When we launched CinnamonTeal Design earlier this month (July 2017), our repertoire included a whole bunch of services that we were already offering our authors previously as part of our self-publishing portfolio. Hitherto hidden behind a curtain of self-publishing services, a nomenclature that did no justice to everything else we offered besides publishing-related services, developing a “graphics and web division” helps us showcase some of the “other” capabilities we have had for long now. Like our website designing service, for instance.

Going forward, therefore, you will find us talking about issues and trends that perhaps a “normal” publisher won’t. Like digitization and archival, or app development. Or the need to have one’s  own ecommerce-enabled website.

This blog will enumerate the benefits of “going it alone” and having a stab at developing an ecommerce infrastructure that is managed and monitored by one company, usually the producer, alone. Most businesses already have a website, but sell their products through “marketplaces” such as Flipkart and Amazon. It is not a bad idea to sell through these marketplaces but having the option to sell through your own platform is a big advantage (disclaimer: we develop ecommerce websites for clients, so there is an ulterior motive to this blog).

Here are the pros and cons of having your own ecommerce-enabled website. First the pros:

a. You set your own terms: When you have your own website, you are allowed to choose your own payment and return policies. As a seller of books, we found that Amazon’s return policy, that allows buyers to return books, even a week after they have been purchased as a big source of revenue loss for us. Not only have we found instances in which the book was photocopied, the returned book was, for all practical purposes, unfit for selling again.

b. You are your own competitor: For the time a customer is on your website, you have no other competition. It is then your business to lose and up to you to ensure that the customer does not walk away without making a purchase. For that time, however, there are no deep discounts and other gimmicks by other sellers to worry about, nor the fact that a customer can compare the price of your product with those of other similar products. This also presents an opportunity to ensure that the customer leaves your website feeling good about her experience during her time browsing through it.

c. There is little by way of fees: There are no listing fees, or storage and handling fees, or those gazillion fees charged under quite innovative names. Having your own ecommerce platform allows you to keep costs down. You have, of course, to pay for the hosting and maintenance of the website, and, depending on the payment gateway you choose, also pay a transaction fee, or an annual fee, or both.

d. You get to set your own image: An ecommerce website must be viewed as a digital asset you can use to extend your brand. Therefore you must be very careful of the “image” you portray, how you deal with privacy issues, and how you solve problems faced by your customers. The design of your website must also reflect your brand. You can set up your website to match your “style”.

e. Your website can be tailored to suit your business processes: While selling off a third-party website means tailoring your business processes to meet their requirements, you need not do this if you have your own ecommerce platform. In fact the processes followed during and after an ecommerce transaction, like the way the customer is informed of the purchase and the shipment made, for instance, can be integrated into your way of executing this processes.

f. Your website acts as an additional marketing tool: That means, if properly coded, you can get your products to appear in search results, use your product detail page to highlight the main features of your products, and give your customers a detailed explanation of your products, and use your “about us” and “faqs” pages to properly “explain” your company. Similarly, allow customers to review your products; nothing works like customer testimonials to sell a product or service.

g. You have information regarding your customers’ buying habits: While this is information you have to use carefully (especially taking care to ensure that customers’ privacy is not violated), this information allows you to understand your market better, in turn allowing you to market certain items, understand any seasonality in sales, and cross-sell.

h. You can determine your own geographical reach: Many online platforms, due to restrictions they have placed on themselves, do not ship abroad or ship to only certain countries. Having your own ecommerce platform allows you to sell goods and services to all corners of the globe (unless restricted by the government).

i. You can complement a physical store nicely: An ecommerce-enabled website complements a physical store, if you already have one, very nicely. You can use it to attract customers to your physical store, and sell your stock lying there. For items bought on the website, the store acts as a perfect pick up point, yet another way to tell people there is a store they can visit.

Next, the cons:

a. The upfront costs are substantial: You will have to spend to register your domain name, spend on hosting (which can be paid as a lumpsum or annually), and spend to actually have your website developed. In addition, there will be recurring costs, like the payment gateway cost, the hosting fee (if you choose the recurring option) and the cost of maintaining the website.

