The Shatzkin Files


Searching for the formula to deliver illustrated books as ebooks


I want to make clear at the outset that this post is not about “enhanced ebooks”, making something multiple-media out of a book that started as straight text. That’s a “want to do” problem that I’ve always been skeptical about and which I believe many, if not most, publishers are abandoning as “not commercially viable at this time”. Today’s ruminations are about moving illustrated books from print to digital, which many of today’s book publishers will find a “must solve” problem as the channels to reach consumers effectively with illustrated books — the bookstores — are diminished in number and power by digital change.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble are trading boasts about whose iPad-lite is better than the other guy’s. Kobo’s Vox is joining the party with Kobo now owned by Rakuten, a massive Japanese company that gives the former upstart the means to really compete with all the other players. We can be pretty sure that tablets that can deliver color-illustrated book pages will be in many hands very soon. (That’s in addition to the tens of millions of iPads and many millions of Nook Color devices that have been sold already.)

This is presenting publishers with illustrated books on their list with what seems like an enormous opportunity. But it also presents some equally enormous challenges.

It has been estimated by many that 25% of the print books sold are illustrated books. (I last saw this number in a slide from Michael Tamblyn of Kobo at our eBooks for Everyone Else conference in San Francisco on November 2d.) I am not sure what that means. Trade books only?

And even if I did know what it means, I wouldn’t know enough. Books that are primarily pretty pictures, which don’t require much integration of the pictures and text (the minority of the 25%, one would assume) are a considerably simpler proposition to port to digital than a book with pictures and captions that have to stay with them or text that needs to be on the same page with a picture or a chart.

A lot of work is being done to create new standards called HTML5 and Epub3 that will permit more faithful rendering of a publisher’s intentions through a web browser or an ebook than our current capabilities do. But there are two very big flies in the ointment that persist regardless of the technology.

One: illustrated books are considerably more complex and expensive to deliver to digital devices than straight text books. (Even if HTML5 and Epub3 accomplish everything their creators want and they’re fed by XML-workflows, converting the backlists will cost a multiple on a per-title basis of what straight text costs. And I suspect we’re many years away from relieving publishers of the need to make the decisions necessary to execute multiple versions of each book, new or backlist, as will be made clear further on in this post.)

Two: we really don’t know whether consumers with tablets or tablet-lites will choose to consume illustrated books on those devices. (I’d say we do know that people will happily read straight text on devices; what seems to be true in my experience these days is that most of the people who say they “prefer printed books” have not tried an ereader yet.)

So while many publishers are largely seeing eroding print sales for straight text more than compensated for by ebook sales, there is no guarantee that the same will be true of illustrated books.

The retailers selling the tablets and the publishers of illustrated books are excited about the possibilities. The development of HTML5 and its close cousin, Epub 3, promise to enable features and capabilities that heretofore were only available in apps to be delivered as ebooks. That’s a big deal because the app marketplace has two huge shortcomings: it doesn’t enable book discovery very well and it is loaded with very inexpensive products. Many publishers have come to the conclusion that selling apps isn’t a commercially-viable strategy going forward. They’d much rather have their IP on sale in an ebookstore.

To be fair, others (like Callaway Digital Media) think apps work just fine commercially (although I’d add that Callaway does children’s content primarily, and that’s different…) and there are more and more tools being delivered to make app-building cheaper and more economical than it was before. But I still agree with the doubters.

Getting ready for Digital Book World, we had a conversation in the past couple of weeks with a publisher that does illustrated books almost exclusively. He volunteered what we believe: nobody knows if the customer will buy these yet. And then he pointed to his enormous pain point: screen sizes.

The currently-touted solution for illustrated books on devices is “fixed page layout.” You don’t “reflow” the text, which is the technique used for straight text. Reflowing changes the number of words on the page to suit the screen size and type size. That means you are changing the amount of content that appears on the screen. If you did that for illustrated books, pictures and captions wouldn’t stay together and things you planned to be on the same page might very well not be. So you deliver a “fixed page” to the device, just like you do to a printer.

The dominant color tablet device has been the iPad, which has a 10-inch screen (this is a diagonal measurement). But the new tablet-lites have seven-inch screens. This cuts the viewing area by about 50%. There is really no way to present a “page” that combines text and pictures that works on both screen sizes. If you go from 10-inch to seven, the type will be too small to read. If you go from 7-inch to ten, the white space surrounding the page will be ridiculous, or the type will be ludicrously large.

And I haven’t mentioned the fact that the iPhone has a 3-1/2 inch screen. Imagine the fixed page for a 10-inch iPad on that!

Although tools exist that make it relatively quick and easy for a designer to see the page on the right screen size and move things around a bit, that doesn’t really solve the problem. An illustrated book publisher would really have to design and lay out each book at least twice (for the 10-inch and 7-inch screens) and possibly three times (to get the iPhone screen too.) Then those would be three different files, so you couldn’t actually move across your devices and have them auto-synch the way Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple enable you to do now for straight text.

Would you get the files for all three sizes when you made the purchase?

