e-Book Standardization

In this new age of digital everything, more and more there is a need to standardize digital formats in order to build consumer confidence and ease of use.

When Sony, RCA or some indie music label produces an album, its released in CD and MP3 formats. The CD is readable by any CD player, just as the digital tracks are readable by any MP3 player, whether it’s on your Blackberry phone, your iPod, or any generic brand.

There is, however, some problem with DVD and digital films. Blue Ray won’t play on a regular DVD player. Not all digital movies will run on all players, mostly having to do with proprietary rights (Apple).

That concept of proprietary rights becomes almost unmanageable when dealing with digital books. Files purchased to be read on the Kindle cannot be read on the Sony Reader unless you acquire a reformatting program. Or if you purchase what’s touted as the next, best format, an ePub file (Kobo and Apple are pushing this format), you still may not be able to read that book on your digital reader.

As one publisher quipped at a recent trade gathering, it’s like saying you have to have a different hard copy book to read in every room in the house.

And while the ePub format is receiving a lot of hype about its ability to be formatted by the user for type and size preference, as well as its portability, already there are problems in that Apple’s ePub requirements are different from Kobo’s, and any file a publisher uploads to Apple’s store must be reformatted. What, exactly, the tinkered code is the lay-publisher isn’t certain, but rest assured despite the fact your file may pass alleged program vetters, it’s not going to get by the inspectors at Apple.

Now it would appear there are whispers behind the doors that ePub will be a flash of about two years. The newest rumours are that a new HTML version is emerging in an attempt to standardize digital books with maximum design capability, and thereby enhance the reading experience.

Let’s face it, the digital reading experience is a pretty stark one at the moment. Gone is the layout designer’s artistic hand, a hand, it should be noted, that can do much to enhance the entire creative experience of reading a print book. If the new HTML format can change that, as well as allow a standardization so that a digital book can be read on any reader, the advancement would be welcome not only to readers, but to publishers as well.

To give you an idea of what a huge process formatting a book for digital release is, allow me to illustrate.

Here at Five Rivers, once a book has been foramtted in InDesign for print release, we then create a PDF for Adobe readers. We then export that same InDesign file to an ePub for submission to Apple and Kobo, accompanied by extensive bibliographic and sales data (set out in just the right order, in just the right format — kind of like magic.) Once the data is received by our distributor for Apple, the ePub file then undergoes yet another transformation.

Having done that, we then have to cut and paste data from the InDesign file into Word for submission to Kindle, where the file is then exported into a MOBI format. It should be noted Amazon won’t accept a MOBI format from the publisher. The file has to be in Word, and coverted by Amazon’s system.

We then take that same Word document and reformat into PDB (Palm reader) and LIT (for the outdated MS Reader).

If we’re using Smashwords as a distributor into Barnes and Noble and Sony, our files are further restricted in that we’re held to a 5MG size, a size recently exceeded by one of our books, a book which does not contain extensive graphics, just a lot of very important, informative, academic text. And forget any hope of typestyles and format in files being submitted to Smashwords. It’s the bare minimum, stripped out, stark. Bullets, sidebars and such are not welcome. Ad of course we’re all still waiting for the actual distribution channels through Smashwords to open. At the moment it’s been since November and only sporadically do our digital books show up at Barnes and Noble.

But I digress from the point, that of the lack of universality for digital books.

In short, it’s a lot more work to create an eBook than to go through the entire artistic process of layout a print book. And there are too many choices for the consumer, most of them extremely restrictive, in order for the digital book to truly launch and flourish. While sales of readers and digital books has increased, the full potential of the digital book will remain harnessed until the industry as a whole works toward standardization and universality.

At least that’s my take from the Old Stone House today.

1 Comment

  1. I hope we reach the point where there's one standardized eBook format, but I'm not holding my breath.

    Informative article!

    One slight correction: Amazon does accept MOBI files from the publisher, or at least it did in January.

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