Thursday, September 23, 2010

Adding pictures to your book

Books are not just linear text—at least not all of them. Without getting into a philosophical discussion about the evolution of the book and what the next generation will look like, suffice it to say that we like pictures. Pictures and graphic elements are used to illustrate, illuminate, and decorate. In our fairytale book, The Obstructive Bridge, we are going to add a decorative initial cap to the first paragraph. In this lesson we will cover both the new html element (<img>) and additional styling that is needed to make it line up where we want it.

First, the .ZIP file “Bridge.zip” should be copied to your hard drive and unpacked. This new package has the same files as previous packages but also includes a decorative image named “o.jpg.”
  1. In your text editor, open the file “content.html.” The image element is an empty element (has no end tag). It contains three necessary elements: The “img” element name, the url of the graphic, and alternate text (alt) that will be read by screen readers or displayed on mouse-over by devices that do not display images.

  2. Locate the first <p> tag in the document. We are going to replace the “O” in ONCE with a graphic, so delete the “O.” Immediately following the <p> tag, insert the following line:
    <img src="o.jpg" alt="Once" />

  3. The first line of the html file should now read:
    <p><img src="O.jpg" alt="Once" />NCE UPON A TIME,

    That is all that needs to be done to the HTML file, so save it and close it. Next we will work on the style sheet to indicate how we want the image to be displayed. Open “styles.css” in your text editor.

  4. We will add two lines in the style sheet. One line will remove the indent from the first paragraph of text that follows a <h1> heading. The second will cause the image to “float” to the left of the paragraph. This means that it will line up with the top of the line of text and the text will wrap around it. At the end of the css file add the following two lines:
    h1 + p { text-indent:0; }

    img { float:left; }

  5. Save and close “styles.css.” Open “Bridge.opf” in your text editor. We need to add the graphic element to the manifest so that readers understand it is part of this eBook. Locate the “manifest” portion of the file and before the closing </manifest> tag add the following line:
    <item id="o" href="O.jpg" media-type="image/jpeg" />

  6. Save and close the file, then drag and drop the three changed files into the OEBPS folder in your .ZIP file. Change the extension to .ePUB and open your book in a reader.


You have now added a graphic element to your eBook. We will deal more extensively with images in a future chapter and discuss some of the kinds of files you can use for images, different ways of displaying them in your text, and how to organize them in your document. Next, we’ll add several new chapters to the eBook.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Preparing a manuscript

I spent 3 hours Tuesday converting one chapter of a manuscript that was submitted to me to a propper HTML file for formatting as an ePUB. The authors inadvertently broke virtually every rule of manuscript preparation before giving it to me. I got to thinking that maybe people still don’t understand the fundamentals, so here are a few of the rules that I’d like to see adhered to when I convert a manuscript to ePUB or to a print/PDF layout.
  1. No extra spaces of any kind. If you work in HTML or other W3C formats, you’ll discover that extra whitespace is ignored when the the page is laid out, so what is the big deal? It is confusing to see space in the source file that doesn’t translate into the layout. We use space (like indenting nested levels) to mean specific things in the source file, so don’t make the job harder by putting in extra space. I use search and replace to add the first batch of element tags into the file. If I replace all returns with </p><p>, I will get double paragraph spacing in the result. If this is the same file that you will submit to a publisher (like me) for print or PDF layout, all that extra space has to be stripped out to assure a good book design. Help us by not putting it in. What are extra spaces?
    • Double spaces after punctuation
    • Double enter after a paragraph
    • Tabs of all sorts (these are often converted to spaces in .TXT files)

  2. Use styles. Distinguish between headings and body text by using the “Heading 1,” “Heading 2,” and “Normal” or “Body Text” styles on the paragraph. When doing a print layout, we can actually import these styles into the layout program and make the design of the book 100% easier to implement. When preparing for HTML, we can search the styles and add the appropriate element tags quickly and easily.

  3. Don’t use a lot of custom overrides for font-styles to indicate different speakers, thoughts, places, times, emphasis, or sidebars. The only font-styles I want to see are:
    • Italics to indicate internal thoughts of a character, foreign words, book titles, and very occasionally a word for which the emphasis changes the meaning of the sentence. Don’t use italics for anything else. Ever.
    • Bold to indicate a lead-in sub-heading that is part of the paragraph. Bold may also be a part of a style (like Heading 1) to help distinguish a heading from surrounding text. Any font-style or font-weight that is part of a heading or other style definition is fine since that will all be subject to what I define the style to be when I do the layout. Rarely, bold may be used for indicating someone is shouting, or in non-fiction to indicate a class of information (like Warnings).

  4. Never use underlining. If I see this, I automatically convert it to Italics, so unless you are typing a manuscript on a Royal manual typewriter that doesn’t have Italics, don’t use underlining. The only place I want underlining is in Web addresses and email addresses. These will be added automatically by your word processing program or by my layout.

  5. Avoid ALL CAPS whenever possible. This can be used sparingly for shouted lines, but if you have a character who shouts all the time, let “he shouted” suffice. Anytime you use all caps (Shift Lock) when you type, I have to retype in lower case and then apply a style to it.

  6. Use special characters. This is really critical because I have to read every line of your manuscript to check for this. Double dash (--) should be an em-dash (—). Check your typographer’s quotes. We use ' and " to indicate feet and inches and for special codes in XML elements. Quotes look like ‘ ’ and “ ”. If your word processing program converts these automatically, great! Just make sure they are pointing the right direction. The word processing program will convert 'Tis to ‘Tis instead of ’Tis. If your word processing file has these special characters in it, they will be preserved when I convert the file to a UTF8 text file.

Finally, a word about images. Yes, I want to see the images in the manuscript where they belong, but don’t do a lot of formatting to make them appear right. Just create a new paragraph with the image in it and continue. Don’t try to float the image, annotate it, or position it. I will need each original image as a separate file as well. When I do either the print/PDF layout or the HTML, I will have to import or link to the original images. This will have to be done manually. Don’t make the job harder.

Preparing your manuscript properly will cut as much as 30%-50% off the cost of converting it to either eBook or print. You could use the savings, and I could use the extra time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Make it Pretty

In the three quick lessons that you've tried so far, you've created a valid ePUB eBook and have tested it with your on-screen reader or reading device. It worked. But you've probably also noticed that it didn't look that great. Now we are going to add a file with six lines of type in it and add a line each to the .HTML and .OPF files. These eight simple edits will dramatically change the look of your eBook.

I've provided another test file for you at the eBook download site. This one is titled "StnGeorge.zip". Just click on the link and download the zip file. Once the file is on your computer, make a copy of it and change the extension from .ZIP to .ePUB. Then open the eBook in your on-screen reader (like Adobe Digital Editions). This simple parable, unlike the Aesop example, is a few pages long and has several paragraphs.

Here are the problems: The headline is at the left, the paragraphs are not indented, the paragraphs have space between them, and the type looks too crowded. Those are the things we are going to change.

Here's how:
  1. In your text editor create a new document. Copy into the document the following lines:
    body {}
    h1 { text-align:center; }
    p { margin:0;
    line-height:1.5;
    text-align:justify;
    text-indent:2em; }

    Save the new file with the name "styles.css".

  2. Open the file bridge.opf and edit the section called <manifest>. Currently the section looks like this:
    <manifest>
    <item id="content" href="content.html" media-type="application/xhtml+xml"/>
    <item id="toc" href="bridge.ncx" media-type="application/x-dtbncx+xml"/>
    </manifest>

    We will add one line before the close tag for the manifest as follows:
    <item id="css" href="styles.css" media-type="text/css"/>

  3. Open the content.html file. We need to tell this content file where to look for its styles. This information goes in the <head> element. When we add the single line the element will look like this:
    <head>
    <title>The Obstructive Bridge</title>
    <link href="styles.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" />
    </head>

Save all the files and add them to the OEBPS folder in the .ZIP file. Change the file extension to .ePUB and open the new book in your reader. You've made a much prettier eBook with the addition of eight simple lines. In the future, you'll learn greater control over styles and eBook appearance. For now, though, you've create a great looking eBook with a minimum of effort!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Organize and Package

We have all the necessary files created to make an ePUB eBook. There are just two steps to making it readable on your eReader or in an on-screen eBook reader: Organize the files in folders according to the OeB 2.1 spec, and package them into a readable format.

Organization

The ePUB spec has very specific instructions on how your book needs to be organized in order to be a valid ePUB. This includes
  1. a folder to hold all the files
  2. the mimetype document
  3. a folder to hold the metadata (container.xml)
  4. a folder to hold the book files
Your file structure should look like this.

Does it have to look just like this? The practical application of the spec allows some variation to the way things are set up, but this is the preferred organization. If you are just getting started with eBooks or are planning to distribute your books through a company that validates the code (like iPad store) stick with the recommended format and don't vary. You might as well do it right from the beginning.