There is a way to create the book for different sized screens with the same number of pages, which would be to use more area for the page than will fit on the screen vertically, and then scroll down to get more. Scrollmotion introduced this technique when they were making simple ebooks as a way to make ebook pages match printed book pages. But even employing that technique wouldn’t really save the illustrated book publisher any work. You’d still have to redesign each page for the particular device, and, anyway, I’m one reader who found I didn’t like ebooks that make you both scroll and turn.

One prominent ebook executive I know told me that there have been about 1000 illustrated ebooks available until a month or two ago but that the conversion houses in India have recently been working overtime to deliver more for the plethora of new tablet and tablet-lite devices hitting the market . Now they’re cranking out approximately 1000 illustrated ebooks a week so that by the end of the year, we might have 10,000 illustrated ebooks to choose from on many of the platforms.

That’s still paltry, compared to a million or more straight text ebooks, but the sudden leap in illustrated ebook titles available and screens to read them on must, one assumes, generate a real sales increase. Maybe we’ll start finding out what works and what doesn’t. This same executive, working for one of the major ecosystems, is trying to help publishers set their priorities for what books to convert. (Much of the conversion expense right now is being borne by the device-maker-retailers, so they get to call some shots.) But meaningful data points are so scarce that they offer very little guidance.

As bookstore shelf space disappears, the urgency of solving this problem grows. The sales of illustrated books have reportedly been going up in the bookstores, which is good news for as long as it lasts. It makes complete sense that retailers would emphasize the things that seeing and touching make you more likely to buy. But I’d be concerned that even the sales of illustrated books will suffer as more and more of the straight text consumers find what they want without visiting a bookstore. And a closed bookstore doesn’t sell any illustrated books at all.

I learned something interesting lately from a travel book publisher with a robust web presence that might be a useful clue. I was told that photo albums are a big new moneymaker for them. People who are traveling to Paris love the opportunity to look through a series of photos of Paris. Each photo is a new screen with new ads on it. That is creating some really easy additional revenue for this publisher’s web sites.

I think that a “500 photographs” series of ebooks could also do very well, particularly with the digital ability to present them in sequences determined by metadata. If 500 Paris pictures were properly tagged, I could see “Eiffel Tower”, “churches”, “19th century architecture”, and “Champs Elysee” pictures grouped together by clicking on a menu.

And that kind of a book, with no associated text necessary (“captions” could be on a jump screen), could be designed once for all size devices.

Of course, whether it would have a commercially-viable print counterpart is yet another question.

I have concerns that converting how-to books to digital success is going to be a very frustrating experience. The ebook will not deliver the printed material well, unless the same care is exercised optimizing the content to each different digital screen as is put into designing a book. And there will be so much more the ebook could do with video and audio and animation and interactivity that would make sense for most subjects that “converting” a book will just leave too much opportunity behind.

But publishers have to try. With millions of devices in consumer hands, some illustrated ebooks are going to sell impressive numbers. We saw what happened with “The Elements” when the iPad came out (even if comparable success hasn’t seemed to happen for any other content-based app product since).

Creating a truly interactive book-type digital experience has been the objective of countless thousands of high-quality person-hours for two decades, since even before the CD-Rom era. Nobody has cracked the code yet, by which I mean nobody has come up with a formula which will repeatedly satisfy consumers so that a publisher can approach the marketplace for digital content with something approximating the confidence that it does with straight text books. As an industry, we’re about to throw a lot more time and money at the problem. Maybe we’ll find an answer. Or maybe there isn’t one.

  Back to blog

  • Peter, Gallant Press

    One type of book that never seems to be mentioned in these discussions about the future of illustrated books is the e-book that contains reflowable text along with many illustrations. The best example of this that I can think of offhand is A. A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” which is available for the iPad. Perhaps this is the direction is which e-book picture books have to go. This might require some clever redesign of classic paper-and-ink picture books, but new picture books, those being written right now, can be created with the constraints imposed by present e-reader devices in mind. And let’s be fair to everyone: smart phones were not designed for the easy reading of picture books. They are tolerable for text but I’m not sure publishers should expend much time, effort, and money on the smart phone market for picture books. I don’t think it’s there to any great degree nor will it ever be.

    As for designing e-book picture books for multiple screen sizes, that may not be as necessary as some people think. Present paper-and-ink books are often designed for one specific page size. And, yes, things can get a little ridiculous when a publisher ignores that. The “Peter Rabbit” books were originally designed to be quite small. The text layout was fitted to the illustrations of that size. And when they were republished some years ago as large picture books almost 2 feet tall the text was very much oversize. On the other hand “Blueberries For Sal” was originally designed and published as a fairly large picture book. It may be that the best e-book picture books will be created and designed to best fit a certain screen size or narrow range of screen sizes. Further, there will certainly be books specifically designed to be shown to a room sized audience on a big screen. Any moderately resourceful teacher or librarian can do that now with an iPad 2 and an HD television. The cable to connect the two costs less than $40, and that teacher can now show a picture book to her entire class at once, and text size is no longer an issue.

    There are certainly challenges ahead, but the way to deal with them is to work within the constraints imposed by the new technology, to exploit those things that the new e-readers do well and work around those things that they don’t.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks, Peter. Nice extension of the conversation. You make an interesting point about the teacher being able to use a single illustrated book through an iPad to entertain an entire class. Whether that is good news or bad news for illustrated book publishers, and whether there are any interesting rights issues buried therein, would probably be subjects worthy of a post as long as this one.