You also need to keep in mind that there are costs you might not always be able to track. Like the cost of the time you spend on packaging and shipping, and the cost of packaging material and shipping by post or by courier.

b. Your website will have to be marketed: Just like other websites, ecommerce-enabled or not, you will have to market your website so people know about it and visit it. This translates both into a cost, and into slow pickup (which might mean, that initially traffic to the website will be low).

c. You are your own support staff: You have to take the calls when people have issues navigating and buying on your website, and make sure that the buyer’s problems have been addressed. This is important because it might mean the difference between the buyer returning to your website or forever deserting it.

It may now no longer be enough to have a website that simply displays your products and services. The new paradigm of business implies that you give the customer everything she needs to make a purchase at one point. Having an ecommerce-enabled business might help you achieve that.

photocredit: stocksnap.io

Introduction:

Many years after the first e-books appeared, a large number of publishers are still in the dark over the numerous factors that they must consider before investing in digital book (or e-book) development. This paper attempts to shed some light on some of these factors.

Let us start by listing what makes an e-book different from printed books. This exercise is important because it not only points to a change in the way that publishers should think about, and manufacture, e-books, but also because it points to a change in the way in which books are read.

This article is for publishers who wish to make, or confirm, decisions on e-book development and distribution. The goal of the document is to highlight the important factors that determine investments in e-book development.

E-books:

  1. Are read primarily on computer and mobile screens
  2. Are stored on digital devices. This renders them rather intangible. Just as storage of printed books involves investments in space, storage of e-books involves investment in ‘digital space’
  3. Like printed books, e-books too are susceptible to pilferage and spoilage
  4. Once prepared, e-books cost nothing to ‘copy’. This fact has several ramifications:
    1. Consequently, customers feel that e-books should cost lesser than printed books
    2. Illegal copying (and distributing) of e-books is an inexpensive exercise.

From the above points, it is easy to see that digital book development needs an approach different from that used for printed book development.

Devices and Formats:

E-books are ‘read’ on devices. These devices include e-readers, which are used only for reading e-books, or tablets or smartphones, which , while used for other purposes also, facilitate reading of ‘ebooks’ through computer applications, called apps. Examples of e-readers include the Kindle™, the Kobo™, and the Nook™. Examples of apps that facilitate e-book reading are many. In some cases, e-reader manufacturing companies have developed apps, like the Kindle app for smartphones and tablets.

Many devices allow users to purchase e-books using the device itself. This device is then the only device on which these e-books can be read (see the section on DRM for further explanation of this point).

It is important to note that while the content of the e-book may the same, they are developed in different ways, called formats. Many devices (and apps) are structured to allow only certain formats to be read. For example, the Amazon Kindle™ will only read the .azw format, while the Kobo™ will only ‘support’ the .epub format. When publishers have limited resources to invest in digital books, the challenge before them is to decide which format they should invest in.

The major file formats currently in use are:

Format Pros Cons Can be read on:
PDF
  • Can include fonts, videos, audio clips, etc.
  • Can be tagged with file specific information (metadata)
  • Can be read on most devices
  • Has weak security built around it, making it easy to copy and share
  • Not particularly good for small screen reading
  • Not recognized as an e-book format by many vendors.
Almost every device including personal computers, most readers, tablets and smartphones
EPUB
  • Uses technology similar to that used for websites, making them easy to develop
  • New technologies allow inclusion of video and audio clips
These files are “rendered” differently by different readers and apps making their appearance inconsistent across devices Almost all readers and apps except the Amazon Kindle. Some common readers include the Nook and the Kobo.
AZW
  • Amazon’s own (proprietary) format. Hence files developed in this format will render without error on the Amazon Kindle
Other readers do not support this format. The Amazon Kindle and the Kindle app, and on others like the Apple Ipad. The Kindle is used more than any other reader globally.
Note: Files developed in the MOBI format are converted into the AZW format by the Kindle before they are read. Hence these two formats are discussed together.