Packaging the file

This is a section that sounds convoluted, but a following these instructions will produce a valid ePUB book. The first thing you need to do is create an empty .ZIP file. .ZIP is a file packaging and compression format that puts all the pieces together in a single package.
  1. Create an empty .ZIP file. On the PC, right click in the directory you are working in. From the list of options, choose NEW:Compressed ZIP file. Name the file with your book's name.
  2. Drag and drop the META-INF folder, the OEBPS folder, and the mimetype file onto the new .ZIP folder.
  3. Right-click on the .ZIP folder and choose rename. Change the extension to .ePUB. A message will pop up on your screen saying that changing the extension might make the file unreadable. That's okay. Do it anyway.
Yes, you have an .ePUB eBook now. Really. Open the new file with Adobe Digital Editions or another eBook reader on your computer, or put it in your eReader library and synchronize with your device. That really is how an ePUB is created. You can use the sample files from the previous lesson to test this by simply changing the .ZIP extension to .ePUB.

Is this really all there is to it? Of course not. In the next lesson, we'll talk about making it look pretty!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Four Fiendish Files and a Header

Alas, nothing is as easy as it seems, and when it comes to ePUB, nothing even seems easy. Even though the HTML file that you created in the last lesson is a valid Web page, the Open eBook specification requires a header for the file that tells devices how to interpret it, and it requires four separate files that need to be created in order to package the book for reading. In this lesson we'll look at those small adjustments.

The XHTML header


This header information should be the same for all the content files in your document. It defines the document as a XHTML document and describes the character set and language that will be used. The code is very simple and should just be copy and pasted in place of the <HTML> tag in your content file.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.1//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml11/DTD/xhtml11.dtd">
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en">

Anytime you create a new content file for your book, paste this code at the top, then continue with the same HTML as previously discussed. That's the easy part. Now on to the four fiendish files.

File 1: mimetype


When an eReader encounters a book with the .ePUB extension, the first thing it checks for is whether it is actually an eBook. Many things could be packaged into an eBook format, but they won't read without a mimetype file. This is one short line of text in a text document with no extension. Simply open your text editor and in a new file type:
application/epub+zip

Nothing else goes in this file. Save the file as "mimetype" and after you have closed it, edit the file name in your file explorer to remove the extension. You will get a warning message that changing the file extension might make the file unreadable, but that is okay. Just delete the four letters of the extension (including the period) and save the changes.

File 2: container.xml


This is also a very short text document with the .XML file extension. Only one part of this file will change for each eBook you create: the name of the third fiendish file. Copy and paste the following into a text document.
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<container version="1.0" xmlns="urn:oasis:names:tc:opendocument:xmlns:container">
<rootfiles>
<rootfile media-type="application/oebps-package+xml"
full-path="oebps/BookName.opf" />
</rootfiles>
</container>

The only part of this file that ever changes is the "BookName" which is the name of the .OPF file that defines your book. The container file tells the reader where the packaged eBook files are located. Save this text file and change the extension to .XML. Copy and paste the file into every eBook you create and just change the BookName to the current project.

File 3: The .OPF package file


The .OPF file is the one that defines what your book is, where all the pieces of it are located, and any information about the book (metadata) that you would like people to know. Metadata could include the ISBN, price, category, and a host of other information. For our purposes, we are going to create a .OPF with the absolute minimum information that must be included in order for the book to be considered a valid .ePUB file. This is a text file that contains XML elements that are defined by the Open eBook specification. The elements included here are the minumum set that are required. Once again, the term BookName is a placeholder used to define the specific files in your eBook.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<package xmlns="http://www.idpf.org/2007/opf" version="2.0" unique-identifier="BookName001">
<metadata xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/" xmlns:opf="http://www.idpf.org/2007/opf">
<dc:title>BookName</dc:title>
<dc:creator opf:role="aut">Author</dc:creator>
<dc:language>en</dc:language>
<dc:identifier id="bookid">BookName001</dc:identifier>
<metadata>
<manifest>
<item id="content" href="content.html" media-type="application/xhtml+xml"/>
<item id="toc" href="BookName.ncx" media-type="application/x-dtbncx+xml"/>
</manifest>
<spine toc="toc">
<itemref idref="content"/>
</spine>
</package>

There is a minimum of three sections in the package file: The metadata, the manifest, and the spine.
  1. In the metadata you must include at least a title, creator, language, and unique identifier. Title is pretty obvious. Creator usually starts with the role of author. Other roles may also be defined, but we will not deal with those until a much later lesson. For our purposes, we are doing these lessons in English, therefore the language code is "en". We will look at other languages in the future. Finally, every book needs a unique identifier. This is referenced in two locations: in the metadata and in the <package> element opening tag. This is supposed to be a combination of letters and numbers that uniquely identify this eBook from every other eBook that could ever be created. In some instances, the ISBN number may be used. In other cases, commercial software will generate a random code for the book. For now, we will use the BookName and three digits. You can change the numbers for each version of the file you create.
  2. In the manifest, you will list every file that is to be included in reading your eBook. At minimum, the manifest will include the content file(s) for your eBook and the fourth fiendish file which will be discussed next. If your eBook contains multiple content files, graphics, fonts, or any other content, it will all need to be listed in this section.
  3. The spine lists the files that will appear in the Contents of your eBook. If you create a file for each chapter in the book, for example, each of those files will be listed in the spine.

The .OPF is both the most complicated file in the eBook package and in many ways the most important. Save the text file and change the extension to .OPF.

File 4: The .NCX Table of Contents


The .NCX file provides the reading system with navigation points in your eBook and is required to be a conforming eBook. It has a few header items and then a listed table of contents with the names of the files (or locations within files) and the display name for each. It is a text file with the extension changed to .NCX.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<ncx version="2005-1" xml:lang="en" xmlns="http://www.daisy.org/z3986/2005/ncx/">
<head>
<meta content="toc-example" name="dtb:uid"/>
</head>
<docTitle><text>Table of Contents</text></docTitle>
<navMap>
<navPoint id="1" playOrder="1">
<navLabel>
<text>BookName</text>
</navLabel>
<content src="content.html"/>
</navPoint>
</navMap>
</ncx>

This information provides navigation points for sidebar navigation in various eBook readers and for assistive technologies. It is a required file for your conforming ePUB eBook. Save the file as a text file and then change the extension to .NCX.

Those are the four fiendish files that are required in every properly formed ePUB eBook. If you are not sure you've followed everything, I've created a small ZIP file of Aesop's Fables that includes all the pieces you see in this post. You can download it at NWE Signatures eBook Samples where I'll continue to post samples from these exercises.

In the next exercise, we'll work on properly organizing and packaging the eBook.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Six tags you need to create an ePUB

I've been talking for some time about actually giving instruction on how to create your eBook and now it's time to get busy and do it. Most instruction sets I've found tell you everything you never wanted to know about xhtml before you ever get around to creating a book, but there are really only six xhtml tags that you need to know in order to set up your content. We're going to start right off by creating one.

First use a text editor. The simplest text editor you can get is best to start with. I use Windows Notepad for mine. You use a text editor instead of a word processor (Microsoft Word) because it does not automatically reformat text as you type. The first tag you will need is the <html> tag. That starts your document and at the very end of the document you will finish with the </html> closing tag. All tags come in pairs. The open tag is just the brackets and tagname. The closing tag includes a slash (/).

Second, the <head> tag encloses information about your book, not the book itself. Nested inside the head is the <title> tag. This is where you put the title of your book. We'll get to more sophisticated ways of using the header information in the future, but right now your file should look like this:

<html>
<head>
<title>My Book</title>
</head>
</html>


Even when you are creating complex books with hundreds of sections and sub-chapters, you will have these tags at the beginning of each xhtml or html document.

Now you are ready to put in your content. There are only three tags needed for the content. The beginning tag is <body>. It doesn't close until just before the closing tag. Everything else in your book is inside the body tag.

<h1> is the next tag and is used for your chapter heads. There are six different levels of heading available, but by-and-large it is safest and easiest to use the h1 tag for the top level of your chapter. Put the chapter name, number, or title after the opening h1 tag and then close the heading with the </h1> tag. Remember, tags (almost) always come in pairs.

Finally, each paragraph of your story must be enclosed in a <p></p> tag set. Here is a quick tip: In your word processor, before you put the text for your story in the text editor, do a search and replace for all paragraph breaks and replace them with the p tag. If you use a double-return to create space between paragraphs in your manuscript, replace the two together. For example: Replace ^p^p with </p>^p<p>. Then copy and paste your manuscript after the headline. It should come out looking like this.

<html>
<head>
<title>My Book</title>
</head>
<body>
<h1>Chapter 1</h1>
<p>First paragraph goes here.</p>
<p>Second paragraph goes here.</p>
</body>
</html>


Save the file as an html file (with the .html extension) When you look at the file in your directory, if it says .txt at the end of the name, rename the file with the extension .html. Ignore all warnings about whether it will be readable. Finally, double-click on the icon for your new book and take a look at it. It will open in your default Web browser. It won't look pretty, but it will be accurate, and you created this little Web page with just six tags. Easy, wasn't it?