      Mike

      • Yourmother

        catch malaria and die.

  • Peter, Gallant Press

    One type of book that never seems to be mentioned in these discussions about the future of illustrated books is the e-book that contains reflowable text along with many illustrations. The best example of this that I can think of offhand is A. A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” which is available for the iPad. Perhaps this is the direction is which e-book picture books have to go. This might require some clever redesign of classic paper-and-ink picture books, but new picture books, those being written right now, can be created with the constraints imposed by present e-reader devices in mind. And let’s be fair to everyone: smart phones were not designed for the easy reading of picture books. They are tolerable for text but I’m not sure publishers should expend much time, effort, and money on the smart phone market for picture books. I don’t think it’s there to any great degree nor will it ever be.

    As for designing e-book picture books for multiple screen sizes, that may not be as necessary as some people think. Present paper-and-ink books are often designed for one specific page size. And, yes, things can get a little ridiculous when a publisher ignores that. The “Peter Rabbit” books were originally designed to be quite small. The text layout was fitted to the illustrations of that size. And when they were republished some years ago as large picture books almost 2 feet tall the text was very much oversize. On the other hand “Blueberries For Sal” was originally designed and published as a fairly large picture book. It may be that the best e-book picture books will be created and designed to best fit a certain screen size or narrow range of screen sizes. Further, there will certainly be books specifically designed to be shown to a room sized audience on a big screen. Any moderately resourceful teacher or librarian can do that now with an iPad 2 and an HD television. The cable to connect the two costs less than $40, and that teacher can now show a picture book to her entire class at once, and text size is no longer an issue.

    There are certainly challenges ahead, but the way to deal with them is to work within the constraints imposed by the new technology, to exploit those things that the new e-readers do well and work around those things that they don’t.

  • Charles, Amber Books Ltd

    In the short- to medium-term at least, I think the VizEbooks platform has a lot of promise for illustrated publishers, which is why we adopted (and adapted) it for our just launched Military Books app (http://iTunes.com/apps/military books). Based on the publisher’s print PDF, there are no expensive conversion costs incurred.

    • Charles

      Sorry, broken link. http://iTunes.com/apps/militarybooks or search for ‘military books’ in the app store.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Thanks for correcting. I was wondering about that.

        Mike

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      “No expensive conversion costs” is a very good start.

      Mike

  • Joel Haas

    Perhaps it is time to re imagine what a picture book is and what it is used or desired for.   Rather like the folks at KODAK in 1995 who sold their digital photo patents because” people won’t fiddle with getting the photos off the camera onto the computer and they can’t print clearly anyway.”  The next year I bought a digital camera and started saving money by simply taking quick photos of work in progress for clients or mediocre photos for portfolio photography but improving the image on the computer.
    KODAK simply thought people in the future would use their product as they had in the past.

    As readers tablets and iPad like tablets converge as simply portable computers of choice, It is harder and harder to see the traditional use/need for picture books reaming the same as in the past.

    I code my own eBook conversions–robo coding can produce some odd results if you’re not careful.  And, if the book in question is so far on the backlist there is no computer text, it will have to be scanned and then proof read to be coded.

    I have some experience in placing pictures into text.

    PDFs have their advantages and disadvantages.  They can be zoomed and so on, but the ebook conversion is sometimes more than iffy and they are very large file sizes compared to epub files.  

    In theory, one could place a, say 500 x 600 pixel image in an epub text and then have an internal link to a large version of the image, so clicking/tapping on the image would take the reader to a larger size, BUT a larger size, not a controlled zoom to fit a particular screen.  It takes time to create the multiple images and internal links AND it creates larger file sizes of epubs.  

    I suspect the B&N children’s book The Little Elephant’s Child is done with a series of restricted sized PDFs, since the type enlarges as the pictures zoom enlarge.

    As for “photos of a trip to Paris” a much larger number of people just go to Google Earth and look at the photos posted of the area they intend visiting, or do an image search for their topic in a search engine and or go to photo site such as Flickr.  

    However, there is  a market for printing paper hard bound custom books of photos from a  trip to hand out to friends and family.  

    Reading a children’s book, hmmm… I don’t have kids, but I point out the MacBook screen is as large or large than most children’s book paper sizes. It’s not what we grew up with but it is what kids today grow up with, so flopping on the bed with small kids in PJs to read them a bedtime story from the laptop won’t seem odd in the future.

    As a professional sculptor, I can certainly address the market for high end art books. For years, I gathered and still have a room full of books on sculpture, painting, etc.  I don’t use it much any more since I can find more information  faster in greater detail on the internet.

    I can find a how to video on You Tube for nearly anything, so there went the how to book market.  

    I saw a remaindered beautiful, door stop size book for $40 on paintings in the Louvre Museum.  I wouldn’t even consider it unless it had a CD of all the paintings shown in high res. (It did have a CD, and the book was essentially just a sales item letting me know what was on the CD if I purchased.)

