Format WarsHaving created your EPUB e-book, is that
it? Well, not quite. When it comes to putting your e-book out onto the
internet, you'll be confronted with the tricky subject of e-book formats.
In a perfect world, there'd be just a
single e-book format, supported and used by everyone. But, as with music,
videos, office documents and just about every other form of electronic media,
the situation is far more complicated.
AAP (Association of American Publishers)
Some of this complexity arises from the
desire to protect the publishing rights and e-book contents in line with
various digital licensing agreements. Further complexity arises from
organisations such as Amazon, Apple and Google trying to establish their own
distinct - and ideally for them, dominant - marketplace.
DRM protection issues and the ongoing brand
supremacy wars mean Amazon's Kindle format is completely different from Apple's
iBook format, which is different again from EPUB. As an analogy, just imagine
if your car's engine could only operate with a single brand of petrol,
available from specific petrol stations. Or if each electrical socket in the
home worked on a different voltage. It would make for a frustrating and
Over time this undesirable situation will
undoubtedly become less complex, but for now these multiple e-book formats are
quite a headache for the DIY publisher. In practice, you'll have to decide on
one of two strategies.
Option one is to only publish e-books in a
single format. This decision will obviously limit the places your e-book will
be available from. However, if it still appears in at least one of today's mega
book stores, the impact of this decision isn't likely to be hugely detrimental.
The second option is to convert your output
into a variety of different formats. As we've already seen, Amazon provides
tools to convert e-books into its own proprietary format. Others offer similar
tools. However, there's a much more flexible solution.
The Calibre (calibre-ebook.com) application
is an open-source e-book library manager. Yet it also happens to be one of the
most popular e-book format conversion tools. Being a free product certainly
helps in the popularity stakes, but its list of supported formats is
Calibre version 0.8 can import a file in
one of 23 different e-book formats, including EPUB, MOBI, LIT, RTF and PDF.
Once imported, an e-book can subsequently be saved in one of 16 output formats.
It all sounds like an ideal solution to the
multi-format problem. However, as you can probably guess from the sub 1.0
version number, this tool is a work in progress, so results will vary. While
some results are more than acceptable, many times a certain amount of final
tweaking will be required, which obviously requires quite a bit of knowledge,
skill and time.
Of course, the formats themselves keep
changing too, presenting a moving target to Calibre's developer. The recently
announced Kindle Format 8 (KF8) is a good case in point. KF8 not only supports
HTML5 and CSS3 features for rich multimedia content but has backward
compatibility with older Kindle formats, plus a close affinity with the
recently announced EPUB3 standard. Handling all these new capabilities is a
sizeable task, and that's just one of the formats Calibre needs to support.
Even so, at present Calibre is one of the
strongest, free conversion products around, growing in quality and
functionality with every new release. It's certainly worth experimenting with a
tool like Calibre before finalising your list of e-book publication formats, to
determine if you'll need another set of tools to cover all your targeted e-book
stores and e-readers.
Apple Steps Forward
new Author app and iBooks 2
Early in 2012 Apple introduced its new
iBook Author application. It's a product that goes beyond the textual e-book
and into the realm of multimedia narrative apps. This new app-book format might
well come to dominate certain genres, such as children's books and
Authors can create these dynamic,
interactive books from within the application's highly graphical environment.
This iBook Author user interface is able to accurately depict how the final
pages would appear to a reader. The easy-to-get-started workflow includes a set
of templates, plus a rich collection of editing tools for handling the
Setting up your iBook Author account means
deciding between the 'Free' or 'Paid' types. The paid option will give an
author 70% of the revenue, with Apple taking the remaining 30%. Of course,
creating, editing and incorporating all this multimedia content will add
considerably to your e-book construction timescales. It's worth bearing in
mind, then, Apple also sets a maximum sales figure for one of these app
e-books, which is currently $14.99.
Good as this software looks, Apple has once
again imposed some pretty severe restrictions. First you'll have to sign up to
an end user licence agreement (ELUA) that states all e-books created with iBook
Author can only be distributed through the iBook store. While it's not really much
different to producing Kindle-specific e-books, if it's at odds with your own
distribution and marketing strategy, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Most importantly, the app that's produced
will only work on an iPad. While there is a PDF output option, it's unsuitable
for printing and will be unsupported by any other PDF-compliant e-reader. In
reality, I would expect this particular restriction to be addressed by a number
of future non-Apple software tools, although Apple is a past master at moving
the goalposts for such tools with a regular flow of product updates.
Publishing a book in app format won't suit
everyone. The story still has to be gripping, entertaining and readable. If it
isn't, the reader might feel a little shortchanged once the initial impact of a
multimedia experience has past. Yet it will certainly be interesting to see how
quickly Apple's competitors bring similar products to market.
UK figures recently released from Neilsen
Bookscan show more ISBN numbers were registered for e-books in 2011 than for
hardback books. And this e-book ESBN figure was over half the total number of
paperback ISBN registrations. An arresting statistic, especially when you
consider that a great many e-books never receive an ISBN number at all.
It all amounts to an awful lot of e-books.
And don't forget we've yet to witness the untapped potential for app-books.
With so many options, services, tools and online book stores, the
self-publishing author has never been in a better position.