Miles 33 Blog
Like newspapers, the book industry is undergoing a transition thanks to the widespread adoption of smartphone and tablet devices which have significantly changed the way people read content.
Miles 33 has been a supplier to the book industry since the 80s. Our tools are used around the world automate book pagination processes for large publishers.
Today, the changes to the book industry is making it easier for private individuals to take steps towards publishing a book, the first time ever in history. Online bookstores such as Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble have opened up channels for small publishers, even individuals, to submit content and there are some low cost or even free tools available to author such content.
However, there are still challenges to be navigated and choices to be made regarding the process of self-publishing. Probably the biggest decision to make is what format in which to publish your book.
Very popular is the ePub format which is supported on iOS and Android devices and can be viewed on a wide number of eBook reading software on Windows and Mac devices. Also popular is the MOBI format which is what the Kindle uses (although the Amazon bookstore accepts ePub submissions and automatically takes care of conversion).
The benefit of ePub is that it allows the content to re-flow based on the orientation of the device you are using and the reader has some control over the size of the text. In other words, the ePub format offers the reader the flexibility to adjust the view to suit their own preferences.
The ePub format a great multi-platform choice and is great for books that are heavy on textual content. Pretty much all books you see in Google Books, Barnes&Noble, are ePub as are many in the Apple bookstore. The ePub format is not such a great choice for books that are heavy on images or fancy treatment of content or want to make a statement on design. Simple things like multi column layouts or running text around irregular shapes is simply not possible. And any thoughts of wanting to author a photobook or a book with multi-media will quickly become a frustrating exercise in the ePub world. It is not impossible, as the format will take images and even video, but formatting and layout will typically not satisfy a discerning author.
A format that does allow far more control over the layout is of course PDF. This format has been around for a while and can be read on pretty much all platforms, tablets, smart phones, Windows and Macs. However, PDF does not offer embedded Digital Rights Management (DRM) and is therefore not a format that bookstores such as Apple, Amazon or Barnes & Noble can use to release a book. As a consequence, you cannot sell your book through these bookstores. Besides, as an author, selecting PDF as the format to publish in, can put you in a position where illegal copies of your book end up being distributed on the Internet and there is little you will be able to do about it. And rotating a mobile device while viewing a PDF does not reflow or adjust the layout, it just gets scaled to fit the screen.
The next, a more powerful, format is relatively new. Last year, Apple released an application called iBooks Author which initially looked like it would be a silver bullet. It offers extensive layout tools, DRM, the ability to embed all sorts of multi-media AND offers control over how the layouts re-flow when you change the orientation of the reading device. Furthermore, iBook Author is free. Sounds wonderful, but, unfortunately, books authored in iBooks Author cal ONLY be viewed in Apple’s iBook app on iPhone and iPad and this limits the availability of your book to the Apple ecosystem. Certainly not a bad place to be, but many authors want an option. As a sidenote here, note that Apple will require all eBook submissions to have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), a number that you will need to purchase from some 3rd party organization. Barnes & Noble and Amazon, will provide an ISBN for free and “no” you cannot use that number with Apple.
Another, very flexible, option is to release your ebook as a native app. Practically anything is then possible - formatting-wise. Rich multi-media, adjusting layouts, swiping, scrolling, pinching content. . it is all possible when delivered as an app. A nice and flexible concept is to develop such app as a “wrapper” that allows you to update the content without re-issuing a new app. This is a great method for publishers of magazines etc. but not really a practical method open to individuals who would like to publish a book.
So what format is best? The good news is the eBook world is still undergoing changes and a perfect solution is on its way. An updated version of the ePub format was just released. Called ePub3, it introduces enhanced definitions that deal with complex layouts, rich media and interactivity and global typography issues. It represents great promise. The bad news is, there are no eBook readers that display ePub3 content yet. So not a real solution if you want to publish NOW.
This ePub standard is being developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (http://idpf.org), a global trade and standards organization. Members involved with the ePub standard include representatives from companies like Google, Apple, Adobe, Barnes & Noble, HarperCollins, Sony, Penguin, Hachette, etc. a veritable “who’s who” in the world of book publishing. The most notable company absent from this list, is Amazon.
So, what to do if you are a self-publisher? What are your options?
