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photo credit: brooksmemorial (flickr)

-Percy Parry

‘The most technologically efficient machine that man has ever invented is the book’. –Northrop Frye

Considering that this statement was made with printed books in mind, will it still remain uncontested with the dawn of eBooks in the recent years? Comparing a book with an eBook is like comparing an analogue watch with a digital one, the latter being more sophisticated than the former. No one can doubt the convenience of the flexibility of the format that a reader gets in an eBook. But nevertheless they will never be able to successfully replace the experience of a printed book. But who says they need to? eBooks are a whole different figure and form by themselves as long as they do not attempt to imitate their printed cousins.

We are still at the very early stages of eBook development. Like the early films and their visual effects, the boundaries in eBook development that will ultimately define its format have yet to be pushed.

‘The issue with eBooks as they exist now is the lack of innovation in the department of user experience. Like the first television shows that only played grainy recordings of theater shows, the eBook is a new medium that has yet to see any true innovation, and resorts to imitating an old medium. This is obvious in skeuomorphic (made to imitate) visual cues of eBook apps. Designers have tried incredibly hard to mimic the page-turns and sound effects of a real book, but these ersatz interactions satisfy a bibliophile as much as a picture of water satisfies a man in the desert,’ writes businessman Kane Hsieh in a piece for Gizmodo.

He continues, “There is no reason I need to turn fake pages. If I’m using a computer to read, I should be able to leverage the connectivity and processing power of that computer to augment my reading experience: eBooks should allow me to read on an infinite sheet, or I should be able to double blink to scroll. I should be able to practice language immersion by replacing words and phrases in my favorite books with other languages, or highlight sections to send to Quora or Mechanical Turk for analysis. There are endless possibilities for eBooks to make reading more accessible and immersive than ever, but as long as eBooks try to be paper books, they will remain stuck in an uncanny valley of disappointment.’

There are always going to be eBooks that mimic a regular printed copy, like eBooks based on older works, or those that would like to do so because of market reasons.

photo credit: courosa (flickr)

photo credit: courosa (flickr)

eBooks have more advantages than conventional books. We don’t read eBooks like we read a printed version. Printed editions have a monopoly on our attention. There exists only a one-way interaction between the reader and the book, that is from the book to the reader and not vice versa. So basically printed editions are static. On the other hand, there exists a two-way interaction between the user and an eBook. eBook software allow readers to translate texts into languages of their choice, a feature which was not covered by printed editions. Some e-Readers allow the user to read in low-light or even total darkness. Many e-Readers have inbuilt software that help with easier interactions between the user and the device. The newer software can display motion, change the size or font of the text, and use text-to-speech software to read the text aloud for the visually impaired or dyslectic people and sometimes just for the user’s convenience. Software are also available that help search for key terms, definitions, allow highlighting, bookmarking and annotation. eBooks also gather a great deal of information about the user’s reading habits, like when he begins to read, when he stops, his pace while reading, when and what pages he skips, when and what he re-reads, what he chooses to highlight, what he chooses to read, etc. For a critic like Franco Moretti, the author of Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History, this data is priceless.

An eBook can be bought, downloaded and used immediately, as compared to the ordeal one goes through when one buys or borrows a book – the ordeal of going to a bookshop, or a public library during limited hours, or waiting for a delivery when purchased online or by other means. Besides, the production of e-books does not consume paper and ink. Printed books use 3 times more raw materials and 78 times more water to produce. Also, depending on the type of digital rights management (DRM) implementation, e-books can be backed up so as to recover them with ease in the case of loss or damage. And there may be possibilities of recovering a new copy without any cost from the distributor. As compared to the traditional publishing methods, it is cheaper and easier for authors to self-publish eBooks. Sometimes the dispersal of a free eBook copy can also stimulate the sales of the printed version.

eBooks allow an author to change sections, change plot points as per the user input, even change the entire setting based on a user’s location. That means eBooks are capable of things that regular books are not. For lack of a better word, eBooks are a whole different entity. In an article in The Guardian, Stuart Kelly proposes that eBooks should be treated differently from regular print books because the fantastic possibilities of eBooks should not be bound to the confines of print and pages. Kelly calls for what the proponents of eBooks have been saying for a while: ‘Let’s treat it like a bold new invention, rather than a standard digital copy of a physical book.’

