Gene Therapy: Embracing E-books
As Steve Potash, CEO of Overdrive and president of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), said last spring at IDPF’s annual meeting: The world of digital books is expanding, and there is a steady flow of major publishers and technology providers adopting the .epub standard.
What we’re going through now is a ramping-up stage during which it can’t be either/or—nobody is saying that we will accept or deliver only in .epub. Accepting only .epub formats is likely to be the first move that’s made, because the advantage to publishers is that they will have only one electronic book version with one ISBN of which to keep track.
What really created the turning point for all of this was the launch of Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader—the first to use the magic of electronic ink, called e-ink.
In Part 1 of this two-part series (Book Business, September 2008), I described the evolution of e-book technologies to this point, and how and why the .epub standard for the e-book was introduced. This column explores what you need to do to provide your books on the Reader and Kindle, if you’re not already doing so.
The Sony Reader
Sony’s Reader reached the U.S. market two years ago and was the first device to feature the user-friendly e-ink reflective display screen that overcame the liabilities of backlit LED screens. It quickly caught the attention of trade publishing professionals, and for many has become a valuable tool.
Publishers, editors, reviewers, and marketing and promotion executives who spend large amounts of time reading manuscripts in various stages of consideration or development are able, in a few moments, to take Word files, save them as RTF files, drag them to the Sony eBook Library application on their computers and load them into the Reader. The Reader has become a popular reviewing tool—during business and leisure travel, the morning commute, and even in the office—for both the prepublication and pre-acquisition stages of a new title.
The primary purpose of the Reader, of course, is to introduce the convenience, economies and portability of e-books to consumers. As with all re-flowable reading devices and platforms, the books that most benefit are one-color general trade and reference works that do not have complex text and graphic element structures. (Because text can flow freely into the available screen area when, for instance, font sizes are increased, tying text to graphical elements is a challenge.) However, the Reader sports eight shades of grey, and handles images and illustrations quite well, according to Daniel Albohn, Sony Reader manager of new business development, who for the past six years has been working in the publishing industry’s digital space, and is seen regularly at IDPF, BookExpo America and many other industry gatherings evangelizing for the Reader and strengthening Sony’s relationships with publishers and librarians.
A major goal of Sony’s eBook Store (eBookstore.Sony.com), which features more than 50,000 titles, is to make available the most popular and sought-after fiction and nonfiction along with a solid backlist from large, mid-size and smaller trade publishers, according to Albohn.
Publishers wishing to make e-book titles available for the Sony Reader can execute a simple terms-of-sale agreement with the Sony Store by contacting Kelley Allen, director of eBooks acquisition, at Kelley.Allen@SonyConnect.com. Allen, a veteran of the fledgling e-book space, joined Sony after stints at Random House, e-Reader, Hachette and Warren Adler’s Stonehouse Press, according to Sony.
Most commonly, making a title available in the Sony Reader format is an element of a publisher’s total commitment to e-books for any given title or list. Most major conversion houses (mentioned in Part I of this column) will include the Sony Reader format among the multiple platforms they produce, and will also handle the distribution of files and metadata to Sony.
In July, Sony announced that its latest Reader model PRS-505 will be able to accept both secure and nonsecure
e-books in the .epub format—an XML-based tagging standard designed to enable an e-book to be readable on any platform. It also will have the capability to reflow standard text-based PDF e-books.
In the race between the Sony and Amazon e-readers, the Kindle retains a user-friendly edge with its wireless download feature. On the other hand, Sony is opening its platform to greater interoperability and, according to Steve Haber, Sony’s senior marketing vice president, “opens the door to a whole host of paid and free content from third-party e-book stores, Web sites and even public libraries.”
The Amazon Kindle
Both the Kindle and Mobipocket (the e-book software package universally used in PDAs, bought by Amazon in 2005) have been designed to make it easy for publishers to get information, to sign up and to submit content, according to Laura Porco, Kindle director and a publishing veteran who joined Amazon eight years ago after an earlier career with MacMillan and Pearson Education. Amazon is eager to add as many titles from as many publishers as possible to its list, regardless of the publisher’s size, she says.
To begin with, you don’t need to concern yourself with platform or format issues unique to Kindle or Mobipocket. In general, if you are creating .epub-compliant files, they will be accepted for conversion to use on both platforms. Otherwise, you can send PDF or XML files, and they will be adapted for the two platforms at no cost to you. If you have already been furnishing PDFs for Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature, once you sign the contract, Amazon can adapt these files for its e-readers. Kindle will also accept hard- copy books for scanning. Publishers also have a chance to check out the Kindle or Mobipocket versions before they go on sale.
There are several ways to sell your titles on Amazon’s readers. You will have to choose which platform you want to use (or both—you will have a separate permissions contract with Amazon for digital sales on each platform).
How do you choose? If you are dealing regularly with an Amazon buyer, she or he can give you some guidance. If you do not have a regular contact, you can go to Amazon.com/KindlePublishing or send an inquiry to
As with all e-readers, it is up to publishers to determine in advance which titles are suitable for application in a re-flowable format. Also, as Mobipocket is also designed for smaller-screen-size handhelds, it doesn’t offer the screen-size advantages, dedicated formatting and other features of the Kindle. (Check out Andrew Brenneman’s “Digital Directions” column on page 34 for more on design’s significance in digital strategy.)
Kindle provides the user with an option to set five different font sizes. Each size, of course, will reduce or increase the number of screen pages, according to its word count. Hence, Kindle uses a location system rather than a page system to identify where you are in the book.
This becomes significant if your content depends on internal cross-referencing (e.g., “see page 42”), or same-page footnotes—these will have to be set up for internal links by the publisher in advance of submitting the file. Similarly, if there are illustrations, they should be embedded in the file where they are expected to appear, and Kindle will locate them within striking distance (hence such phrases as “see illustration above,” etc., need to be modified).
Pricing for Kindle and Mobipocket (and for net to the publisher) is set on a case-by-case basis between the publisher and Amazon.
E-Formatting Getting Easier
Tools for producing e-books in .epub- compliant formats are finding their way into page-making software—reducing costs and the need for conversion outsources. This is already possible in the latest edition of Adobe InDesign and, according to a Quark spokesperson, “while not part of QuarkXPress 8 (our most recent version of the software), we are looking at this as an option in a future version.”
The options could increase if other page-making software vendors include the .epub file format in their “save” menus. Having this option will make producing .epub-compliant files as easy as producing a PDF.
At press time, evidence exists of rising interest in e-books and e-book readers on the part of publishers and consumers. However, because Sony and Amazon guard e-book and e-reader sales figures closely, they have spawned a small industry of observers who try to estimate sales by circumstantial evidence. Both the Book Industry Study Group and Association of American Publishers are making efforts to assemble reliable sales data—and we may see some useful reporting on the way.
In the meantime, there is no mistaking that e-books are now reaching readers beyond the ranks of early adopters. Publishers of all sizes would be well advised to roll up their sleeves and get with the program.
Eugene G. Schwartz is a regular contributor to Book Business. He is a publishing industry analyst, writer and editor-at-large for Foreword Magazine. A former board member of PMA (now the Independent Book Publishers Association), he is president of Consortium House, a management and business consultancy to publishers. He previously was a manufacturing, production and operations executive.
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.