Here is a simple chart that may give some clarity:
|FORMAT||BEST FOR ..||PROS||CONS|
|ePub (V2)||Text-based books||Can be read everywhere. Can be sold on Apple, Amazon (auto conversion to Mobi), Barnes&Noble, others||Limited formatting and multi-media options|
|Mobi||Text-based books||Amazon-only (Kindle)||Limited formatting, restricted to Amazon bookstore|
|Photobooks, rich designs, fancy layouts and typography||Any layout can be accomplished, rich design.
Variety of tools available on both Mac and Windows
|No rights management (can’t sell in the large bookstores). No self-adjusting layouts
|Ibook Author||Photobooks, rich design, fancy layouts and typography||Rich designs possible
Many multi media options
|Sell in Apple store only
Mac platform only
|ePub3||Pretty much everything||Adjustable layouts, multi media, international typography||Not many ePub3 readers available yet.|
|eBook app||Pretty much anything||Adjustable layouts, multi-media, international typography. Allows content updates||Requires programming skills, sold through appstore, not a bookstore|
Other than Apple’s iBook Author, what other tools are available to create eBooks in?
It is interesting to note that the eBook authoring segment for self publishers appears to be very much at the beginning of its lifecycle. While there are many writing tools available, there are actually not many that offer good ePub/eBook capabilities.
As the ePub format is essentially an XHTML package, one could argue there are many editing tools around that can edit XHTML, but the reality is that most authors will have no desire to mess with code or have to worry about the inner structures of an ePub package.
Most ePub/eBook tools therefore take a somewhat different approach. They assume the content gets written in some other authoring tool (like Word, OpenOffice, Apple’s Pages, or something similar) and then, when done, convert the content to ePub.
The most common tools seen out in the eBook world include:
Adobe’s InDesign application is by far the most flexible in the line-up of available tools. It allows you to design gorgeous layouts and export them to PDF. You can author any kind of book and export to ePub format, you can download a plugin from Amazon and export to Mobi format and you can create an account with Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite and publish rich media digital magazines in app form. Truly a “one tool does all” program. Furthermore, the latest CS6 release lets you output to ePub3 format, putting it way ahead of the technology as there are no devices yet that can display ePub3.
But note that InDesign does not let you edit existing ePub files, always requiring you to edit in native InDesign, then exporting it to the format you want.
The open source Calibre is one of the best known eBook tools. This free application is not an authoring tool, but a converter. It can convert a variety of formats into ePub and Mobi formats. It also lets you create table of contents and lets you edit the metadata, all necessary to deliver a properly formatted ePub or Mobi file to the bookstore. A great tool, but if any editing of content is necessary, you will need to go back to the original source, then do the conversion again.
Sigil is a free ePub authoring tool. This is pretty much the only application that lets you write natively in the ePub format. It therefore also lets you open an existing ePub for editing. Other than XHTML editors, it is the only one that does this.
Mentioned above, this application can be downloaded for free from the Apple AppStore, but, being a Mac application, only runs on the Mac platform and the resulting eBooks can only be distributed via the Apple Bookstore. You can however export the your writings to PDF, so it can be a great (free) layout tool if you need one.
Jutoh has earned itself a good reputation as a good ePub authoring tool. It is not free (about $40), but does a good job in structuring the eBook, formatting, editing metadata and can export to ePub, Mobi (plugin required) and HTML.
Using Microsoft Word or OpenOffice
The ubiquitous word processors such as Word and OpenOffice are compelling tools to use to write your book. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, do not expect a consistently smooth delivery of high quality ePub/eBooks using such tools. Conversion of .doc or .docx files have been known to be problematic when using converters such as Calibre. Saving them in RTF first typically produces more reliable results. There are some plug-ins available that allow direct export from Word or OpenOffice, but the jury is still out on those.
More reliable is to submit .doc or .docx files directly to bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon. They will take care of the conversion and will validate the XHTML. It does not give you much control over the end result, but it does make things easier.
There are companies that will not only do the conversion for you, but will submit your book to Apple, Barnes&Noble and Amazon for you. This can be a great way to go if you do not want the hassle of submitting to multiple bookstores and managing multiple conversions, etc.
Check out www.smashwords.com and www.lulu.com for examples of these types of companies.