However, the adoption of eBooks in India has had its peculiarities when compared to markets in the West:

– eBooks in India have primarily found acceptance in the professional and academic genres. This, as opposed to the traditional Anglo markets where purchases of eBooks are primarily in the popular categories

– eBook retail sites are few and buyers have mostly purchased eBooks directly from the publishers

– the high cost of eReaders and similar devices has had an impact on eBook purchase. A mid category iPad will cost around INR 30,000 and a Kindle Fire would cost anything between INR 10,000-15,000.

– Piracy remains a constant threat and readers often prefer downloading a book to purchasing one.

– A large number of people are still clueless on how to “use” an eBook. It will take people some time getting used to the idea of consuming digital content

– Publishers haven’t jumped on the eBook development bandwagon yet. Those, like Penguin and Zubaan that are developing eBooks are doing so very cautiously.

– A lot of material that is primarily in Indian languages cannot be rendered on eBooks. Devices meant for the sole purpose of making books in these languages accessible in the electronic format have failed.

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photo credit: black_coffee_blue_jeans (flickr)

Australia and India have joined the UK and the US as world leaders in eBook adoption rates, according to Bowker Market Research’s Global eBook Monitor (GeM). Buyers in the UK and Australia target adult fiction as opposed to the professional books and academic textbooks that buyers concentrate on in India and South Korea. The report also reveals that the eBook market is set for a rapid increase in Brazil and India. Over 50% people from these two countries said that they were likely to buy an eBook in the next 6 months, which would double the number of eBook buyers in India, and triple the number of eBook buyers in Brazil.

With the rise in adoption of large screen tablets and smart phones in India, Google has launched its eBook store(Play Books), through Play Store, in India. Though the smartphone market share in India is just around 15%, Google’s Android phone make up 56.4% of this number. This development can therefore catalyze the consumtion of eBoks because adoption of smartphones is growing by leaps and bound in the country.

At the World Book Fair Delhi 2013, Rockstand, an eBook and e-Magazine application for mobiles and tablets unveiled their first regional eBook collection for its readers at the Book Fair. ‘This content alone will entice readers in various cities as well as readers who are on the look out for regional content like Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi. They will now have access to all these books on our platform. In total we are introducing regional content in 18 languages soon,’ says Praveen Rajpal, Founder, Director, RockASAP Retail Pvt. Ltd.

Publishers such as RockASAP have developed applications that are available free of cost and allow the book to be read on the user’s smart phone. Like other such devices, the application allows the user to change the font size or take notes. Similarly it has partnered with many publishers to make their books available for sale. There is hope that many other publishers offer such services.

eBooks will become a different entity in themselves in the same way that board games became video games. In the beginning, they were merely the limited versions of the original, physical, editions. They later came to be more user-oriented. While some eBooks will choose to remain similar to the concepts of a regular printed edition, enhanced eBooks will take a form of its own, complete with every technological wizardry and component.

Percy Parry interns with CinnamonTeal Publishing.

Over the years, there has been much debate on the appropriate format that eBooks should have. The eBook format a buyer of eBooks chooses will often depend on the reading device that buyer has, on whether he/she wishes to have the purchase synced to more than one device and the buyer’s preferred vendor of eBooks.

From a publisher’s standpoint, however, the issue becomes much trickier. A publisher has to cater to more than one buyer and therefore cannot predict the reasons for a buyer’s purchase. The publisher has to therefore prepare for every eventuality and this can often lead to many costly iterations and time and budget overruns. In case of books that have some peculiarities, like images that cannot be allowed to flow as might be the case for a book of poetry, the fixed-layout format is often the most preferred format but its performance across multiple devices (eReaders) cannot be predicted. Similarly, certain fonts render perfectly on one eReader and won’t render accurately, sometimes won’t even show, on others. In the case of Indic fonts, this lapse is a significant one.eread

eBooks can be read only on what are called eReaders or computers with software that allow eBooks to be displayed. Many such eReaders haven’t kept pace with advances in technology. Similarly, the technologies that are most often proposed for eBook development – EPUB and MOBI – don’t quite help eBooks realize the potential like other technologies do. Other technlogies like HTML, for example.

