A Maturing Ebook Market
By now, it’s no surprise that tablets and mobile devices are revolutionizing the way we consume and interact with media. Although print is not expected to disappear anytime soon (63 percent of book publishers see no end in sight for producing printed books as part of their mix), book publishers are ramping up production of ebooks with a focus on improving the overall user experience to accommodate the transitioning consumer. While more than half of the book publishers we surveyed decide how to produce a book on a per-publication basis, 30 percent are consistently producing both an ebook and printed book for each new publication.
Of those respondents not currently producing ebooks, 85 percent are planning to offer ebooks within the next three years. Backlist is also going digital: About 80 percent of book publishers surveyed report having a strategy in place for making backlist titles available as ebooks. Furthermore, with the Association of American Publishers announcing in June 2012 that ebook revenues outpaced hardcover revenues for the first time ever, it is clear that book publishers must anticipate a more digital future.
Due to the increased capabilities of technology, especially in tablets, there has been a demand for producers to improve how a reader can interact with and perceive the content. We asked about priorities for ebook production and distribution in the next 12 to 18 months, and respondents pegged improving the overall user experience as their top priority. With online and mobile user experiences continuing to become more interactive and intuitive, publishers and device manufacturers have been criticized for the limited font choices and lack of consideration for the flow of ebook text on mobile devices. As such, improving ebook design and typography was rated as another important priority, which also helps support the overall user experience.
Apple’s growing presence in the ebook market, along with wide adoption of highly capable tablets and e-readers, has led some book publishers to consider embedding rich media in their ebooks. File sizes resulting from embedding rich media can be substantial, although that is less of a concern, according to respondents.
Control over the user experience can be limited, however, by the capabilities provided by the ebook format of choice or the target device. For 76 percent of book publisher respondents, Adobe PDF is the format of choice for their ebooks, followed closely by EPUB (68 percent). While PDF supports some interactive elements, the wide variety of devices and platforms makes it a challenge to deliver consistent experiences from a single-source file. EPUB, on the other hand, allows for text reflow, enables the reader to control font formats and sizes, and natively supports rich media such as video, music, graphics and animation.
Leveraging EPUB can help book publishers meet their key priorities with ebook production and distribution. Switching to a new format such as EPUB is not as easy as converting a print PDF if user experience is a priority. It requires an evaluation of the workflow to keep production as simple and efficient as possible. Another major challenge for book publishers is the lack of EPUB support by Amazon, as the Kindle devices are a major source for ebook consumers. In 2011, rumors emerged that Amazon would be supporting the EPUB format in its Kindle devices; however, so far this hasn’t happened. Currently, however, Apple iOS devices, Android devices and the Barnes & Noble NOOK support EPUB.
Testing Mobile Devices for Optimal Experience
With the wide variety of mobile devices and deliverable formats available on the market, it can be quite difficult to ensure a consistent user experience on every device. Devices vary in screen size and resolution, and support a range of capabilities and features. As a result, it is beneficial for publishers to test their content on the most common devices used by readers. Testing gives book publishers a clear picture of how their publications render on each device, helping ensure a solid user experience and encouraging brainstorming on new functionality that could be added.
Publisher respondents conduct testing on an average of three different devices. The most popular device for testing is the Amazon Kindle, closely followed by Apple iOS devices and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK coming in third. “Enhanced” eReaders and tablets like the Kindle Fire and NOOK Color are currently less of a priority. Despite the described benefits, just under one third of book publishers surveyed reported that they do not test ebooks for specific mobile devices. With a laser focus on improving user experience, publishers must have device testing on their checklist to meet those objectives.
Undoubtedly, ebooks have progressed significantly since their beginnings just a decade ago. In this stage of the ebook revolution, publishers are focusing on improving the user experience; in their use of design and layout, typography and rich media, publishers want to provide their readers with more than just static content. Migrating from print-centric formats such as PDF to more interactive formats such as EPUB is a start, but requires a deeper look at the plan for long-term book production and the underlying workflow that will support it. For publishers looking to eventually eliminate print production, running parallel workflows for ebooks and print may be fine. With the vast majority of publishers planning to produce print and digital formats for the foreseeable future, production and distribution workflows for both formats need to be aligned to support greater efficiency and interactive user experiences. BB