    As for other picture reference:  I have a recent commission to create some large pterosauria (flying dinosaurs–Pterodactyls, except pterodactyls  were not really dinosaurs, just related reptiles, so there–there is your useless fact for the day…)   Anyway, I gathered and printed out more than 50 pages of articles and pictures for reference.  There is a spectacular new 3D movie for IMAX coming out in the USA this month by Sir David Attenborough.  (See the trailer here–why isn’t any IMAX in North Carolina booking this??!! )   http://www.flyingmonsters3dmovie.com/             and                   http://youtu.be/gYa-PKsGUhM                            Watch these and you may wonder “How can a picture book compete?”       

    I agree the picture books can be simply connected to a flat screen digital TV.  Even now, I simply connect my 13 inch MacBook to a 32 inch HD TV screen with a HDMI cable.  I only look at the actual computer screen if I’m traveling and have taken the laptop with me.   Moreover, digital projectors continue to fall in price.  Hook your laptop to $600 Epson projector and watch a movie on your wall streaming from Netflix or whatever.  I have a  flat white 15 ft by 9 ft area on the master bedroom wall on which I can project so I  have not even really bothered with a large screen TV .

    I can look at the paintings from  the Louvre at life size or larger if projected for detailed study, much greater than in a large picture book.

    Oh, and those pterosaurs–I can project the images off the internet directly onto huge sheets of photo backdrop paper to outline wing patterns or work up color studies.  I am afraid my reference book can’t do that either.  

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Right. The “illustrated book” of today doesn’t just “convert” to a successful ebook the way straight text does. Finding formulas that will work will be a real challenge.

      Mike

  • http://www.psmedia.com.sg Peter Schoppert

    Seems to me there is one end-state that is clearly better for illustrated book publishers: creating html5 ebook webapps and serving them up to users directly through the browser. Publishers can use responsive web design tools to create designs that work across multiple screensizes (through flexible grids – see the FT example in the newspaper space). This will also give publishers the access to buyers and reading data (how people actually read/consume the books). I can’t imagine book publishers surviving against their many competitors without access to this data and solving the problems of adaptation that you highlight. 
     
    Given the stresses on print sales you have identified so clearly, and given the power of Amazon, B&N, Apple, etc. getting to this endstate is going to be very difficult. But as one savvy digital UK publisher said to me the other day, we have to try. 

    It might be impossible for many publishers. But is online book discovery so much better than appstore discovery that it will make all the difference? Or enough of a difference to overcome the hassle of producing separate files in different formats for multiple screensizes… and to overcome the cost of abdicating the opportunity to be in touch with readers directly? 

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      No doubt you’ve described the best end-state, but there are a lot of requirements for a publisher to get there. It would have to be part of a bigger distribution strategy to sell your digital products (unless you’re a Pottermore).

      Online book discovery *is* orders of magnitude better than app discovery.
      What you identify as the best end-state requires being vertical in your appeal; I can’t see it being possible for a general publisher.

      Mike

      • http://www.psmedia.com.sg Peter Schoppert

        Not under (too many) illusions that it would be easy to reach that end-state, and I fully agree that it would need to be integrated into an overall strategy. I think you’ve identified before how much better-placed vertical appeal publishers are to make direct relationships with their readers.

        I would also be on the look-out for new retail models that allow webapps to be discovered and sold alongside epubs in the richer environment of online bookstores. I live in Singapore, where Amazon is not yet present, so perhaps I am more easily deluded into imagining a world that isn’t locked in…

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        I believe those web apps will end up being deliverable as epub, which means that the means to buy ebooks (or whatever they are) directly can be embedded in one sold through an intermediary. The intermediaries won’t like that. What they can do or will do to stop it is a future chapter of this tale.

        Mike

  • http://twitter.com/lizcastro lizcastro

    It’s interesting to note that Kobo’s new Vox supports the same code for Fixed Layout —and Read Aloud— as iBooks. That means that publishers can create books that work on both Kobo and Apple platforms with the SAME files. I have written two “miniguides” that detail just how to create that code, see http://www.elizabethcastro.com/epub

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Kobo has every reason to make its standards compatible with others and not force publishers to do anything too special to deliver to them. One hopes that the direction of things is common standards although not all the ebook retailers have the same logical incentive as Kobo.

      Mike

  • Paul Salvette

    Great article. It will be interesting to see if the next generation of eReaders can support the animation properties of CSS3. This would add a lot of enhancements to children’s books and other picture-heavy eBooks. If you look at the list of CSS properties for the new Kindle Format 8, that supposedly is going to compete with EPUB3, there is no mention of the animation properties, which is disappointing. It would also be nice if eBooks could support JavaScript and the jQuery library. This would add a lot of functionality that readers seem interested in (pop-up footnotes anyone). We’ll just have to wait and see what new ebook rendering software brings in 2012.

    On a plus note, it’s nice to see that eBooks are moving away from XHTML to HTML5, something the web development community did years ago.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      I’ll admit that your comment is a bit over my technological head, but I’ll bet there are lots of readers who will benefit from it!

      Mike

    • Peter, Gallant Press

      Actually, Apple already accepts JavaScript in its EPUB books at the iBookstore. See the article by Liz Castro at:
      http://www.pigsgourdsandwikis.com/2011/06/javascript-accepted-in-ibookstore.htmlHowever, the big question, as it always is with the availability of wonderful bells and whistles, is who is clever enough, and has enough restraint, to use just enough of them to make a good user experience without going overboard with unneeded “glitter.”