Chapter 1

First paragraph goes here.

Second paragraph goes here.


In the next lesson, we'll create the two files that need to be included in your eBook and package it up so you can view it in your reader.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Dark Side of Publishing

I was privileged to be a presenter this week at the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association Conference, discussing what we referred to as "The Dark Side of Publishing." Joined by authors Terry Persun and Boyd Morrison, we discussed the impact of small presses, self-publishing, and eBooks on the writer trying to break into publishing. The conversation was lively to say the least. But it was also fueled by the declaration of Agent April Eberhart that in 18 months she saw the role of agent being replaced by author advocates and self-publishing as a both a viable and dominant form of publishing in the future. This sentiment was also echoed in an interview with Agent Jackie Meyer who said "We are at a tipping point where authors may be better off self-publishing."

This week, the conversation has also been fueled by yet another industry dust-up involving the Amazon Kindle as super-agent Andrew Wylie signed an exclusive eBook contract for 20 works with Amazon. Meanwhile, Random House considers those rights to be theirs and has declared they will no longer do business with Wylie.

The problem (if there is only one that I'm dealing with) is that writers seem to be reaching a point where they don't trust the agent/editor/publisher infrastructure any more, but at the same time are being led to believe that all they have to do is put their eBooks on Amazon and they will start selling 4,000 a month. This can't really be blamed on hearing Boyd Morrison's fairytale ending for his new book "Ark." It can really only be blamed on our own credulity for believing there is any easy way to see our novels, memoirs, or non-fiction published. It still fundamentally requires a great story, well-told, perfectly edited, attractively presented, and marketed the hell out of.

The industry is going to change. Boyd declared that when he published his eBooks on Amazon in 2009, it was 45 years ago in Internet time. Mainstream publishers and even alternative publishers like Long Tale Press will have to be nimble in order to keep up in the next 18 months which will be like another 65 years of Internet time.

We are going to return to more technical information on this blog that will address fundamentals of creating eBooks, but we will continue to intersperse industry information in with it as we go. And I will be continuing to follow news posts on excellent sites like Media Bistro's GalleyCat. Follow @wayzgoose for continued updates on Twitter.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How Books Are Chosen at Long Tale Press

I originally conceived this site for fairly technical information on how to create and design eBooks. You'll find bits of that throughout, but the world of eBooks is the world of publishing, and there are a lot of interesting things happening in the publishing world. Recently, the Twitter hashtag #dearpublisher has inspired a lot of conversation about publishing as well as a few publishers (like Peachtree Publishers) to give people a look inside the publishing process. So I thought I would take people for a tour inside what happens at Long Tale Press in celebration of its second anniversary open to the public.

Long Tale Press was conceived based on the concept that there were a lot of good stories that would never see publication because their market was limited, they didn't make the right connections with agents and editors, or the author simply didn't have the ability to sell her work. On the other hand, technology was changing rapidly. It was apparent to us that eBooks were going to capture an increasing amount of the market, especially in niche markets where mass production was prohibitive. Our initial intent was to focus exclusively on eBooks, but we've expanded that considerably.

At Long Tale Press we decided that we would build the publishing process around what people wanted to read. So we developed a juried selection process. It works simply: Any author can submit up to the first 5,000 words of his novel at our site. Readers read and review the excerpt, rating it in four significant areas: Story concept, Writing quality, Character development, and Would you buy it? Excerpts accumulate points based on these ratings. Exceeding 100 points gains the writer an invitation to submit the entire manuscript to Long Tale Press. From the review pool, three reviewers are chosen (volunteers) to read the entire book and provide the author feedback. This will take from 30 to 90 days as the reviewers are all people who read for their enjoyment, not people whose jobs are to read through the slush pile. While the primary job of the review pool is to determine if the entire manuscript lives up to the promise of the first 5000 words, we encourage the review pool to be detailed and specific in their comments. These are passed on to the author with our publishing recommendation.

The publishing recommendation will be one of three things.
  1. Thank you, but we don't feel the book is ready to be published. The work needed to get it ready is more than LTP feels it can invest in.

  2. Thank you, let's get this book published. We're ready to invest our time in editing, design, and production.

  3. Thank you. Your book shows great promise and we'd like to see it through, but you'll notice the comments from the review pool suggest some revisions that need to be made. If you are willing to make the commitment to revise and rewrite as necessary, according to the comments that are enclosed, we'd like to pursue helping you get it ready for publication.

The last option is the most likely. Before you go with the "Aha! They want money," conclusion, Long Tale Press doesn't sell any services, nor do we recommend the purchase of services to edit a book or get it ready to publish. If an author is ready to make the commitment to revise, we will continue to review the work as it progresses, make comments and suggestions, and encourage the author in getting it finished. We're just not going to do the work for him.

If we determine that the author has fulfilled her agreement to rewrite and we can take the book to publication, we offer a contract to publish the work. When the book comes in "ready to publish" our real work begins. Before we release a book, we will do a line-by-line copy edit. We don't want typos, copy/paste errors, or wrong words (like then/than, sit/set, lay/lie, etc.) to slip into a book. Then we take care of cover art and design, layout, and production. Long Tale Press is neither self-publishing nor vanity press. The only time an author pays LTP anything is if the author decides to buy print copies at wholesale cost to sell at events, book-signings, speaking engagements, etc. We offer a generous royalty based on net received above cost of goods, figured on a book-by-book basis, not up front costs.

Then there is the question of whether we are going to produce a print book or an eBook or something else. When we make this decision, it is based on a number of factors regarding the specific book market as we see it, the quality of the reviews received, the cost of production, and our gut feeling in the matter. Our baseline is to publish as an eBook and if all the other factors merit it, publish a short-run print edition (100-500 copies). In nearly all cases we will do a print-quality layout and design of the book to make it available as a PDF eBook or print-on-demand book. We'll also create an industry-standard ePUB book. The book will be sold through the Long Tale Press bookstore, Amazon.com, and other channels as we can open them.

Having discovered that even avid eBook readers really like something to put on their bookshelf, we've begun publishing our eBooks on CD-ROM. The disk holds both the ePUB and PDF versions of the book and is packaged in a book-like case with the full cover art so it can be put on the bookshelf and installed on any computer or reading device the reader would like. They can even put it in their garage sale if that's what they decide to do!

Well, that's a peak inside Long Tale Press. We continue to be committed to finding and publishing quality fiction.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

eReader Wars

It has been an interesting week in the eReader market. Following Apple's spectacular entry into the eReader market with the iPad, we started experiencing all kinds of fallout in the eBook industry. First there was the pressure by the major publishing houses to force Amazon into an agency model. This was to duplicate the deal they got with Apple and the supposed protection of first release hard cover book market. The net result of this model is that Amazon no longer sets the price of eBooks. The publisher is the seller of the book and amazon collects a commission on each sale. So, Amazon no longer needs to make its profit on the Kindle. Now it makes 30% profit on each eBook sold. So if cheap books don't drive the Kindle adoption rate (or any other eReader) then the price of the reader itself has to become more attractive. (Did you really think that eReaders were so expensive to produce that a fair retail price was $300?)

According to an AP story in the Seattle Times, "Michael Norris, a senior trade analyst at Simba Information, said the Nook's price cut indicates New York-based Barnes & Noble "is admitting that when they're up against a $500 digital photo frame on acid that does everything, they can no longer keep a straight face when selling something for $259 that only does books.""

Apple's "digital photo frame on acid" is not the only pressure that Amazon is facing. Earlier this month, Borders Books began preselling the forthcoming Aluratek Libre eBook Reader Pro for just $119, joining its $150 models of the Sony Reader and Kobo eReader. Borders has not tied itself to just one reader like Barnes & Noble did with the Nook, even though its eBookstore is powered by Kobo.

So yesterday Barnes & Noble announcd a seemingly dramatic price drop in the Nook to 199 and announced a WiFi only version (no "always connected via cellular") at $149. Amazon followed in a few hours with a dramatic slash in the price of the Kindle to just $189.

Of course, on the downside of all this great pricing news, we read that News Corp. bought Skiff, LLC for its platform, but declined to buy its much-touted eReader which now waits in obscurity for another buyer.

The summary of this is that it is now cheaper to enter the eReader market. Not below $100 yet, but edging ever nearer for quality 5" readers. Independent publishers of eBooks should rejoice over this since one of the barriers to selling even <$5 eBooks has been the number of people with eReaders. It is not likely to effect the sale of the new more expensive mainline publisher eBooks. Is it time to buy an eReader? Certainly. But read the fine print and make sure you are getting what you think you want: plug-in synchronization, WiFi, 3G, single library/bookstore, open platform. It's all out there.

[EDIT]Just saw this bit about the Sony eReader Touch edition price drop to $199. This article is very perceptive about Sony being lost in the noise of Kindle/iPad. It is a great reader! Sony Reader price drop = tree falling in the forest.[/EDIT]

Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What is a book?

