When is an eBook not an eBook?

Given our expertise and experience in book design and publishing (see our book design website), we get a lot of queries regarding eBooks: what they are, how they work, what they cost, how they're sold. Through our work with authors and publishers, we've had to compile a quick list of Q&As to dispel a few myths and assumptions, and to apprise them of eBook's possibilities. Here's a few pointers for those interested in eBooks:

An eBook is just a PDF version of the printed book

No, it's not. PDF is a great production tool for book producers and other producers of content if their intended audience is to read the PDF document on a computer screen or largish tablet. But it is not an eBook.

For my money, one of the essential attributes of an eBook — what makes an eBook an eBook — is the ability for the user to adjust the font size for easier reading and have the text and pages reflow automatically.

PDF can't do that.

Yes, you can open a PDF on most eReaders but it is what is known as "fixed page" — for our purposes here it is essentially an image: to view the text at a comfortable size, you need to zoom in and move around: the size of the text and the page is preset and static. Try reading your favourite novel in PDF format on a Kindle before bed. It's a pain. Anyone trying to sell you PDF as an eBook format, as a producer or as a consumer, is selling you a pup.

(Yes, yes, I know: google "eBook formats" and PDF will be listed on Wikipedia etc. Whatever. I stand by my standard above that an eBook must be able to reflow according to the user's directives to make reading easier and more comfortable, and on eReaders and mobile devices, PDF simply does not meet this criteria. And for the nerds: I know that PDF has the ability to host a tagged layer which makes some kind of pseudo reflowing possible, but that's for hardcore geeks and is so cost-prohibitive that I've never seen a trade publisher even consider it.)

Flavours

EBooks come in a few different flavours and a lot — a lot — of different formats. The most common by far when people think of an eBook is that which is sold through e-tailers such as Amazon and which are suitable for reading on dedicated eReaders such as Kindle, Nook and Kobo, or on tablets and smart phones.

That's an eBook in its simplest form. Even at this basic level, though, things are muddied by myriad different formats from different manufacturers, none of which are compatible with the other. Kindle, for instance, requires eBooks to be output in a proprietary format called AZW (which is a hack of the generic mobi format) and can only be read on a Kindle; likewise, Kindle will not read (most) other eBook formats. Similarly, Sony has a proprietary format for its eReader, as does the Nook eReader.

Consequently, it's easy to recommend the generic format, ePub, for most e-publications. For want of a better term, it is the "officially sanctioned" eBook format, and will open on most devices either natively or by installing an ePub reading app such as Calibre. Be aware, though, that the ePub standard is built on web standards such as HTML and CSS, so may look different across different devices.

Then there is the Enhanced eBook format. This is where things start getting tasty. Imagine you've bought and downloaded the brilliant new cookbook, Cooking with Sam, in enhanced eBook format. So what are you having for dinner tonight? You can sort all the recipes by food style, or by meal, or main ingredient, or discover a recipe at random. Ingredients? Tick the ones you need and have your printer spit out a recipe list, or send it straight to an online market for later delivery. Stuck on Step 3? Click on the YouTube link to see the action explained. Don't know how to prepare, say, okra? Click on the link to show more than you ever thought you needed to know about okra, from how to prepare and use it, to nutrition value and medicinal facts.

That's all possible of an enhanced eBook, right now.

And, finally, there's the eBook-as-App. And hello payday. With this approach, the possibilities are almost limitless: interactive diagrams, animation, voice control and interaction, live social sharing, age-dependent guided narration, parental controls, instant definitions ... the list goes on and on. However, this is entering the world of geekdom, so have your chequebook ready as most Apps will require a programmer.

Possibilities

What possibilities? Ebooks are only for publishers, right? Book people? Nerds? Right?

Well, no. We're currently working with a client who needs material to present to potential customers in the field: presentation folders, business cards, letterhead, postcards etc. All wonderful stuff, and it all has its role to play.

But here's a different possibility: You send your potential client an eBook, phone-to-phone, while out in the field. Your eBook has your company's vision statement, some history, images of its offices, equipment and assets. Click on the Team link to see photos and bios of all staff; click on the image of the managing director and get a short audio-visual Welcome message and company spiel. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and the impression you want to create.

Now that's an introduction.

In brief

  • eBooks can make for a brilliant marketing tool

  • ePub is the pseudo 'official' eBook format

  • Kindle, Sony, Kobo among others have their own proprietary formats

    Based on the ePub standard or other standards such as mobi. For this reason you need to know which devices you are targeting in order to output the compatible format.

  • PDF is not an eBook format

    PDF is a lot of things, and it does what it does well, but just because it can display on a computer or tablet does not make it an eBook format. A document (or book) in PDF format is simply that: a document (or book) in PDF format. It is not an eBook.

When experience counts

Collectively, we’ve had more than 40 years’ experience in trade and custom publishing, in traditional and digital formats. We’ve worked with the world’s biggest publishers — HarperCollins, Random House, Readers Digest, Penguin, Murdoch Books, Pan Macmillan — across Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, the US and the UK.

We’ve also worked with dozens of boutique publishers and authors. If you have a book project, or a marketing pitch you want delivered as an eBook, talk to us. We are one of the most experienced, knowledgable and respected publishing agencies in the country.

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