Footnotes in e-books created with iBooks Author?

Footnotes have long been a problem in print books. Put them at the bottom of the page and the page becomes ugly (particularly with long footnotes), put them at the end of a book and they are rarely referenced (endnotes). The common practice is that if you want a person to actually look at the footnote then it should be put at the bottom of the page.

So what do we do in digital books. iBooks Author has a great support for glossary entries, but footnotes are not the same as a glossary. Whereas a glossary term is usually a definition of the word, a footnote doesn’t necessarily refer to a word and is, as implied by its name, a note. In print, a footnote is reference either with numbers or with an asterisk. However, how do we solve this problem in e-books and specifically e-books created for the iPad in iBooks?

One solution is the same as print: put a small number and hyperlink this to the note somewhere else in the book. However, apart from the fact that it’s somewhat clumsy, it is also rather hard to tap precisely on that tiny weeny superscripted number. Also the process of jumping around the book is fine if you want to jump to a section or chapter to read, but to jump around the book to read a note that says “Genesis 1:1” is a little unwieldy.

Unfortunately (at the time of writing) iBooks Author doesn’t provide a solution for this so until Apple solves the problem, what is the solution?

Since many of the books by Renana have footnotes we had to come up with something that works. The idea actually came up from Ira Weissman who suggested an image of a thought bubble instead of the asterisk. Tapping on the bubble would bring up the footnote text. This solved the problem of people’s fingers being too large for a small footnote reference whilst simultaneously keeping the reader in the same position.

As you can see in the image on the left from Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s book, Sacred Monsters, tapping on the cloud brings up a pop-up footnotes. Whilst this does take a tremendous amount of time to create in iBooks Author, the resulting digital book in iBooks is much more elegant.

The footnotes, like the text in the book, can contain richly formatted text, hyperlinks and even images.


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