Just when we thought we'd made progress in getting people to recognize eBooks as books, we start muddying the waters again with how much interactivity we can put in an eBook! I'm really not going to be a curmudgeon about this, but watching Liza Daly's demo at IDPF Digital Book 2010 really got me thinking about the future of the book again. You can take a look at her excellent demo at the Threepress Consulting Blog.

It strikes me that we can come up with all kinds of demos to show practical applications of possible technology, but only time will tell whether our cool technology will actually be adopted for general use, whether it will be limited to very specialized applications, or if it will go the way of the irritating and ill-fated "blink" attribute in HTML. There are really two fundamental questions regarding the adoption of technology in any artform, and I include books as an artform.
  1. Does the technology solve a problem that currently limits artists?

  2. Does the technology inspire new uses that expand the art?

The motion picture, for example, may not have solved a specific problem that early photographers had, although some of the technology regarding the speed of film and developing techniques certainly had a positive impact on still photography. It did, however, inspire a new artform. There are still photographers, perhaps in greater number today than ever before. There are also movie-makers and videographers. They are not necessarily the same people, even though they have common roots.

So when I look at new eBook interactive technology, I can see the development of some new artforms that may or may not have the take-up speed of motion pictures. I don't see adding interactive maps, satellite views of the Seattle Waterfront, and a video poker game to my noir mystery book (For Blood or Money) just because the detective lives and travels around Seattle, has an office on the waterfront, and plays poker. Frankly, I think that would detract from a novel. It might, however, be a great project for a new medium--maybe even one that I'd like to explore. I just wouldn't sell it as a book.

I recently adopted one of my on-line novels (Stn. George & the Dragon) as a stage play. While there are words in common in both renditions, the play is vastly different than the novel. It is a different medium. In the same way, I think the introduction of vast amounts of interactivity in what was a book and then an eBook heralds the introduction of a new artform. I can see some incredible developments in the area of textbooks and learning materials coming as a result of eBook interactivity. I can also see a whole new entertainment medium being born. I guess what I don't see is an effect on the novel. On the other hand, if someone solves significant problems like good adaptation across different device sizes, variable spacing and hyphenation for justified text, and page turning speed on eInk devices, that could solve some real problems with eBook novels.

In summary, the terms "book," "eBook," and "interactive eBook" may describe advances in technology, but they do little to define the artform. This will be done by people writing novels, textbooks, and interactive entertainment.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

It's not about the content

One thing that the recent events surrounding the release of the iPad and the subsequent rebellion of top publishers against Amazon's pricing model has made abundantly clear is that no matter what we want to believe, the worth of a book has little to do with the content of the book. That may sound harsh, and I am not suggesting that my little noir mystery that has sold a grand total of Garrison Kiellor's projected 14 copies is equally as valuable as Lee Child's 61 Hours (this week at #1 on the NYT Best Sellers list). But it is reflected in the fact that Child's book is available at Barnes & Noble for $13.49 as an eBook, $16.38 in hardcover, $20.16 in large print paperback, and $8.99 in mass market paper.

The difference in the price is based on the medium, not on the content.

To some extent, I can see that there could be a difference based on cost of production. But the truth of the matter is that readers do not recognize equal value between a hardcover and an eBook--even though the content is the same.

It seems to me that the best and fairest way of pricing a book in any medium is a single consistent margin above cost of goods. (The direct costs of creating a book have to be figured in "x" since the publisher will put different amounts of effort into the creation of different content.) When we arrive at a price then for a book that costs $3.50 to get from manufacturing, including shipping, we could easily say that the book sells for $13.50, cost plus $10. The eBook would sell on-line for $10. The audio book on 10 CDs would probably not cost any more than the hardcover as the cost of goods would remain the same.

What is more important to me as an author and as a publisher, is that there is a consistent value placed on the content of the book on which the royalty and publishing costs are paid. Inventing an 8% of retail price when the book is priced at $22.95 and sells for 16.38 yields the same result as a 50% split of the net on the $13.50 book in my example. And the author always gets the same amount, whether on a paperback, hardcover, or eBook. That would truly show the consistent value of the content and separate it from the value of the molecules used to produce it.

This method is flawed. You begin to see the flaws when you start dealing with the retail channel and discounts, but that is not the only place. However, the concept of consistent value for content regardless of medium is one that I believe has potential for resolving both the perception of readers and the self-worth of authors. It is worth considering.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How much design compromise?

Sadly, I am not at BEA this week, nor at the IDPF Digital Book 2010 conference being held in conjunction with it. But I am following the conference closely via Twitter and half a dozen blogs. I was interested to hear one book designer comment that we would just have to compromise our design standards for eBooks.

I understand where this designer is coming from, but I'm not quite in agreement. The truth is, we have to learn a whole different way of designing. We learned a certain kind of tool years ago that was created to design images on paper. Some of those images were letters that made up words. We could position them precisely where we wanted them and they would never dare to be in a different place the next time the book was opened. We could finely tune the spacing of characters (remember 1/50,000th of an em kerning?), rotate the text, hand draw parts of the book, add images and charts and tables, and it all turned out perfectly.

Well, if you design paper books, you can still use those tools and still create exactly the Renaissance masterpiece that you want to have.

But the Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, iPad, laptop, and desktop computer are not made of paper. No ink hits the screen (no matter how they talk about eInk). The book bits that you design may be on a 3" iPhone screen when one person reads it or on a Kindle Deluxe when another person reads it. That means that for the first time since a human first put ink on paper, the design of books has to change. The tools have to change. The whole concept of what it means to "design" has to change. And fundamentally, designers have to change. Put down the X-acto knife and step away from the drawing board. (Ooops! That was the last publishing revolution!)

The tools of the eBook designer are XHTML and CSS. And now we have to go back to the basics of great book design and ask how can we make this a more pleasant reading experience. There is nothing in the OEB specification that will prevent you from designing a fantastic reading experience. Can't rotate the type on the page? Let it go. That was a different artform. Can't kern the space between characters? Let it go, that was a different technology. Can't use color? Can't have the exact typesize? Can't control the table-cell widths? LET IT GO!

Now that you've got your hands empty, look at what you can do and learn how to design with that. And always always always keep in mind that you are the only person in the world that will see what the eBook looks like on your computer screen. The people who look at your design will all look at it on their own screens, at their computer or eReader's resolution, with the particular little quirks that Kindle, iPad, Nook, or Sony have built into it. Yes, according to the IDPF spec, you can make a drop-cap. But none of those devices will display it. You can turn on hyphenation, but none of those devices support it yet. You can designate what media size certain attributes should be applied at, but most of these will ignore that you have a style sheet at all if you try. So instead, you learn the key features that will work across the entire range of devices, and you design for those.

Here is the dirty little secret of designing for eBooks. The less you try to control the position and size of things on the screen (i.e. treat it like paper), the more likely it is that your books will look well and thoughtfully designed.

There are a few little things that you can do to improve the look of your eBooks, and they aren't hard.
  1. Use the full range of legal XHTML elements when you create your docs. If you use only the "p" tag and create a new class for every element, nothing in your book will ever change or adapt for different reading devices. (Did you hear that Google Books? If you can identify different classes of "p" then you can assign them different element names in the first place!)

  2. Correct default settings that were developed for Web pages in browsers. eReader manufacturers blindly accepted the most popular display faults for Web browsers when they created their internal defaults. You don't have to accept space between paragraphs and no indents. You have the power to change them.

  3. Use flexible units that will appropriately change with the devices. The measurement units that you should use more than any others are "em" and the small, medium, large font sizes.

  4. Until and unless you have hyphenation working, align text to the left and don't try to justify it. Come on. You know what it was like to try to justify text on an old Mac in MacWrite. Don't do it!

And get both the OEB (IDPF) spec and the referenced W3C XHTML spec and memorize them. These are your tools for great design in the future.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

At what price infinite readership?

Pick up a copy of your favorite book. Feel the weight in your hands. Touch the cover, the dust jacket. Touch the paper. Ask yourself these questions.
  1. How many pages are in this book?

  2. Who designed the cover?

  3. How long did it take the author to write?

  4. How thick is the paper? Is it smoothe? Is it textured?

  5. What typeface did the designer use?

  6. Are there drop capitals starting the first paragraph of a chapter?

  7. Is there a running head along the top of each page?

  8. Where are the page numbers?

  9. How much did it cost to produce?

  10. How much is this book worth?

Of course your answers will be different if you chose a hardcover first edition over a mass market paperback. They might change based on whether you bought the book new, at a half-price used bookstore, or borrowed it from the local library or a friend. The answers might even change based on whether it is fiction, general non-fiction, or a textbook. But whatever the answer to these questions, the fact remains that there is a material object in your hands. It is really no easier to reproduce this material object (to copy it, if you will) than it is to make a copy of a Danish Modern dining room set or a Gucci blouse. When you put it on your bookshelf, you expect it to be there for years. You expect that someday you will give it away, sell it second hand, or let your heirs inherit it.