    • Chris

      I’m addicted to playing CanvasRider.   

      http:canvasrider.comIt’s amazing what some cool coding can achieve.  

  • Robin Birtle

    Thanks, Mike. A good framing of key issues facing this part of the market.

    I think there will also be a growing number of picture book /illustrated book authors who publish first (and perhaps only) to digital. If their content is good enough, consumers will have no choice but to read on the device. This is turn will increase the acceptance of tablets and the like as vehicles for illustrated books.I discuss some of the content challenges for picture book authors and publishers here.  http://bit.ly/t6R0e1

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Robin, if they publish “first” and “only” to digital, I’m wondering whether what they publish can still be called “picture books”. Or whether they’re something else…

      Mike

  • Angela Patchell

    Hi Mike,

    I think what we would like to create and what makes good practical sense is what VIZeBooks illustrated eBook model has tried to balance. PDFs are right for illustrated books. and only enhance them, when and if material is available. I totally agree with you that the cost of enhancing eBooks won’t work, but most authors have podcasts, marketing material, blogs and visual content already available that can be attached to ebooks in a simple way, like we have done in VIZeBooks. I don’t think pure coffee table books work as eBooks but practical illustrated eBooks certainly do, where the reader is also the participant

    Angela. Patchell

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Angela, I’m not so sure “coffee table” won’t work. I guess there’s no way that people would pay coffee table book prices for photos to view on their iPad screen but, in fact, the pictures would look *great* and the spread-and-pinch capabilities would be useful. Whereas for the “practical illustrated” (which to me means “how-to”) books I fear that not having enhancements that extend the practicality will be noticed in their absence. And ultimately competing against content that didn’t start as books that have it.

      Mike

      • Angela Patchell

        I agree that how-to books need enhancements to add readers participation to the eBook. Which is exactly what VIZeBooks has done, what I meant to say was that we have added enhancements that were already available that didn’t add any production costs that may never get recouped. 
        When you look at the medium of eBooks on the high quality tablets screens it certainly brings is the visual image to the forefront especially when you use high quality PDF images that you can zoom into. I think there is a place for picture books on the tablet screen but maybe we need to rethink the conversations with our readers and allow them to comment and add imagery that extends the book.  For instance a travel book could allow the reader to add their travel pics to the travel notes integrated scrapbook together with a travel diary with their travel experiences. I can see that being very attractive to the reader as they are joining the conversation and adding their images and experiences. It is bringing the reader on board and giving them a platform within the eBook framework. 
        Mike at present I am working on a visual elearning reading experience that allows the reader to choose how they comprehend, a three-choice reading option: read, see and hear. It is a modern day “look and learn” the more I work with this medium the more I realise it is possible to create visual books for visual readers or spatial readers. This then takes how-to books to a multi-dimensional format that will help readers to comprehend, use and absorb visual information.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        What you’re doing sounds very exciting. The “alternate paths through the book” concept is one that digital enables. This is a field ripe for invention. But invention is normally expensive and it may take a while for the consumer to figure out what is going on and what she likes and what she doesn’t.

        Mike

  • http://www.facebook.com/mick.elliot Mick Elliot

    Thank you for a very interesting article, multiple formats is a problem I have been faced with preparing a book of cartoons for e-publishing. I have no problems with text flow because each page is one cartoon with the text included and pdf is the perfect medium for all formats including even iphones and Kindles. Amazon however can’t seem to convert my pdf files to their format, I’m working on that one.
    Mick Elliot

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      The problems are many and varied. You’re articulating another one.

      Mike

  • http://www.heritage.co.uk Gwyn Headley

    At heritage.co.uk we’ve just published 40 illustrated ebooks with over 1,900 images, 250,000+ words, the biggest digital heritage ebook project ever published — and we chose reflowable text. The photographs stay where we tell them to stay. They resize automatically according to the device they’re read on, so when you write “an illustrated book publisher would really have to design and lay out each book at least twice (for the 10-inch and 7-inch screens) and possibly three times” that’s not actually the case. Heritage Ebooks can be read in full color with equal ease on iPhones, Androids, iPads, Nooks and in 16 glorious shades of black and white on the current Kindle. Our images adapt to the device being used while allowing the reader to select the font size.

    • Peter, Gallant Press

      Yes, re-flowable text is the key to being able to read an e-book on a smartphone. Do you create your books in EPUB first and then convert them as needed for the Kindle, etc. (which is not difficult if you are clever in your initial coding)?

      • Chris

        Good question, Peter.

        Could I add this:  Gwyn, I guess I’d like to ask if you are perhaps exporting to EPUB as reflowable through InDesign?

      • Gwyn Headley

        Yes, raw text, then InDesign 5.0, then Sigil, then Calibre. Even InDesign 5.5 needs a lot of afterwork to produce an acceptable illustrated ebook. And it’s by far the most expensive element of the equation. Why can’t Adobe get it right?

      • Chris

        Thanks Gwyn, that is currently my process as well.

        It too annoys me that InDesign doesn’t nail it straight out of the box. I’ve had a few blank looks when I tell people all you do to create an ebook is layout in InDesign… then export as epub…

        … then open Sigil to edit the code 

        … then open Calibre to convert!