There are other formats also used, which are not discussed here. Any format, including a text file, that allows a book to be read electronically is an e-book file format. However, every format has its limitations. For example, one cannot use multiple fonts or display images in a text file. Hence it is important to choose a file format with the end goal in mind.

When contacted by vendors, publishers will hear a lot about the XML format for e-books. While not used in itself as an e-book, developing a book in the XML format allows special software to then “reflow” this book into other formats, including a print-ready PDF file. XML (which stands for eXtensible Markup Language) can define, via what are called schemas, how the text and images should be stored for easy retrieval and flow into other formats. For this reason, many publishers prefer to develop e-books in XML format, that can be then re-configured for other purposes.

A casual study of the book market suggests that a large percentage of e-books are developed in the .mobi format. This is primarily because Amazon provides self-publishing services to a large number of customers, and, as part of these services, develops e-books in their own .mobi format alone. However, by choosing to develop in just one format because it is popular, a publisher runs the risk of excluding all other readers who prefer other formats. On the flip side, developing costs increase with every new format that the publisher chooses to develop in.

Often during discussions with vendors, publishers will hear of the “fixed-layout format”. This format is recommended for books where images have to be placed in a specific position relative to the text, as in a children’s picture book, or a cookbook. The “fixed-layout format” is not a separate format by itself, rather a subset of other formats.

Support for Indian Languages:

The absence of “unicode fonts” (rather, “unicode-compliant fonts”, which ensure consistency in the way characters and symbols appear across various devices) for many Indian languages has hindered the development of e-books that are truly cross-platform (i.e. those that can be viewed in the same manner on all devices). Indian language publishers must therefore ensure that the e-books they develop are developed in fonts that can be viewed in the same manner across most, if not all devices.

The absence of Unicode fonts has also prompted some device manufacturers to refuse support for certain Indian languages, like Kannada. This means that, while readers may or may not be able to read Kannada texts on such devices, the Amazon Kindle in this case, the device manufacturers will bear no responsibility for texts that cannot be accurately read.

Metadata:

Metadata is the data that publishers record to catalogue their books and ensure that they can be found by readers searching for them. Meta Data will not only include the title, author and ISBN for the book, but will also include other information, like important keywords within the book, names of important characters in the book, and other such information.

Metadata is usually recorded and shared using MS Excel sheets or in the ONIX format, which records this data at a granular level to meet the needs of buyers, readers, distributors, retailers and other such stakeholders in the book chain.

For more information on metadata, follow this link.

The importance of metadata cannot be emphasized enough and publishers must pay as much attention to it as to the development of digital books.

Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMS):

Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMS) is software you can buy from a vendor or develop yourself that will allow you to manage your digital book collection and provide meta data in the ONIX format. Note that these systems are expensive to develop, so feel free to choose or develop one with enough functionality to meet your needs.

Digital Rights Management (DRM):

Simply put, DRM, allows publishers to control who can read and access their digital books. In other words, it prevents unauthorized viewing, or piracy.

DRM costs money to implement and adds to the cost of the book, and while many publishers have invested the money and implemented DRM to protect their books, many others have taken a different approach and made their books DRM-free.

The way DRM is implemented varies widely. There is “social DRM”, where unauthorized viewing is not prevented, rather the origins of the file are recorded. This is done by registering the buyer, for example, through the use of a watermark, or some similar tracking mechanism. In case of illegal sharing, this information is then used to track the origin of the file.

As opposed to social DRM, “Hard DRM” prevents the viewing of an e-book altogether, if the copy in question is deemed illegal. This has prompted a backlash from genuine buyers, when they, for instance, would like to share a book they have purchased legally with family or friends, or would like to view the book on a device different from the one used to purchase the book. The jury is out on the use of DRM and publishers should consider all issues before implementing DRM for their digital books.

Royalties and Contracts:

Author contracts these days specifically mention the royalty rates for e-book sales. While the actual royalty rate is left to the publishers and the author to discuss and decide, the general agreement is that authors should receive at least half of the net proceeds from sale of e-books.

