Apple has provided a publishing service on the iPad for those who don't want to go through all the hassle of finding a publisher.
Responding to a long-standing enquiry from Mac Life, Cupertino is now inviting budding authors to sign up for self-publishing, as long as the work is in ePub format, the author has an ISBN and a US Tax ID, and is using an Apple Mac, obviously.
Self-publishing, also known as "vanity publishing", has been around slightly longer than professional publishing, but electronic distribution puts the means of production into the hands of the author. This means you can publish a book for a few quid, though publication is no guarantee of sales.
You could, of course, put your Great American Novel onto the internet, but unless you're writing for love* you'll need some sort of revenue stream, which iBookStore can provide.
You'll need an ISBN - a unique number identifying every book published. Those come in batches of 10 and will set you back £111 if you're British, but only $30** if you're American which is more likely if you've the mandatory US Tax ID too.
Once you've got that you can submit your opus direct to Apple, though the company recommends working through a publisher if you want paying with reasonable celerity:
"Apple does not pay partners until they meet payment requirements and earning thresholds in each territory. You should consider this before applying to work direction with Apple as you may receive payments faster by working with an Apple-approved aggregator."
You may want to do that anyway - publishers do an awful lot more than arranging for printing - editing and marketing is their prime business. If you think your book is so good it doesn't need editing then you're wrong, and if you think you can sell a book through iTunes recommendations then remember that the scum also rises to the top, as iPhone application developers are learning.
But it seems we're going to be awash with electronic vanity publications this year, with Barnes & Noble launching their pubit service in the summer, and Google promising great things real soon now. Apple is the first but it won't be the last and we look forward to being swamped by the literary equivalent of thousands of farting applications any day now. ®
*Most authors do write for love, mainly, or as a form of self-promotion. The proportion who actually make a living writing books of any kind is surprisingly small.
**Thanks to the readers who have pointed out that this is in addition to the $215 "registration fee", making a total of $245 and matching the UK rate much more closely.