On Monday we published a new ebook (details below) and also, for the first time ever, offered it in .EPUB format, as an experimental extra.
Wikipedia describes .EPUB like this:
EPUB is an e-book file format that uses the “.epub” file extension. The term is short for electronic publication and is sometimes styled ePub. EPUB is supported by many e-readers, and compatible software is available for most smartphones, tablets, and computers. EPUB is a technical standard published by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). It became an official standard of the IDPF in September 2007, superseding the older Open eBook standard.
The Book Industry Study Group endorses EPUB 3 as the format of choice for packaging content and has stated that the global book publishing industry should rally around a single standard. The EPUB format is implemented as an archive file consisting of HTML files carrying the content, along with images and other supporting files. EPUB is the most widely supported vendor-independent XML-based (as opposed to PDF) e-book format; that is, it is supported by the largest number of hardware readers.
which means it can be read on just about every ebook reader and app…
Except on Amazon’s Kindle.
OK, but this is getting a bit complicated, so here’s some background.
Hitherto we’ve used .pdf format only for ebooks, which is a safe choice because we (the publisher) can easily control the formatting.
.PDFs can be read on almost anything (even the Kindle) and can also be printed, for those who prefer a paper copy.
The problem with .pdfs though is exactly that – on an ebook reader or app, the text isn’t modifiable by the reader (or the device).
It shows exactly as we intended it and so, if you’re viewing it on a phone or ebook reader, may be way too small for you to read comfortably.
What’s needed, for comfortable reading on your phone, tablet or ereader is something called ‘native reflowing’.
Which basically means taking away all the structure from the text, all the formatting, all the pretty parts, and letting the app have just the text, which the app can then display according to the reader’s preferences, ‘reflowing’ the text across multiple pages.
If you’ve noticed your partner squinting at their Kobo/Kindle/smartphone in bed and, curious to see what they’re reading, glanced at their screen to see just a sentence or too in a very large font, that’s what I’m talking about.
It means that your loved-one is short-sighted, obviously, and so has set the font-size to reflect that. Native re-flowing is the saviour of insomniacs with failing eyesight.
Now obviously, it would be handy for everyone concerned if, as Wikipedia points out, “the global book publishing industry should rally around a single standard“.
Unfortunately, there’s Amazon and it’s bloody whatnot, which uses a different format (don’t ask), but is LOVED by Kindle users everywhere, including my wife.
Fine, I thought.
Let’s try the new ebook in Kindle format, too.
As one of our members pointed out to me on Monday “Lots more people use Kindle than Kobo!”
Lots more people drive Fords than Ferraris, I thought, but why not?
Well here’s why.
Unless I choose to sell through Amazon’s store (in which case they’d take 50% of the sale price), they make it very, very, very difficult to create something in their proprietary format.
They offer a nice piece of software, absolutely free, that will format our ebook in Kindle format.
But when it’s finished, can it be actually tested on a Kindle?
The software outputs a different file type, the only purpose of which is to be uploaded to Amazon’s store, where it is THEN converted into the final version and put on sale in their shop.
Now, in theory, there are ways around this.
The Kindle will read another, common but old, file-type called .MOBI.
And yes, before everyone writes to tell me, I know that I can use Calibre to convert my .EPUB file to .MOBI so that in theory it can by Amazon groupies.
But for one, it’s a pain and the results are ugly (I might get better at it if I keep trying).
And two, and much more importantly, what it outputs for the .MOBI version is a folder containing the text, the cover image and the menu.
That could, of course, be manually copied and pasted into a Kindle, but my wife’s is old and my computer won’t talk to it. So no go there.
I tried zipping (compressing) the folder containing the text, menu and cover, and sending it to my phone, then installing a Kindle-compatible app to read it, then un-zipping it, then having the app search for it, and then – MAGIC! actually managing to read it.
Still ugly, but it worked.
Though it took an hour of faffing around and the installation of an app I wouldn’t otherwise use.
Now one thing I know from long experience of selling ebooks (nearly five years, amazing or what?) is that if it ain’t simple, the result will be lots of unhappy customers.
Which is why on Monday when I published ‘Il volcano’, instead of simply putting the two versions (.pdf and .epub) in a folder, compressing it, and sending it out to every buyer, I specified:
“If you also want the Kobo-compatible version, let me know at the time of your order and I’ll send you that as well.”
The issue being that so many people use iPads and such hellish devices these days that people are no longer familiar with the idea of DOWNLOADING (what’s that?), SAVING (uh?) and UNZIPPING (sounds pornographic…) an attachment.
Apple doodahs do it all for you. It’s ‘intuitive’ and ‘user-friendly’, as they say (breast-feeding too).
Until it doesn’t work, for some reason. I send out a bunch of ebooks in a zipped folder and get “I can’t open it!”
That’s usually because the zipped attachment contains different file types – say a .pdf and the audio files that accompany it.
At which point I have one unhappy customer (“What, you mean I can’t just click it?”)
And a customer-service headache.
Kindle users can be as bad.
If they’re used to downloading stuff directly from Amazon to their infernal device, they have no idea that they can actually plug the little black whatsit into a computer and manually drag files over from one bit of kit to another.
As long as you stick to Amazon stuff, you have no need to.
As long as you only read stuff from the Apple Store, you have no need to.
As long as you’re happy to let your I.T. skills wither to the point that they’re weaker than those of an average primary school child, you have no need to.
Insomma, there’s an open standard for ebooks, and I’ve figured out how to use it so that our .pdf ebooks can be offered in an alternative version with ‘native reflowing’ for short-sighted people and those who like to use ereaders in bed.
However, two of the industry’s giants are deliberately making life difficult, to their own advantage.
And (he finally gets to the point) if I’m to find ways to format our materials in ways which are usable by all club members, I need some help.
“Computer-literate ebook testers wanted!”
If none of the above made any sense to you, then that’s not you.
Wait a while and I hope to smooth out the bumps and have something you can just click on and it’ll work.
If, on the other hand, you do know how to drag something on to Kindle or other ebook reader…
If you’re interested in experimenting with things…
If you’re good at finding solutions…
And if you have time to mess about with these things, then…
I need your help!
Specifically I need:
- Computer-literate Kindle users
- Computer-literate iPad/iPhone/Apple users
- Computer-literate users of other e-readers (Kobo, etc.)
- Anyone with experience of what I was moaning about above
And in return, I can offer ebooks of your choice to experiment with, and/or the chance to test out formatting work done by myself or others and help iron out any problems.
If you’re interested, email me.
Something like this:
I’m a Kindle/iPad/Kobo/Android-user/ebook enthusiast/general geek with time on my hands and I’d like to help!”
You get the idea.
So there you go, Kindle lady.
I’m trying, see?
Talking of ebooks, don’t forget to get your copy of our new C1/2-level Italian ‘easy reader’.
Il vulcano is about how the author, Roberto Gamberini, gets to know an orphaned immigrant child and supports him with his school work and with the process of settling in to life in Italy.
- .pdf e-book (+ audio available free online at soundcloud.com)
- .epub (Kobo compatible) format ebook also available at no extra charge (ask at the time of your order!)
- 8 chapters to read and listen to
- Comprehension questions to check your understanding
- Italian/English glossary of ‘difficult’ terms for the level
- Suitable for students at advanced level
- Download your Free Sample Chapter (.pdf)
- Your e-book will be e-mailed to you within 24 hours of purchase
From next Monday, Il vulcano will sell at our usual ebook price of £7.99.
But get it this week and you’ll spend just £5.99, 25% saving!
Read Tuesday’s EasyItalianNews.com bulletin here. FREE!