         

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        The smartest people hang out at The Shatzkin Files!

        Mike

      • Chris

        Yeah, we’re way smart. So don’t ever think about charging for admission, fella. :)

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      That’s amazing, Gwyn. I should have asked you first.

      But don’t you have the problem that what fits on the page for one device doesn’t fit for another. How do you control size AND keep together things that need to stay together? Or is it just that the image stays where you tell it *in relation to* the text, but not necessarily “on the same page”?
      Mike

    • Chris

      Gwyn, are you guys text dominant or pic/illustration dominant?

      Reflowable is obviously perfect for text dominant books but I wonder if it is the ideal format for illustration heavy 0-3 year old books which run a two or four line verse per page/spread.

      BTW: just bought a Kindle Fire for my 5 year old this morning. Kinda got sick of him asking, “Dad, when can I have a computer/iphone?”

      Oh, and Mike, the CanvasRacer link below wasn’t a plug. I was just highlighting what can be achieved with HMTL5 and Javascript. It’s extremely powerful.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        I trust you, Chris.

        Mike

      • Gwyn Headley

        With 250,000+ words and 1,900 images it’s sometimes hard to weigh the balance. I would say text is the driver. The images literally illustrate what the text says. So the text is basically more important.
        But I’m looking forward to seeing Heritage Ebooks on a Kindle Fire!

  • James Monaco

    You are thinking too dimensionally (or two-diimensionally).  The answer is popups. This is the solution we found for How To Read a Film a dozen years ago. I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t a screen-relative size command in HTML5.In fact, this actually works better than words and pictures laid out on a page because the illustrations don’t interrupt the flow of the text.As for The Elements! This is precisely the worst example of what an enhanced ebook should be. The value here is in the text, which is usually interesting. Of course, it would be easier to read if it were black on white instead of the reverse. The decorations are almost all silly– and useless. Hard to picture most gases and liquids and, as it turns out, most solids are grayish-silvery lumps. But wait! You can turn the lump around to look at the equally featureless back side!

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thanks for the “emperor has no clothes” statement on The Elements, which I also found to be more sound-and-fury than significance. (This is the feeling I used to have looking at things in the CD-Rom era.)

      Popups make sense, avoiding interrupting the text. It seems like my friend Gwyn has licked the question of reflow-and-illustrations, although I don’t think all books (i.e. all illustrations) will actually work on all screens, regardless of size. But both you and he are certainly arguing against “fixed page layout”, which is the solution du jour in many circles.

      Mike

  • Chris

    Mike, is Callaway exclusively publishing their licensed titles as Apps or are they pushing epub files too?

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      I’m not sure, but I’d say from the conversation I had with them “apps only”. I think what they’re doing won’t work as ebooks until epub3 is active.

      Mike

  • Chris

    For anyone interested in reading the thoughts of a VC firm in the future of this space (HTML5) take a look at this PDF from Elevation Partners: 

    http://www.elevation.com/downloads/Tech_Investing_Hypotheses_11-16-11_v7cl.pdf

    There’s a few sections in there on HTML5, Apps and content producers.

    Mike, probably worth a read if you have a spare 10 minutes.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Chris, thanks so much for the link. But, forget 10 minutes. I spent half-an-hour with it and it is worth ten times that.

      Roger McNamee, who is one of the Principals in Elevation Partners, is the third of four brothers. I go back 40 years with his older brothers (to the McGovern campaign) and I’ve met Roger over the years. I saw a video presentation where he presented much of what is in here (I think I am still most blown away by the fact that Apple’s MARGIN per iPhone is equal to Android’s REVENUE per smartphone). His analysis is breathtaking in its sweep. Brilliant stuff; I’d encourage everybody to spend some time with it. But it’s challenging and I don’t think very many of us could understand all of it. I sure didn’t.

      Mike

      • Chris

        “I spent half-an-hour with it and it is worth ten times that.”

        I have certain white papers and overviews permanently stuck to my various desktops. This is now one of them.
        As for the Apple ecosystem: Some people are predicting that Apple will be the world’s first $1 trillion dollar company. It’s amazing to look at the market history on that stock. Incredible gains.

         

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Yes. But the big bet, HTML5, is actually disruptive to Apple as well. It helps them sell hardware, but it could blow the app business model out of the water.

        Mike

      • Chris

        Agreed. But then again, Angry Birds is available free as a HTML5 game and still it sells millions over at the App Store for 99cents.

      • Chris

        The only problem with Roger’s summary of the future disruption is this: how the hell do people find you?

        Remember how cool apps were when they came out on the app store? Money to be made everywhere… but only if customers found you.

        Same with Amazon. $$$ to be made if you rank high.

        HTML5 isn’t going to be any different. Anyone can do what Roger has done with his band’s website. You can make your online presence felt with social, video, audio, web apps, ebooks, meta data etc.  

        But people still need to find you in the haystack.

        So, yeah, I agree with the disruption he speaks of and I agree with the flip back to creativity winning (Content is King) but I don’t believe it’s going to be easy for everyone.

        On a side note about discovery: ebook take-up obviously ha a long way to go in parts of Europe. I had an english language title ranked #15 overall in the Amazon Kindle store in France. To get there the grand total of sales for the two days were 60 units!

        Sacrebleu!! 