Many contracts also state the retail price for the e-book, or its price in relation to the printed book. Publishers must consult the websites where they intend to retail their books, for guidelines on how these e-books will be priced (as these prices often depend on the price of the printed versions).

While deciding to develop e-books, the publisher has to decide whether to develop going forward, or whether backlists will be converted into e-books also. The contracts have to be revisited in the latter case, to ensure that there is no ambiguity and that the authors have agreed to such conversion. The publisher also needs to take a pragmatic view on which books from among the backlist are converted to digital books. Conversion is an expensive process, so the publisher may decide to a) convert only selected books, or b)convert all books into e-books in the PDF format, which is a relatively cheaper format to convert to.

Make or Buy:

The main goal of this paper is to educate publishers in the process of digital book development so that they can decide whether to develop these books in house or outsource them to 3rd party developers. In the case of the latter, the publisher must specify the formats in which the books must be developed, and ensure that metadata is properly recorded for each book. Developing the books in house implies creating an IT team, if one does not already exist, or developing the competencies required for digital book development in an existing IT team.

Whether you choose to develop your books in house or have development outsourced, it is important for publishers to know exactly what they want, communicate their needs, and ensure that the books are delivered according to specifications.

While publishers will track sales based on already established practices, it might be a good idea to track the sales of each format of a title, and thus establish if a particular format is profitable or not.

At the beginning of every decision-making process, find and discuss the international standards that must be adhered to. These could relate to metadata standards, file formats, XML schemas, catalogue distribution formats, prices, DRM decisions, and so forth. If publishers do not follow generally accepted standards, they run the risk of locking themselves out of future opportunities to integrate with new sales channels.

Publishers are advised to consider developing their e-books in the epub and/or azw(or mobi) formats if they wish to take advantage of complex e-book retail systems, and in fact invest in e-book development. Paying vendors money to develop PDF versions of your printed list is both a waste of time and fetches little returns.

ISBNs:

Ideally, a different ISBN must be assigned for each e-book format i.e. the ISBN for the PDF version must be different from that for the epub version of the same title. It has been observed that a few publishers assign the same ISBN to different e-book formats of the same title. This practice defeats the objectives of an unique ISBN number.

Workflow:
The print and e-book workflow is basically the same as explained in the diagram below.

The PDF mentioned in the above diagram refers to the print-ready PDF and not to the PDF digital book format.

Distribution:

A quick search on the Internet for “e-book aggregators” or “e-book sales platforms” will provide you a list with companies that allow you to sell your e-books on their platforms. Many publishers have also developed their own websites, that facilitate the sale of their e-books.

Some of these aggregators offer to convert publishers’ lists into e-books and sell them on their own, proprietary, platforms. Often these are exclusive arrangements i.e. while they will bear the cost of conversion, the e-book will be available for purchase on their platform alone. Often, the publishers are not given copies of the e-book file in such a case. Selling on another platform is either prohibited or involves incurring the cost of development.

Some of the well known e-book aggregators / online retailers are:

We also allow the sale of different e-book formats on our own online platform: http://www.dogearsetc.com

Global Trend

A quick Google search indicates that there is a stagnation in e-book sales globally. Nonetheless, many publishers are investing in e-book development, at least for a few titles. The decision to invest in e-books is purely a business consideration, and must take into account the genre of books, the readership for a particular title and the price at which the e-books are sold. A cookie-cutter approach will not work in the case of e-book development.

In Conclusion:

In this article we have attempted to enumerate for publishers the various factors that impact e-book development. We hope this article will be of use to them while they consider investing in developing digital content for their establishments.

 

The clamour among authors and publishers for a mechanism that prevents ebooks from being pirated (illegally downloaded, copied and shared), particularly for DRM (Digital Rights Management, an umbrella term for technologies that prevent ‘piracy’), hasn’t quite disappeared. Before we get into a discussion around piracy and DRM, let us examine the types of customers that prompt this clamour for DRM technology.