Now, let's take a look at the same title as an eBook. Ask yourself the same questions. Why is it that when you finish the list of questions, the last answer is so extraordinarily different than with a paper book? Probably more radically different than even the value difference between a hardcover and a paperback.

It comes down to the fact that even if the eBook was well-designed, had good typography, was illustrated the same, and had the same exact content, it isn't real. It doesn't have a material existence outside the reader or computer I view it on. Copying it takes a matter of seconds and the copy is indistinguishable from the original. As readers, we cannot separate the content from the medium. The same book, by the same author, is worth less if it doesn't exist in a material form. So it is not like copying it is a big deal. We didn't actually take something off a bookstore shelf and walk out without paying. It never even existed in the bookstore!

In a strange way, I agree. Don't get me wrong. I believe that the words an author writes are worth the same no matter what medium they are delivered in. But the publishing industry has tied the value of the author's words to the retail price of the book, or more recently to the actual sale price, or even to the wholesale price. So even from an author's perspective, it is hard to value the eBook as highly as the printed version. I've heard myself answer the question "Have you been published?" with the words "Yes, but only as an eBook." Ouch! My writing isn't worth the paper it is printed on!

Yet when we remove the cost of materials for a hardcover book from the equation of how much the book costs, we assign over 500% increase in value based on the physical materials! (BookJournal.com quotes the materials cost for a $27.95 hardcover book as ~$2.83!) But, take away the $2.83 worth of materials and produce it with electrons and we expect to pay $9.95 at Amazon (now up to as much as $14.95) for top-end best sellers. Then, we expect to be able to copy them, give them to our friends, and post them on the Internet for free.

Because they aren't real!

The point of this rambling article is that if we just gave away eBooks instead of trying to sell them, we would have all the eyes that we could get through the pirated copies. Potentially infinite readership. But no one makes any money, except for those few people who will read, enjoy, and then go out to put the paper version on their bookshelves as a "real" asset in their library.

What are we going to do? I'm a proponent of free eBooks. Not stolen eBooks. The problem is that somehow we still have to pay for the design, art, promotion, marketing, editing and—oh yes—authoring of the book. So, do we build advertising messages into the eBook so that someone might possibly, eventually, click on one of our ads and generate a few pennies revenue? Do we place ourselves at the mercy of the readership with a "donation" button in every book? Do we cut all the expenses (except authoring, of course) by not doing professional design, covers, marketing, or advertising for our books and hope they "go viral?"

I don't think there is a right answer that has emerged for this yet. But I do know that some activities increase the likelihood of pirating. The first of those is staging or "windowing" the release so that the paper book has a two to six-month lead before the eBook is released. The pirated electronic copies will hit the Internet before the paper book is in the store! The second is charging the same price or a less discounted price for the eBook. Charging $14.95 for eBooks instead of $9.95 won't help sales of paper books, it will only increase pirated eBooks. The third is stronger digital rights management (DRM) that makes unbreakable copy protection. We should have learned this lesson from the music industry by now. It failed there and it will fail in publishing as well. And of course, fourth is more rigid enforcement, closing down of book exchange sites, torrents, and sharing sites has certainly proved ineffective for video and music. There is no reason it would be more effective for publishing.

So what do we do? Give up? Give it away? Ignore it and hope it will go away? What is the future?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What happened to my margins????

As a book-designer, I'm acutely aware of the importance of whitespace, even when it's not a sheet of paper that defines the page. I don't want text that runs from edge to edge of my eReader or top to bottom. I'm always thinking that I'm missing something that's just under the edge of the screen.

So imagine my horror when all my margins disappeared in my eBooks!

Here's what I discovered. I use xhtml and css to create ePub books. Over the course of the past few months I've been digging deeper into some of the insidious things that happen with this combination. I discovered both the lure and the danger, for example, of the universal selector: "*" in css. This can be very powerful if, for example, you want to use a particular font-family throughout your publication. But it is lethal if you set your font-size in the * attributes. Why? Every single element in the book is affected by the * selector. So, if you choose to set the font-size at *, and then fail to specifically override that attribute on say an "h1" element, the h1 will have the font-size you set at *.

I decided that there was nothing in the * selector that I was setting that couldn't be more effectively set in the "body" element. So I went through all my style sheets and deleted the * specifications.

That's when the margins disappeared.

Don't ask me why. This is one of the mysteries of how eReader software gets programmed that is beyond the realm of normal human intelligence. I will say, however, that once I returned the * selector to my style sheet, my margins all came back even though THERE WERE NO ATTRIBUTES SET in the definition.

So, until I find new and better ways of handling this mystery, my style sheets look approximately like this:

* { }
@page {margin:24pt 0;}
body {margin: 0 auto; padding:0 5%;}

It works. The margins are back. But I still think it is a hack!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Quotes or inches?

Most word processing and layout programs included a feature some years ago called “smart quotes.” This feature automatically turns straight inch-marks (" ") on your computer keyboard to typographer's quotation marks (“ ”). It's so common now, most of us never think about it. But when you are setting up your eBook or Web page, you may not be using your standard word processor. Most text editors and code editors still use the inch-mark because it is a vital part of XML coding. So, you need to know the correct code to insert in your XML or XHTML document to get the right punctuation.

The first thing to know is what character-set encoding to use. When I started in eBooks about 10 years ago it was often a pain to get special characters, but about that time an encoding called “UTF-8” became common. This extended character set will enable you to retain the special characters from your word processing file and to add special characters with a simple code. The following is a code sample for the head of the XHTML in your eBook.
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">

<head>
<meta content="text/html; charset=utf-8" http-equiv="Content-Type" />
<title>Untitled 1</title>
</head>

Notice that in the code sample we use the inch-mark instead of typographer’s quote.

Next, you need the right characters in your eBook. If you use the utf-8 charaset, the quotation marks, em-dashes, apostrophes, and other special characters you used in your text file should render correctly. If you find that they are not, you need to use the actual entity from the XHTML entity list. For most characters, there is a pseudo-English name for the entity. For all characters, there is a numeric code that you can use to get the right character. Below is a chart of the most common entities in novel publishing.










EntityEntity
Displayed
NumberNumber
Displayed
Description
&amp;&&#38;&ampersand
&ldquo;&#8220;left double quotation mark
&lsquo;&#8216;left single quotation mark
&rdquo;&#8221;right double quotation mark
&rsquo;&#8217;right single quotation mark
&emsp;&#8195;em space
&ensp;&#8194;en space
&nbsp; &#160; no-break space = non-breaking space
&mdash;&#8212;em dash
&ndash;&#8211;en dash
&copy;©&#169;©copyright sign
&hellip;&#8230;horizontal ellipsis = three dot leader

If you'd like a more complete explanation of entities and how to use them, Elizabeth Castro’s Character Entity References in HTML 4 and XHTML 1.0 site is the best available.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Glaring errors

I’ve looked at a lot of eBooks over the past ten years and find that there are a very few glaring errors that are common (not in every book, or from every publisher) but that could be avoided on most displays with a couple of small adjustments. If you are currently designing or creating an eBook, here are the top glaring errors and how to avoid them.
  1. No margins. Nothing makes readers less comfortable reading a book than having the type slammed straight up against the edge of the screen. In some few instances, this is necessary because of the type of content or the size of the screen, but readers will find your book much easier to read if there is a margin on the sides and the top and bottom. How do you get it? In your CSS, set margins on “@page.” Most of the readers are using this to get consistent margins on every page. Use this code in your CSS: @page {margin: 5%;}. This will allot 5% of the width and height of your reader to white space between each edge of the screen and the type.

  2. Double-spaced paragraphs. Most Web browsers (on which eReaders have been based) skip space between paragraphs and have no indents on the first line of text in a paragraph. While that works well for largely unformatted scrolling text on large screens, it is not common in actual books. If you want a natural book-reading experience, you want paragraphs to follow on the next line and be indented slightly on the first line. I’ve seen a lot of instances where designers add the paragraph indent, but don’t remove the space between paragraphs. To correct this, use the following CSS in your ePub package: p {margin:0; text-indent:1.5em;}. That makes a pretty nice indent. Of course you can adjust the width of the indent as you see fit.

  3. Font-size and line-height. Standard defaults on most readers use 12-point type and 1.2-1.3 ems (%) for line-height (leading if you are a traditional designer). The result is that on some readers the type looks huge and crowded. Some readers will override whatever you set with their own defaults, but more commonly, this is considered the realm of the book designer. Make the type a little smaller and the line-height a little bigger. This will relax your reader’s eyes a bit and give them more enjoyment of your great novel. Use the “*” pseudo-element in CSS to accomplish this. * {font-size:0.83em; line-height:1.5em;}. Again, you can experiment with these settings to find your own favorites.