         

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Love the Amazon France anecdata!

        The biggest brands won’t need the app store help nearly as much. I just downloaded a Financial Times web app because I saw it promoted somewhere. When the biggest brands and advertisers are able to circulate their HTML5 apps without Apple, it will dilute Apple’s sales (when some pull out) and force Apple to be more lenient about what they allow in the way of on-selling-without-taxation to be competitive.

        Mike

      • Chris

        You’re right about the biggest brands being able to detour around the current barriers.

        For me, the most promising thing about web apps/HTML5 is that it allows me to present myself as a much bigger entity than I truly am. Plus my tech implementation costs should come down even more within the next two or three years. 

        As for France and ebooks…. it’s early days. If I were Kobo I would be busting my arse to annex Europe ASAP.

        And here’s another tip for them… go to India, build a store, partner with Airtel and allow mobile/SMS payments. And hurry up, I need it to hock my India book at Xmas!!

         

    • http://www.psmedia.com.sg Peter Schoppert

      Wow, thanks Chris! Super valuable personally as I work on my “html5 for publishing” business plan… really appreciate this (and thanks again Mike for creating such a rich environment and framing for discussing these points).

      Also liked the line “Wall St is a centrifuge for spinning cash out of the economy; capital formation is broken”

  • Chris

    Financial Times uses HTML5 to bypass app store: 

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/11/18/financial-times-mobile/

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Yup. I’ve loaded it. I know we agree that this is the future.

      Mike

  • Deb Fennell

    I learned so much from this article and from all the
    comments. I am particularly interested in the discussion about the conversion
    of children’s books to e-books.

    Chris commented, “BTW: just bought a Kindle Fire for my 5 year
    old this morning. Kinda got sick of him asking, “Dad, when can I have a
    computer/iphone?”

    I would love to hear back periodically on Chris’s experience
    regarding the reading habits of his five-year-old.  

    My “child” is now 20 and a junior in college. She lives on
    her computer or iPhone. Homework provides little time for free reading, so textbooks
    are her primary reading material. She and her friends all still purchase paper
    textbooks. I found this surprising and asked her why. She said they usually
    re-sell most of their textbooks after using them and they can’t do that if they
    buy an e-version so financially, it makes more sense for them to buy paper
    (often used, from eBay or Amazon, if they can find them there) and then re-sell
    them at the end of the semester. However, they grew up with paper books.

    My five-year-old niece reads books on her iPad and reads
    paper books.  I wonder if, in another 15
    years, she will buy her textbooks as e-books or paper books?

    I recently read a blog post by writer, Sandra Tayler. Sandra
    presents an interesting perspective on e-books or paper books, particularly
    when it comes to buying books for her kids. The comments to her blog post are
    interesting. Her blog is here: http://www.onecobble.com/2011/11/05/kindle-update-why-i-still-buy-paper-books/

    I sure do not have the answers of what books will look like
    in the future. I do find it fascinating to hear others ideas! 

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Glad the blog is helpful to you, Deb.

      I read the link you sent. The blogger makes a good point — for *today *– when she says paper books are more durable for a kid. I’m not sure it will stay that way. I’d imagine we’ll see pretty indestructible and even waterproof ebook readers for our wee ones before very much longer.

      Mike

    • Chris

      Chris here reporting back…!!

      If you’re subscribed for comments Deb, then this is for you.

      Got our Kindle Fire today. We don’t have an iPad but my first impression was, “Jesus, I wish I had a bloody iPad.”

      Kindle’s really are too tiny for me. God only knows how Mike reads from a phone. Must have good eyesight. Obviously he didn’t have the same autoerotic fixation that I had in my teens!

      Anyway, on to the real update … the dirt magnets … and their opinion. Yes, my 3 and 5 year old boys like the Fire. Of course, their first question was, “Can we play Angry Birds?”

      Unfortunately they couldn’t because the app store is closed to Australia (WTF Amazon?!!). 

      The second question was, “Can we watch Octonauts?” Which is a TV show that we can stream through one of the free to air networks. 

      The Fire is great for video so the kids loved watching Octonauts.

      Now comes the bedtime review. Childrens ebooks…. yay!

      I quickly bought a Berenstain Bears title – a crap one, sadly. No text-to-speech on the Fire so poor old Dad had to go through the motions of producing several stupid bear voices. Never-the-less the boys were spellbound with what was on the screen. So, on that front the device is a winner. Plus the kids already know how to swipe and jab at every portion of the screen without fear. Pages turn. Words and pictures appear. The boys were in control of it immediately.  Which means I will probably have to turn 1-click off on Amazon or I will unwittingly be the not-so happy owner of a library of random titles purchased by grubby tap-happy fingers.
        
      My first thought with the layout of most of the kids books (4-8 years) was one of annoyance. I wanted to read the books to the kids in landscape but the separation of text and images didn’t really grab them (ie, image > page turn> text>page turn>image), so we were left to run portrait to combine them both. This meant that all the images were quite small.

      Personally, I would be laying out any childrens titles as images with the text included ie, embedded text on the image itself. Of course, this is probably only useful for anyone using short verse.

      So, what is my overall impression?

      Well… I really should have bought an iPad. The bigger screen would allow for larger images even with flowable text underneath.