There’s:
A. The customer who will only download free stuff, whether books or software
B. The customer who will download free books because he/she cannot afford to pay for a legal copy
C. The customer who will accidentally land upon a pirated book and download it because he’s found it for free, and is perhaps never going to read it anyway.

If you consider these three options, you have lost a sale only in case A. In cases B and C, they were never your customers anyway, rather, they would not pay for your book in any case.

Spending on DRM to prevent customer A seems a colossal waste of money. And time.

The case for DRM is widely considered a weak one: to begin with, it is expensive to implement and can easily be tampered with. In addition, in the absence of an industry-wide DRM standard, different platforms have adopted different locking mechanisms thus making it difficult for retailers and buyers to purchase solutions that are compatible across platforms without bearing a cost in each case. Moreover, we are of the opinion that e-books should be shared, much like printed books are, and that artificial barriers that prevent what is essentially a basic human instinct to share, must be avoided. DRM, being what it is, will only lead to a backlash from consumers by turning away buyers who legitimately purchase a book are seeking a good reading experience.

On the other hand there is the matter of indiscriminate pirating that is a legitimate concern of many authors. If books are simply distributed over the Internet, free of cost, surely it must impact sales and, consequently, rob authors of their royalties. Unfortunately, there is no study that proves that DRM actually prevents piracy. Moreover, these days a printed book can be easily scanned, then subjected to OCR software, thus making it easily available for sharing. Countering piracy therefore needs a different approach. But, as seen above, it does not make economic sense to spend money countering piracy.

Many reports like this one make the distinction between piracy (where the file is let loose and anyone, even those unrelated to the originator, can lay hands on the book) with casual sharing (where the book is shared between people who know each other. DRM might prevent casual sharing, and, consequently, a sale that might happen because the person it is shared with might actually like the book and buy herself a copy. Publishers understand this and are moving one by one to make their books available DRM-free.

So what might be a good way to prevent unbridled file sharing? Making the book easily accessible might be a good way to start. Most often, it is not the price, it is the fact that books are simply not available, that forces buyers to look elsewhere for books. E-commerce platforms coupled with easy-to-obtain applications on smartphones (on which reading is quite popular(requires a subscription)) can make for a seamless purchase-and-read experience.

While it is still not a good idea to implement hard DRM to counter piracy, one option that is finding much favour (and one that we have adopted on our e-commerce platform, dogearsetc.com, for our books) is digital watermarking (or social DRM). Digital watermarking involves adding an image or some software code that identifies the original purchaser of the book. In case of rampant piracy, the source can thus be traced. Thus, while sharing is not limited or made cumbersome, due to the absence of DRM, publishers are still enabled with the tools needed to identify the customer who purchased the book (and who may have then turned generous and made the book available to all and sundry).

Digital watermarking is not provided on every platform and there are still platforms which offer a choice only between hard DRM and no DRM. Social DRM seems like the best compromise and it is our hunch that it won’t be too long before it is accepted widely.

Okay, so you have purchased an e-book, paid for it and see it land in your inbox. What do you do next and how does one proceed to get the best out of this new beast?

Ebooks are read using one of two methods: a) using a dedicated e-reader and b)using reading software on your tab (like a Nexus or iPad).

An ebook reader is a convenient piece of technology designed to suit the needs of an avid reader- easy to use and carry. Ebook readers take up less space than paperback and one can easily download the new releases at the comfort of their house. But like all electronic devices, ebook readers have their set of drawbacks.

