may well prefer to have apps.

Even for those clients happy with EPUB — it’s not ready yet. Just last night I found a workaround for a bug regarding embedded HTML animations, and the built-in InDesign animation support is only about two months old.

Worse, six months is far too short a time to turn many projects around; if you’re in the middle of a large single-issue project, you’ve just had the rug pulled out from under you. It would be crazy to release a product which could stop working forever with a future iOS update, but that’s exactly what we’re looking at. (Recently, I had to re-issue all my DPS apps for iOS8.) Luckily for me, my next major project was due to start early next year, and we will no longer be using DPS. Also luckily, my next major client’s content is fairly book-like, and I don’t think EPUB will be a bad format for it. Those pushing the boundaries of app/book design will have a harder time not being apps any more.

It’s a real shame that this happened, and a big reminder that relying on hosted services always carries the danger that they can be discontinued. Standalone software that’s discontinued is painful enough, but at least you can keep using it; cloud software that someone else holds the keys to is quite another.

Given the existing anti-subscription sentiment online, I don’t see Adobe coming out of this unscathed — and that’s a shame. Ideally, the service would stay and continue to be supported. At the very least, we need more notice.