Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Authors & ebooks: 11 points to ponder (part 1)

This post originally appeared on I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) and has been updated as needed:

Ebook developments can be difficult to keep up with because of the continual software and hardware changes. Since digital book sales appear to be increasing in a steep curve, authors and their readers can’t help but wonder how the book biz will change and how quickly. Some of my colleagues are dipping a toe in the waters or diving headfirst into the pool, so soon it may be sink-or-swim time for all of us. After digging around online, emailing with other authors, and reading a lot of blogs over the last few months (not books or magazines, interestingly,) here are the issues that seem most relevant.

#1 Definition

What is an ebook, anyway? A PDF; a Kindle book; an iPad story app; an iBook; an EPUB; et al. If a book is in digital form, it can reasonably be called an ebook. However, the wide diversity in formats often requires clarification. For example, do you know the difference between an iBook and a story app for the iPad? (An iBook is usually a fairly straightforward conversion of a traditional book while a story app can have extra interactivity from changeable illustrations to simulated 3D pop-ups.) The terminology, the acronyms, even the spelling (e-book or ebook?) can be a problem.

#2 Production costs

Digital books require no paper, no ink, no binding, no warehousing, no packing, no shipping, and generally speaking, can’t be returned by customers. If this isn’t a fundamental change in publishing, I don’t know what is. Books in the form of story apps require new (to publishing) skill sets such as writing software code, which may be costly depending on what’s involved. However, porting an existing title with few changes over to a digital format shouldn’t be too pricey.

#3 Reader expectations

...for ebooks may be quite different versus paper books. For example, readers may demand to pay less due to the perceived lower production costs and the intangibility of books in electronic form. Maybe much less, if the sheer number of complaints on the Internet about overpriced ebooks are any indication.

#4 Devices

Ereaders are proliferating but there are two main types. Some are optimized for reading text (e.g. black and white “e ink” types such as the Kindle). The tablet-types can show full color images, generally have touchscreens, and can do much more in addition to displaying ebooks. Surprisingly (to me), many people read on their phones or other smallish devices. You don’t necessarily need a separate device, though (see #5).

#5 Different Formats

The most popular ereaders have non-interchangeable file formats, which is a production headache, obviously. For example, an iBook can’t be read on a Kindle, as far as I know. However, it's good (if a tad confusing) that you can read Kindle and NOOK books on the iPad, PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPod, and so on with a free download (click for Kindle reader apps, or NOOK reader apps).

#6 Images

Picture books, graphic novels, and many (most?) nonfiction titles need images. Authors and illustrators need to know which device/format will support what kind of image. For example, most people know that Kindles are only black and white thus far, including any images. However, did you know that if the Kindle book is on a computer or other color device using a Kindle reader app, images will be in full color? (That is, assuming the original image was full color. Read more here.) Another issue with the various devices/formats is whether the artwork can be “full bleed,” meaning the image fills the screen rather than having a white border around each page.
[To be continued in next post.]

Loreen Leedy

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