Each ebook reader is different from the other in at least two aspects:
a. There is no standard format in all the various readers available and hence an ebook will appear differently when viewed on different readers such as the Kindle, the iPad, the Kobo or any e-reading software on electronic tabs.
Web based readers also read differently when viewed on different systems. The difference in readability varies according to the Operating System on each of these devices.

image credit: dave.ceylon (flickr)

image credit: dave.ceylon (flickr)

This is because e-books are primarily developed in 3-4 formats i.e. the mobi format, which can be viewed only on the Amazon Kindle reader and on tabs using the Kindle app, the epub format, which can be viewed on many more readers including the Kobo, the Nook and the iPad, besides on many tabs, the HTML format which can be viewed in most browsers just like web pages and the PDF format which allows one to read on the computer screen comfortably. While purchasing an ebook, therefore, it is important to know which type (format) of ebook your reader will support. In most cases, readers will support only one format of e-books and not the others.
Publishers must keep this in mind while undertaking development of ebooks because the ebook developer may be qualified to develop in only one format.

b) Ebooks do not have the concept of a page because a page is as big as the screen of the device you use and how much you zoom in or zoom out while reading. This may seem harmless but it is important that you use the bookmarking feature available in most readers to enable you to go back and check something. When you zoom in or zoom out (increase or decrease font size) you will find that the number of lines or text on your screen change. Viewing the same ebook on a smaller screen (a small phone) will change the view yet again. This is because the text is free flowing in an ebook, which means the text will move on to the next page and so forth when the font size is changed. This irregularity can be tackled by having the text in a fixed layout. Fixed layout refers to setting up a page with a fixed set of text. In such a case the text will remain in place even after zooming it in or out. This option works best with epubs but not with the mobi format.

Ebook readers rarely accept all ebook formats. Similarly, navigation within a book is better aided in some readers and not so well in others. Not all readers offer wireless facility which makes downloading books a hassle. In many cases, the battery life is an added disadvantage. A crack on the screen or software malfunction can easily damage an ebook reader. Make sure that you consider the cost, compatibility and other software issues when purchasing a reader.

– Wileen Barretto

We had discussed e-book pricing earlier and it seems like months later, there isn’t much clarity on how to price e-books, or having priced them, whether to offer a discount. I recently came across this infographic which reflected one experiment in ebook pricing. So while it isn’t a snapshot of the industry it does offer valuable insights.

 

a. Publishers are selling for free: I am sure they are trying to achieve something here but what it is hard to tell. Meanwhile, customers aren’t complaining. I have always felt that it is better to lower your prices than increase them or, worse still, start charging after you have provided your products or services for free. I hope there is business model being contemplated here.

b. Low prices need not necessarily mean high sales: People will pay for products and services they perceive as being valuable. The price of an e-book thus becomes an important tool that the publisher and author could use to convey a sense of the value of the book. The challenge then lies in convincing the buyer that it is indeed a book to be bought at that price. The discussion around pricing has hitherto centred around whether e-books should be cheaper than printed books because of the production and warehousing costs involved. A brave publisher could turn this argument on its head and price books higher precisely because the format is digital. Like I said, it will need a brave publisher to pull off that argument.

c. People will pay for e-books: Not everyone seeks everything for free and there are people who will understand the worth of a product and pay for it. A book that is paid for will also be valued by the buyer and perhaps will not be passed around casually. In the end, the price of the book may itself be a good deterrent to piracy. For this, the book has to be easily accessible and well-packaged.

d. Free must go:  The habit of giving away e-books for free not only destroys the worth of the product, it gradually destroys the entire industry. People hope that other publishers too will give away books for free and postpone purchase decisions. In the end, the practice benefits no one as the industry isn’t considered lucrative anymore and talent and expertise flee the scene.

The development of e-books in Indian languages is a road fraught with challenges. These challenges include the usage of appropriate fonts and the ability of the reading device to accurately render the text legible. After working at it for some months now, we were able to develop an e-book in EPUB format that approximated the print version to a high degree.

The book shown below is an EPUB version of a book we published in late 2011. We chose this particular book so that we could illustrate how pictures and text can be both displayed in the EPUB format. The series of screencasts shown below depict how the book can be viewed through the epub3 compliant AZARDI viewer. Since the book is developed in an Indic script, it cannot (yet) be developed using the MOBI format or viewed on a Kindle.

[blaze cats=2]

Once in a while an entire community seems to be overrun by a buzzword or two. Such a time seems to be upon us and the buzzword these days is “innovation”. Without knowing what it really entails, every person wishes to be innovative and every company wishes to drive innovation.