You’ll notice that I’ve used the measurement unit “em” a lot. This is the most flexible unit in CSS. It bases measurements on the default font-size. It can be a little tricky, though. When we set the default font-size at “*,” the 0.83em (the same as saying 83% in this instance) is based on the device default font-size. You could also specify a font-size in familiar units like “10pt.” Line-height and indents in ems are always based on the font-size of the element. So in the examples above, a normal paragraph would have 10-point type, 15 points of leading (1.5em) and a first line indent of 15 points (1.5em).

By following these three simple adjustments in your ePub CSS, you’ll change your books from looking amateurish to professional. More advanced tips will come in the near future!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Viewing eBooks on a Laptop or Netbook - for non-Geeks

A great article came out recently on Geeks.com/techtips on how to rotate the display on your netbook to display eBooks in a vertical orientation. It's a great article and explains that while most books are intended to be viewed in a vertical page orientation, most computers are set up with horizonal monitors. Either you end up scrolling up and down the pages to see them, or they fit in a tiny portion of the screen. If you rotate the screen orientation, the books will show up in a more normal-seeming view.

But most of us aren't really Geeks and the writer doesn't actually tell where to find the settings he's referenced. So, here are a few additional instructions.

First, the display setting that Geeks.com references isn't found under "Display" or "Drivers" in your Windows Control Panel. You can open the Control Panel by clicking on the Start button on the Windows Nav Bar at the bottom of your screen. "Control Panel" should be one of the selections in the right hand panel of the Start menu. In the "View by: " menu at the top right of the Control Panel window, choose "Small icons" from the drop-down menu. Now, what you are looking for is an Intel Driver for Mobile. This is the magical driver icon that will open the Window shown in Geeks' screenshot.

Look at the tabs along the left side of the Intel blue window. Choose Display Settings. All you want in this box is to be sure "Enable Rotation" has a checkmark beside it. If not, click on the box to put one there. Then click on the "Hot Keys" tab on the left and you will see the list of hotkeys that Intel has enabled. the setting for 90 degrees will put the top of the screen at what is now on the left side, so you will view the page with the screen on your right and the keyboard on your left. I prefer the 270 degrees setting that will put the screen on our left and the keyboard on the right. That should put the arrow keys on your keyboard someplace near your right thumb, which is great for navigating through a book.

Of course, if you are using Adobe Reader to read PDF files, you don't have to go through all this screen changing. The View menu in Reader gives you the option to rotate the PDF view on your screen. By changing to Full-screen mode, the only thing that appears on your screen is the page you are reading. You can still use the arrow keys to advance from page to page. If it happens that you see two pages cramped on your screen, the View menu also has an option to show single pages.

Happy reading.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Design is not important--right?

If you have bought eBooks and displayed them on your Sony Reader, Kindle, or even desktop, you've probably noticed that they don't look quite as good as paper books. I'm not talking about the quality or clarity of the type, the irritating black flash as the page turns, or the size of the screen. I'm talking about the simple fact that the page layout just doesn't make reading a pleasant experience. Here are a few of the problems that I've noticed and you probably have, too.
  1. The type is too crowded. The words bump up against the edge of the reading surface and the lines of type are too close together.

  2. There are both paragraph indents and they skip a line between paragraphs. It looks like you have three or four independent and unrelated blocks of text on every screen.

  3. Decorative drop capitals are missing or changed.

  4. Chapter headings start right up against the top of the screen, or might not even start on a new page.

  5. Either the type is not justified (aligned flush to both edges of the page) or the justification leaves huge white gaps in lines of type or rivers of white down the entire page. There's no hyphenation, either.

  6. Images are missing, poorly displayed, cut off at bottom or side, all in black and white, and often unreadable.

  7. Special layouts of page elements like tables and lists are either missing, squeezed down so small you can't read them, or so narrow that the type almost looks vertical instead of horizontal.

You may have your own sore spot with the layout on your reader that I haven't included here. Feel free to add it. But the big question is "Why?" Why is everything that we appreciate about paper books missing from the standard reading formats?

There are several reasons, some of them technological and some of them not. I'm going to deal with just one: design. In the first place, the vast bulk of eBooks on the market today, especially those that are "free" or not rights protected, is that a machine made them. Either the static layout of the book, preserved as a PDF file, was fed into a computer program that deduced which kinds of elements were what and pumped out a specification for each one that ignores the actual structure of the book, or a paper book was fed into a scanner and a computer program using optical character recognition converted the scanned image into text if it could and just kept pictures of a page or portion of a page where it couldn't recognize the type. These mechanical (computerized) methods do not think about the design of the book or the interpretation of what the original book designer was going for. They try to make readable text files out of the input and let the layout algorithms in the various devices do the rest of the work.

The result of this is that many devices and reading programs allow you as a reader to make adjustments to how the book is displayed to suit your individual reading preferences. Make the type bigger, choose the font you want to read, pick the line height (leading), and how big you want the margins. Every reader becomes a designer, and everything they read is forced into their design.

Of course real life human designers can design great looking eBooks that are not static (PDF) and that will look great on any device you play them on. But that brings me to the second reason most eBooks look less attractive than their print counterparts: hardly anyone knows how to design for a medium that isn't static. Even after a generation of using the World Wide Web, we are still taught how to put things in a position on a page in a specific size that we expect to remain the same for everyone who sees it. Look at your favorite Web page, for example, and start changing the size of the window it appears in. It is going to fall apart somewhere.

Well, technologically, any current eBook format that is not based on taking a picture of the paper page (PDF, Scans, DOC) is limited in what it can do by the prevailing standards for eBooks. Most are based on html in some way and have a specific set of elements and style representations that are legal, like ePub, Kindle, and LIT. But every designer's task has always been to design within the limitations that are imposed. We're just so used to those limitations being specific sizes (6x9 trade paperback, 2" x 2-column newspaper ad, 8 1/4" x 10 5/8" magazine layout, etc.) that we can't wrap our minds around how to design for a layout that might be 2" wide on an iPhone or 5" wide on a Kindle.

The result is a real loss to readers of eBooks. They can never experience the book the way a designer who understood the content and the medium intended it to be experienced. If we have an obstacle to over come as publishers of eBooks, this one looms much larger over the industry than whether consumers will pay $10 or $15 for their electronic bits, and may even be a part of why consumers do not consider their eBooks to be as valuable as the printed ones.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Future of eBook Pricing

This past weekend we were all taken a little bit by surprise when two giants of the book world, MacMillan and Amazon, went toe-to-toe. The unseen player in this game was Apple. But who were the winners and losers in the big fight? MacMillan got its way and can set its own price up to $15 on eBooks for Kindle. Amazon "lost" its right to set its own price on what it sells, even at a loss, but gets a bigger cut of the take as a result. Apple chuckled over having broken a significant competitive barrier to doing business with Amazon when its new iPad is released.

But what about the two markets that no one talks about? Authors and Readers. The obvious impact for readers is that they will pay more for first release eBooks by major authors, or they won't buy them. Authors won't see a huge difference in what they see in their pockets as they are always paid on the publisher's revenues, not on Amazon's. But they may start looking at how eBook sales actually affect paper sales.

In the long run, there are two free-market issues. Many manufacturers set the retail price of their goods. Try to buy a pair of Levis for under $34.95. Even if you have a "storewide" discount coupon from Macy's or Penny's, the fine print will exclude Levis. So by that token, MacMillan should be able to set the retail price of their books. That whole argument speaks against a free market in which people buy at one price and set the retail price where they can compete. Sorry. The only free market is one in which no single manufacturer holds a lock on a huge percentage of the product. No small or independent publisher could have pushed the deal that MacMillan did, nor are they likely to get the same deal even if the other five big publishers get it for themselves.

My opinion, and prognostication on this runs in synch with Steve Pearlstein of the Washington Post:
While markets have their flaws, over the long run they are good at executing these technological transformations. My guess is that in the not-so-distant future, best-selling authors such as John Grisham and Malcolm Gladwell -- along with unknown authors peddling their first books -- will publish their own works, contracting with independent editors and marketers and selling directly to consumers as much as possible. Other authors will turn to smaller, more specialized publishing houses that will offer smaller advances but bigger royalties and will be built, as they once were, around great editors. Publishers will sell their books through competing online distributors and traditional hard-copy bookstores, the latter of which will continue to exist not only as places to browse and socialize, but also as places to have printed on demand. Backlists will be infinite, pricing will be dynamic, and more copies of more books will be read and sold.

I believe that the people who lead the move into the next generation, however, will not be the Grishams and Gladwells who really have nothing to gain by going independent. It will be led by good new authors and small publishers who can produce top level literary products at prices way below traditional publishing houses. Readers will pay a premium for paper content over its electronic counterpart, but it won't make a difference in what authors earn for their work.

Read the great analysis by Steven Pearlstein in "The Washington Post": The Amazon-Macmillan book saga heralds publishing's progress
Another perceptive analysis by Scott Westerfeld in "The Guardian": Amazon v Macmillan: free market fail
At Aaron Pressman's blog "Gravitational Pull": The real agenda of Apple’s ebook partners: death to ebooks
And the early story by Henry Blodget at "Business Insider": Hey, John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Books, Screw You!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Are iBooks a Game-Changer for eBook Publishing?