      Aside from that… the kids will probably be happy using the Fire for marathon sessions of Angry Birds … well, when the AppStore opens!

      Hope that helps.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        Chris, maybe you should have bought an iPad, but (at least in the US), you’d have paid 2.5 times as much for it. That’s enough of a difference for some people, at least, to put up with some limitations. (I”m not coming down on either side of the cost-value relationship…just saying…)

        Thanks for the report.

        Mike

      • Chris

        Mike, I’ll be buying an iPad for sure. I’ve been reading ebooks on my 13inch MacBookPro so I’m accustomed to a larger reading plate.

        I think the kindle will end up being exclusively a gaming/media device for the kids. At $200 it is perfect for in-car and semi-mobile entertainment.

      • Chris

        Update for anyone who cares:

        We (the kids and I) are reading three to four picture books a night on the Kindle Fire.

        Plus, the youngest (almost 4 year old) is now requesting the Kindle for reading… not games! This is hugely surprising.

        So… it looks like we are now consuming more picture ebooks than print books.

        Of course, I rarely pay over 99 cents. I max out at $2.99 no higher.

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        I accept that kids books will work as ebooks. But adult illustrated? Haven’t seen that yet.

        Mike

      • Paulo Santoro

        Mike, you said you haven’t seen illustraed book (and more) for adults. Let me ask you to see this article ” Brazil Gets its First HTML5 Book App, Boom in Format Expected”, from PublishNews, at this link:http://publishnewsbrazil.com/2012/03/brazil-gets-its-first-html-5-book-app-boom-in-format-expected/

      • /blog Mike Shatzkin

        I hope for the best for the new product, but a single HTML5 app that hasn’t hit the market yet doesn’t constitute evidence that we’ve cracked the illustrated book problem. Even in Brazil.

        Mike

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  • Paulo Santoro

    Only today I saw your article, but one of your comments got my attention: about illustrated books, they are not made to be transformed in e-books. That’s true.
     
    Once I am ,as an author, about to deliver in a few weeks, here in São Paulo, Brazil,  a digital book made with the HTML5 language: “ The Colored Papers Game” (in Portuguese, “O Jogo dos Papeletes Coloridos”), and since it uses a technology not yet deeply explored by the editorial industry to present these content, I thought it worth to share this news in this space.
     
    As it is known, this programming  language allows:
    a-            The hosting the digital book under the concept of clouding computer, meaning it will be able to be accessed anywhere, anytime, by any equipment: a smartphone,  notebook,  tablet, or a ultrabook. It goes in line with the idea of full mobility, considering that, with a regular e-book format used nowadays, the content can only be in one specific place.
    b-           the integration of music, videos and other animations within the book; –  connected with the history told, this feature will bring to life the characters, the ambience, and the mood of a scene. In my case, I have  made all the art work involved in the project (paintings, drawings, music, animation, and  the twelve videos  I created to bring the book to life), everything  working together in the book. As result, we have text, image, music and movement, everything integrated, consistent, made by the same author, the same person, creating a new reading experience.
     
    The delivery to the public is scheduled to be in mid February, 2012; – it will be interesting follow the reception and evolution of this new project for the readers, as well as among the editorial market, here in Brazil, once the editorial work involved, supported by this technology, is very new, easy to implement, and probably cheaper than the development of an dedicated app.
     
    Looking ahead, I guess it might be a new kind of expression for people who get used to express his art ideas throughout different means: now everything can converge to a integrated media, powering the impact of the history told, the message conceived, perhaps it could help new inspirations.
     
    The English  version of the book trailer is already available at YouTube, providing an idea about his content, for those curious in knowing something on this new approach:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-bMuUMEMfo
     
    Finally, let’s see what the readers think about all this new world.

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Thank you for your comment.

      I agree that HTML5 opens up a new world for delivery of complex ebooks with enormous flexibility in presentation and independence from the Apple marketplace.

      The question still arises whether this kind of “book” will be appealing to the public. With offerings from you and others coming into the market, perhaps we’ll start to find out.

      Mike

  • chris

    I guess you still get notifications on this comment stream, Mike. So I just wanted to ask if you re any the wiser on the picture book stuff?

    Are we html5 or multiple format for ipad/iphone/kindle? I’m still not au fait with KF8 on the Fire, so I have no idea what potential that holds, it seems promising but, again, I’m largely ignorant of the format.I am about to have a chat to a educational publisher about the possibility of licencing their content for digital distribution and if there is a positive outcome I envision a great deal of work on my end for very little short term financial reward simply because of the formatting required on dozens of titles. I’m starting to think that a dedicated retail environment outside of Amazon would be our best bet, a la O’Reily. That way the relevant format can be chosen from a list of many.

    At the risk of offending you by asking for free advice: Does an O’Reilly model sound smart?

    • /blog Mike Shatzkin

      Well, a dedicated retail environment is *great* if you can get the customers to come! That’s the barrier there. Otherwise, if offers you all sorts of advantages.

      Several people think that epub works for the complex books, meaning they can deliver them effectively that way. (My friend Gwyn Headley’s “Heritage ebooks”, which are available from all the major retailers, are a case in point.) What is not answered yet is whether consumers in any significant numbers want to purchase them.

      Mike

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