Photo by Megan Trace via Flickr and used with Creative Commons license.

When one sees such ambitions actually manifest themselves, it makes for some exciting times. Case in point: the Amazon Whispercast. It is a tool that allows organizations to manage and deploy material that can be used for Kindle devices and Kindle apps for other devices through a central interface.

What that means is that organizations can develop material that can be used on Kindles and Kindle-supporting devices and make it available to all who wish to have or need that have that information at the click of a single button. Think of schools where the teacher develops course material and makes it available for all students or of organizations where training material is developed and made accessible to all trainees. If used smartly, this means that very little paperwork is necessary and the overheads of distributing physical copies are completely eliminated. Perhaps we will soon see Amazon push software manufacturers to integrate development of Kindle-compatible documents from the commonly used applications themselves. Just wondering if we are too far away from a “Save as Kindle content” menu item.

In India, such applications can prove very useful in places such as schools, where, thanks to the low costs of Android-compatible smartphones, learning material can be easily disseminated, government offices where information about new legislations and rules can circulated, even in healthcare where important information can be circulated immediately. With a little imagination, the technology can be applied in many other situations thus making operations more streamlined and paperless. Since Kindle apps are free for almost every platform, the need to actually buy a Kindle is absent and other, cheaper, devices such as the government-promoted Aakash can be used for this purpose.

Something to think about!

Having had several discussions with various publishers who wish to develop e-books, we have realised that there is much confusion over how one should proceed. The following is an attempt to answer some of the questions that are often raised.

Are there different kinds of e-books?

There are at least three widely used types of e-books. One is the ubiquitous PDF, which in a form called PDF/A has found widespread use especially for viewing on mobile devices  (such as e-readers, smartphones and on computer screens). Given the fact that this type (or “format” in e-book-speak) can be viewed on most devices, it makes sense to invest in at least this format if you have invested in the development of e-books.

Devices that can read e-books are lumped together under a not-so-imaginative term called the e-reader.

The other two widely used formats (types) are the EPUB and MOBI formats. Of these, the EPUB format can be used on most devices except on the Kindle, which is the Amazon e-book reader. This includes almost every other e-reader including the Kobo, the iPad, the Nook and most mobile devices. However, because many people buy their e-books from Amazon and use it on the Kindle, it sometimes becomes necessary for the book to be developed in the MOBI format as well (which the Kindle will “support” along with another lesser-used format called AZW)

pic credit: mashable.com

There is one other aspect of e-books publishers must bear in mind i.e. the development of e-books as software applications or “apps”. Put simply, in this context these apps are computer programs that add visuals and sounds to the text of  your book in a way that makes the final amalgamation appealing. Often you will hear of apps being developed, especially for children’s books and books where there is a need for “show and tell” like, for instance, in STM books.

A good chart of the various e-book formats and the e-readers that allow each of these formats to be viewed is given here. Please note that audio-books too fall under the purview of e-books. However, this discussion will not cover audio-books.

What kind of e-book must I develop?

This really depends on the list you have and the preferences of those reading your books. EPUB and PDF (or PDF/A) seem to be the more widely used formats, although one cannot discount the popularity of Amazon and the fact that they sell e-books only in the Kindle-compatible MOBI format.

If the appeal of your book can be enhanced with audio and animations, that book is best suited for viewing as an app. In all other cases, you will have to choose between developing the book in one or all of the PDF/A, EPUB and MOBI formats.

What are the costs involved?

This usually depends on the vendor (the e-book developer) and cannot be explained easily. However, this question is often raised as is the next question: is it worth the investment? It all actually depends on the publisher. Does the publisher see a demand for its books as e-books? Will it help the publisher reach markets that hitherto could not be served because of the restrictions that printed books pose? Will there be enough sales to justify the charges quoted by e-book developers?