I watched the reports coming in from Apple's announcement of the iPad yesterday with one thing in mind: What does it mean for eBooks? The answer I came up with surprised me. The iBook application and store will not have a huge impact on eBook publishing, and what impact it does have will be positive.

The iBook reader looks nice, with animated page turns that have always appealed to people who would rather look at books than read them. It is a full-color experience that will allow designers to knock themselves out with splashes of color where none existed before, much like typography on early Macintoshes. As cynical as I am, these are actually good things. Color and animation are an inevitable part of the future of publishing and if we have to go through another period of ransom-note publishing to get there, the result on the other side will still be worth it.

The down-side of the iBook reader is that it is a backlit LCD display that will be harder on the eyes over long periods than the black and white ereaders like Kindle, Sony, and Nook. If Ray Kurzweil (of Blio) is correct, LCD displays are now of such high resolution and flicker-free that people won't need to have eInk.

What I was really worried about was that Apple might come out with their own file format for eBooks. In its one exercise of truly good sense, however, Apple has adopted the IDPF standard ePub format for its books. That should mean that non-DRM ePub eBooks that you get for Adobe Digital Editions, Sony Reader, or Nook should play just fine on your expensive new iPad, and that file creation will be a matter of applying whatever DRM Apple elects to use to the publisher's existing files.

That is huge. It means that when you see the names of Harper-Collins, Penguine, Simon & Schuster, MacMillan, and Hachette up on the big screen, it's all about distribution, not about creating yet another version of the book. Easy entry for publishers means the iBook store should grow rapidly and have no difficulty in being at parity with other popular stores when it opens in two months.

From The National Post: Apple's iPad and new iBooks app to 'go a little further' than Kindle
From TechCrunch: Think iBooks Looks Familiar? You’re Not The Only One.
From CNET News: Apple iBooks e-reader: First Take
From The Huffington Post: iBooks: Apple's New iTunes-Like Store And App For Books

Sunday, January 24, 2010

You don't really need a device, do you? Part II: ePub readers

The on-screen eReaders reviewed in this post all accept the IDPF standardized ePub format eBooks. That doesn't mean that every ePub you acquire can be read on all these devices. DRM protected eBooks are still typically readable only on the platform/device that they are sold for. The major non-Amazon eBook players in the market today, Adobe, Sony, and Barnes&Noble, have all announced support or standardization on the ePub format. We can only hope that sometime soon they agree on a single DRM solution so we can read our books on whatever device or screen-reader we choose. Currently, it is kind of like saying you can read the paper books on your bookshelf only in the room where that bookshelf is. You can't take them from the bedroom to the living room and are absolutely forbidden to read them on the bus!

Enough of that rant! I started out just grabbing an unprotected copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in ePub format (you'll find dozens), but I quickly realized that many, or even most, of the ePubs in the market today aren't very well-constructed. Each person or company that makes a conversion from print or text files has its own set of style classes that it uses and generally ignores good XHTML coding and element-usage in creating their ePubs. So, I grabbed the text for the first chapter of Alice from Google Books and coded it as cleanly as I could with as few styles as I could manage. The book includes large illustrations centered between paragraphs and floating images. It includes a unique treatment for the first word of the first chapter. I set a style for the page that includes a margin at top and bottom so the text doesn't smash up against the top of the reading window, set left and right padding on the body text and removed the space between paragraps, adding a paragraph indent instead. The rest is raw, unstyled text.

Adobe Digital Editions


Adobe Digital Editions is one of the premier reading applications for the PC on the market and is one of only a handful that are not linked to any specific device. ADE supports PDF, ePub, and Sony Reader formats. It has a reasonably good interface and automatically formats text into multiple columns if your reading window is very wide. Best of all, in my book, ADE supports borrowed content, as in what I check out of the public library. I'm almost ashamed to say that I've only purchased a very few eBooks for myself because so many are available from the library. ADE did a lovely job of laying out the eBook and following most of my layout instructions, like centered graphics or floating graphics. You can choose from four different type-size settings, bookmark locations, and find text in the book. Nicely done.

Sony Reader Library


The Reader Library is designed to work with whatever model Sony Reader you happen to have, managing your bookshelf, purchased and borrowed books, and synchronizing with the device. It also has a pretty good on-screen reader included in it. Well, it should be pretty good as Sony licenses the Adobe Mobile Reader software for its display. So, if it works on Adobe Reader, it should work on Sony Reader Library as well. The two share a DRM, so most books in ePub format licensed for Sony will work on Adobe and vice versa. Sony Reader has seven different type sizes to choose from, but only one page size. It has the ability to bookmark and make notes.

Barnes & Noble Desktop eReader


The first time I loaded an ePub book in this reader I got excited. It has an elegant interface with reader settings that are the best ever. The layout of the screen, in fact, is reminiscent of the Microsoft Reader, including its page bar at the bottom that indicates how far into the book you've read and the automatically generated header at the top that tells you what chapter you are in. I can choose what size type I want and how much space between lines. I can control the width of the viewing pane to meet my own personal preferences. And the thing is that almost every eBook looks good in this reader because the Barnes & Noble Desktop eReader ignores all the formatting that the designer put into the book and applies your personal viewing preferences. Since a bejillion% of the eBooks that have been produced today appear to have been generated by machines without human intervention, that is great news. eBooks that have actually been designed by someone who knew what they were doing are few and far between. Unfortunately, you'll never know if you use the B&N reader because it will impose your personal design on the book no matter what that designer has done. I was so close to giving this reader three thumbs up that my disappointment sent me into three days of mourning. Why? I discovered that the reader ignores floating graphics and sets them as in-line graphics. Apparently content is as dispensible as the design because it is often missing from the layout completely. Yes, between pages 1 & 2 there were 5 lines of text missing! The same on every page, no matter what I set the reader preferences at. No matter how great a book looks on your reader, an absolute requirement is that all the words are there! Blech!

Mobipocket Reader Desktop


Missing content in Mobipocket Reader Desktop 6.2 includes all the images. In Mobipocket, you can set your own preferences as to what font and size you want to view your book in, how big the margins should be, and what the line-spacing should be. You just can't view the pictures. Mobipocket also reformats into multiple columns if your screen is wide enough. In single-column mode, it is a scrolling interface. clicking the left or right arrows advance or return one screen-load, but you can also scroll up or down a line at a time. When in multi-column mode, up and down advances by a full screen load just like left and right. If you just want a clean, uninterrupted reading experience, Mobipocket could be your choice, but I rather like to see the pictures if illustrations have been included.

Calibre eBook Management


Calibre brings us into a new genre of eBook readers. In fact, Calibre is mostly not for reading, but rather for managing and manipulating your library. Calibre does a nice job of laying out the eBook in an unpaginated (scrolling) interface, but all the content is there. That means, however, that there are no margins at top and bottom and there are frequent half-lines of text or pictures that are split between screens. The real strength of Calibre is the file conversion feature. You can convert to and from a dozen different file formats, including PDF to ePub. Definitely worth a look.

Stanza for Windows


Reading an eBook in Stanza is like reading it in your Web browser, only there aren't any pictures. This is truly a plain-Jane text reader that scrolls through the content in your ePub. But Stanza has two genuine claims to fame. First, it is an app that can be loaded on your iPhone or iPod Touch so you can read eBook content on your little device. In that world, eliminating pictures makes some amount of sense. Second, it has 16 different file formats that it can read and convert to/from. That includes Amazon Kindle. It could be a valuable tool for an intermediate stage of getting text into xhtml or even getting pdf to text. Don't assume everything will automatically come out looking as good as it should. You don't get great eBooks without working at it.

Don't forget Bookworm!


EDITED INFORMATION! Thanks to Liza Daly at Threepress Consulting for reminding me that I need to include Bookworm in this review. I had already uploaded my version of Alice and taken a screen-shot, but somehow missed including it in the list here. Bookworm is an in-browser reader for ePubs. That means that you do need to be on-line to use it. Through a simple interface, you browse for the book on your PC and upload it to your Bookworm library. Then just read. You can switch between serif and sans serif type with a nearly-infinite selection of type-size settings. Graphics and typestyles all adapt nicely. The width of the page changes with the width of the browser and can be set for a great line-length for your preferred type-size. From there on, it is just like reading in a browser: you scroll through the chapter. I have had some problem with reading multi-chapter eBooks. It is a great place, however, to quickly check your ePub code to see that it renders correctly, and it is very nice to have your eBook library backed up on-line.

Well, the end result was that I'm still most likely to read eBooks with Adobe Digital Editions if I'm on my PC or laptop. I had high hopes for Barnes & Noble Reader, but unless I can find an operator error that is causing it to lose lines of text and not wrap around graphics, no matter how beautiful the interface I'll have to take a pass. Since I often use a Sony Reader, I am also often in the Sony Reader, but I still find ADE to be easier to navigate in the long-run. Hope this exhausting comparison helps in your search for a great on-screen reading experience.