Our vote goes for the EPUB format simply because they can be used on a wide variety of e-readers and because the format itself is constantly being developed to make the reading experience richer. It is also based on the same (HTML) technology that is used to develop websites and the tools used to develop it are available for free. Even a small publishing house having an in-house web developer can develop books in this format.

E-book developers are currently a dime a dozen (disclaimer: CinnamonTeal too provides e-book development services). While there isn’t a “best” one, a good development company would distinguish itself by working with the concerned publisher (or author, in case of self-publishing) and ensuring that the book in the electronic form looks as good or even better than that in the printed form. The aesthetic charm that a printed book has cannot and should not be lost during the process of conversion to the electronic form. So while the publisher may choose a developer that it is comfortable working with, care should be taken to ensure that the quality of the book, its readability and its appeal, is not compromised.

How much must I price my ebooks at?

The jury is out on this one. Many customers think that because the next e-book doesn’t cost anything to produce (it is an electronic file just like any document on your computer and a ctrl-C, ctrl-v sequence should give you a copy), it shouldn’t cost too much to purchase. Many customers discount the cost of production that must be incurred before an e-book can be offered for sale. That said, there is no conclusive study to say that book sales drop after prices are increased (or that they grow after prices are decreased).

Often, like any other product, it becomes incumbent on the publisher to “find” that price at which customers will buy its e-books. One approach could be to start with a price equivalent to that of its hardcover and lower that price if sales do not follow. Adding to the confusion over pricing is the fact that some platforms like Amazon charge publishers variable discount rates depending on the listed price of the e-book. What remains true is that the price of the e-book should not only reflect its production cost but also its perceived value.

There are many publishers and authors who give away their e-books for free hoping that this practice might translate into sales of the printed versions of those books.

Where do I sell my e-books?

The obvious choice should be the publisher’s own website. If a publisher has already invested in the development of a website and if that website already supports purchase of books, the next step should be to enable the purchase of e-books too.

If that is not possible, or if the publisher is looking at alternative channels, other options do exist. Platforms such as Amazon and aggregators such as Smashwords do a decent job of e-book sales. However, for publishers based in India, receiving payments from these service providers is often an arduous task. Among the Indian stores, Infibeam sells e-books. Our concern Dogears Etc. soon will.

What is DRM? Do I need to use it?

DRM (or Digital Rights Management) is essentially software that prevents sharing of e-book files between users, even between two e-Readers belonging to the same user. While many publishers have embraced the use of DRM as a way to prevent the piracy of their books, many others haven’t. This is primarily because many readers feel that they should not be told what to do with their purchases and DRM-like restrictions only increase their suspicions towards publishers. Secondly, there is no conclusive evidence to prove that piracy has indeed impacted the book business. Further, most DRM implementations can and are tampered with thus leading to a waste of money spent on it.

As is often the argument, publishers need to find a way for buyers to buy their book on account of the quality they offer. It will not do publishers any good to merely prevent the buyer from copying or sharing a book through the use of restrictive measures such as DRM. Through judicious use of the material they have developed, publishers need to enrich the user experience and make buyers keep coming. In website development terms, this is called “stickiness” and it is something publishers will have to train themselves to develop too.

There is a subtle form of DRM called “social DRM” that does not prevent buyers from sharing the books they have purchased or place any restrictions on how it is used. However, it does track the e-book file and can identify the buyer should the file be copied and shared on a large scale.

Do e-books work for Indian language scripts?

Among the three main e-book types, the MOBI format does not support Indic scripts. EPUB does, with some constraints on the type of fonts that can be used, while PDFs, of course, do support most fonts as long as they can be embedded. This is very important for publishers to know because if the book uses decorative fonts, chances are that those fonts cannot be used for the e-book. Publishers must therefore clarify this aspect before engaging e-book developers so as to not be disappointed with the outcome.

 

We hope we have answered some basic questions you might have about e-books. It will be the constant endeavour of this blog to clear the cobwebs over e-book development, an attempt we have already initiated. If you have more queries, we will be happy to answer them individually. Do contact us at ebook-helpdesk @dogearsetc.com with your queries.