Friday, January 22, 2010

You don't really need a device, do you? Part I: Proprietary Formats

There are a lot of eBook readers that don't require a specific piece of hardware. I'm going to do a quick survey of eleven different ways of viewing non-DRM protected eBooks on your PC or laptop. (Sorry, I don't have data yet as to which are available on Mac, but I suspect most are.)

I'm dividing the field up into two categories (and at least two posts): Those that require their own proprietary file format, and those that will display any non-protected ePub. Some of the latter will also display either their own or other people's proprietary formats, but the thing I'm interested in is that they display the industry standard ePub format. For some reason (probably because it is readily available from Project Gutenberg as a free eBook and has great illustrations) for the past ten years Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been used as a sample for showing eBook layout. So since it is available in nearly every reading format, I've chosen it as the sample to show.

Category 1: Proprietary formats

Google Books, scanned format


Google has launched a project to scan all the books that exist in the world. This has been met with some controversy, but I'm not going to engage in it. I simply want to point your attention to the 1898 edition on the site as a reference point. I am also not going to pay attention to the text, epub, or pdf versions stored by Google. This is a great picture of what the printed book actually looks like. You can scroll through the pages and read the book just as if it was the paper book on your computer screen. Google has converted the images to searchable text, so if you want to find a specific reference you can. The only downside to this version of the book is that it doesn't have a pretty, page-turning interface (you scroll infinitely down the screen) and the type is a bit fuzzy since it is a scanned bit-map. Further, if your screen is not large, you can't see the whole page and you have to scroll to see it all or change the magnification to make it fit, which might make the type too small to read. But it is a picture of the book as The MacMillan Company printed it in 1898. There is a lot that could be said about this book (you should definitely read the preface!) but I will leave this as a reference point for now.

Adobe PDF


If The MacMillan Company had been setting the type for this edition in Adobe InDesign as many books are set today, we would expect that the PDF would look exactly like the paper version that was printed from it. In fact, the type would be much clearer than the scanned version as you can see in this facscimile that I created of just this page. I did not tinker with the typesetting, so you can see that InDesign added some appropriate hyphens and that the PDF is actually typographically superior to the scan. But in 1898 the publishers were working with bits of lead and tin spacers, not with computer algorithms for justifying the type. While PDF preserves the exact look and feel of the printed version, it encounters much the same problems as the scanned version. The type is much cleaner, but the page size and layout are static, so you must either reduce the size to fit on the screen or scroll through the page. Adobe Reader has three features that allow you to manipulate the image for better reading. First, if viewed in single page mode, you can turn the pages without the feeling that you are scrolling endlessly. Second, you can actually rotate the reader on your screen so that on a laptop computer you can hold it sideways and have a viewing experience that is more booklike. Third, you can choose to "Reflow" the text on your screen if it is smaller, and it will fit the text to the width of your screen. I does, of course drop the page formatting. Finally, most eBooks can be read aloud in PDF. The voicing is a little mechanical, but it is a great boon for visually impaired readers.

Microsoft Reader


Still around after nearly ten years, the Microsoft Reader offers one of the better reading experiences available. It's proprietary format (.LIT) has had its ups and downs over this time period, not the least of which was the decision by DRM provider Overdrive to stop supporting the DRM on books at Fictionwise. I lost the license to several books I had purchased. Microsoft Reader has 60,000 volumes in its library and adds a few each week. It is adaptive to page size and re-lays-out to match your screen size. It is also available on Ultramobile PCs and Windows Mobile devices. The clear-type rendering with ability to change type-size to match your personal preferences help to make the reading experience a good one. It has text to speech capability and annotations. If it had a million volumes in its library it would still be a top pick.

Kindle for PC


Amazon has chosen to use a proprietary format for its Kindle device and that goes for the PC screen version as well. Follow the link above if you want to download this because you can search on the Amazon site for a long time without finding it. You'll also have to search through about 50 editions of Alice before you find one that compares to the versions shown on all the other devices. And it's not a free one. This is the only one that I found that had a reasonable rendition of the illustrations by John Tenniel in the book, but is not the MacMillan 1898 version. I was, however, beginning to despair at what was available on Kindle after I'd downloaded all the free versions and bought two paid versions. The Kindle for PC application has a couple of nice features, including the ability to resize the window to any size and have the text reflow and the images scale. You can manually set the type-size and you can set the line length so that you aren't bouncing across the entire width of your computer screen to read the text. There is no text to speech.

Rocket eBook


I really can't say too much about the Rocket eBook reader from NuvoMedia, which was acquired by Gemstar in 2000. The device is one of the pioneering eBook readers of the industry and is still being sold by eBookwise and as of 2007 is supported by eBook Technologies, Inc. The PC screen reader will allow you to download and view non-protected material from the sites, but it has no ability to view protected content that is assigned specifically to the device. You can downloade the PC eRocket Reader from eBookMall.

Those are the proprietary formats that I'm going to look at today. Yes, Mobipocket, Sony, and Barnes & Noble all have proprietary formats, but you can also read standard ePub files on them, so I'll include them in my next installment.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What if I want to change from one eReader to another?

The answer to that question, of course, is "Too bad, so sad."

When we look at the number of different eReaders that were announced this month, we realize that one of the biggest barriers to sales for any of those readers is the fear that my investment in books will one day evaporate because a business model has changed, a system update has obliviated my collection, or a bankruptcy has left the copy protection inoperable. And those are very real fears.

Ten years ago the industry started working on an eBook standard file format that could be viewed on any conforming reading device. The specification for that format called EPUB is now in its second generation and is managed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). But in the typical rush to become the dominant eBook distributor in the market, the big players pretty much ignored the standard. Adobe really wanted PDF to be the cross-over format from print to electronic. Microsoft had its own Reader and .LIT format. Sony, first to market with a major commercially viable eReader created its own .LRX format (a BBeB Secure Book). That's not to mention the formats that were evolving within the Open eBook Forum (pre-IDPF) like Mobi-Pocket, Gemstar, and others. Then Amazon came to market with both a device and a marketing arm with pockets deep enough to wait out the adoption cycle and a distribution model that locked publishers into a new file format (.PRC) and rights management (.MBP). But like its predecessors, the Kindle was and remains a closed system. Your Kindle eBooks will not play on any other device unless the device runs Kindle for PC, Kindle for iPhone, etc.

The new glut of eReaders coming on the market mostly support the ePub standard. Sony announced a few months ago that it would be shifting all its books to the ePub standard. Adobe's Digital Editions are ePub books. Nook reads ePub books. So problem solved, right?

We wish it were so simple. There is still that pesky digital rights management (DRM) thing going on. Publishers, authors, and distributors are so nervous about people pirating their precious words that they have devised countless ways to license and protect the works. This has probably slowed adoption of eBooks more than the lack of reader competition. Even if my book is an ePub, it may have any of a dozen different encryption and anti-piracy "features" built in that prevent me from moving the files from one device to another, or giving them to someone else to read. In other words, my books aren't my books. My library is a temporal thing that I really only have the right to read in a specific environment dictated by the distributor and initial choice I make.

Attributor Corporation, one of those companies providing content security, released a report January 14 painting a picture of nearly $3 billion revenue lost from digital piracy. The report makes it seem like everyone in the world will be downloading your content without paying you. But of course, Attributor makes its money by providing anti-piracy security. Magellan Media, updating their February 2009 report on digital piracy before the Booksellers Expo, stated that pirated books actually showed a second sales peak in the weeks after piracy that non-pirated books did not have.

Two things need to happen to avert the morass of problems experienced by the music industry. First, nearly all books need to have DRM removed from them completely. I'm only saying "nearly all" because I know that someone will come up with a reason that certain books really need to have high protection and licensing. I just can't think of them at the moment. Second, books with DRM need to have a single, portable standard that enables the book to be shared across any device. In other words, if I have a license to read on a Sony, I should be able to read on a Skiff. The license needs to be transferrable, not only among my devices, but to a different person if I decide I don't want to keep my "used" books.

The major readers brag about the extent of their bookstores--1 million, 1.5 million books available. But if you examine the stores, they contain the same titles. The publishers have obviously realized that they can't be tied to just one device. The device makers need to get to the point that they aren't the end-all and be-all for my book collection. They are really just shelves my books sit on.

I've been promoting that concept for ten years now. There may finally be a chink in the armor developing that will make eBooks as friendly as their printed ancestors.

I used a lot of sources in researching this article. Here is a list of on-line references that have hit the news recently.

JK On the Run: Competitive Shopping — the Sense Behind Multiple e-Book Sources
The eBookNewser The Attributor Reports Rampant eBook Piracy citing also U.S. Book Anti-Piracy Research Findings and The Impact of Piracy
Chris Gaylord in The Christian Science Monitor: E-readers: the compatibility conundrum
And for an interesting comparison to print piracy, Kate Mayfield pointed me to The book pirates of Peru (11 pictures) in The Guardian.