HTML is the technology around which most websites are built. eBooks built on a pure HTML-based platform would, therefore, be able to do everything websites can do and can emulate the slick “look and feel” that many such websites possess. And because it is possible to view eBooks built on an HTML-based platform on the ever-faithful, ubiquitous web browser, the need for special software to view an eBook, whether on mobile devices or on your personal computer, is avoided.

The pundits have all backed HTML as the technology that can truly deliver the potential of eBooks to reach out to readers and make reading a more interesting experience. Its power to integrate technologies such as audio and video seamlessly creates endless possibilities for the “book”. After our experiences with eBooks where recreating the same user experience across multiple platforms became an ever-enduring challenge, we decided to experiment with a pure-HTML eBook (with CSS and some Javscript). The result was this.

We experimented with a simple eBook we downloaded from the Gutenberg portal. We coded it a little to make navigation easier and realised that with a little more time and effort, an amazingly responsive experience can be created – one that can incorporate various media should the book warrant such inclusion. For text-based books and books with a few images, it is definitely the right choice – both in terms of the effort involved and the consistency of the user experience across all eReaders. The benefit of not having to use specialised software to read the eBook is also a significant one that should not be easily dismissed.

It is also easy to see why an eBook such as this, that is purely based on HTML, is shunned. It does not easily incorporate any restrictive measures, commonly called DRM. For those who wish to do that, this might not exactly be good news. But for the likes of us, who will trust buyers to do the right thing, this certainly seems the way to go.

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.

This blog post is inspired by one on Zynga where the author has identified the “four secrets behind Zynga’s narcotically addictive games”. Anyone who has played games developed by the iconic company, like Farmville for instance, will describe quite passionately how these games can keep you engaged for hours on end. As I read through the article, I could see how these “secrets” could be imbibed by just about any company that wished to develop a position of leadership within its industry. We believe these principles would work well within the book publishing industry too.

Interfaces should spring to life: In the aforementioned blog, where Wright Bagwell, director of design, Mike McCarthy, creative director, and Maureen Fan, general manager, who have all worked on Zynga’s mega-hit FarmVille 2 were asked to identify the qualities that drive Zynga, they start off by attributing Zynga’s success to its commitment to design beautifully animated 3-D spaces. The company believes that “people know what it means to touch something”, having touched all their lives and that any interface provided to people should “beautifully react to a user’s touch”.

Much has been said about the tactile experience that physical books offer its readers, an experience that cannot be duplicated by e-books, not even by enhanced e-books. That claim has been dismissed as an attempt by purists to steadfastly cling to a sinking ship. However it is true that almost every aspect of a book – its cover, frontispiece, choice of fonts, page design, the texture of paper and the ability to flip through its pages – offers the reader a unique experience that remains unmatched by e-books or even e-book readers. As e-book sales keep increasing, only time will tell if readers will choose to let go of this experience forever.

That said, technology does possess the capability to offer 3-dimensional texts and images and these capabilities could be incorporated in an e-book. It remains a fact that many e-book developers haven’t quite exploited the power of available technologies to deliver truly outstanding experiences. Many of today’s ebooks, even the enhanced books, are what somebody called “radio programmes performed on television”. The true power of television, in this case e-Readers, hasn’t yet been fully exploited.

And even before getting there, there is no reason for e-books being clumsy creations devoid of everything we behold in a book. In so many instances of e-book development, one encounters badly chosen fonts, bad page design, even badly reproduced images. A more careful approach should ensure that even e-books are a joy to behold. The folks at Zynga believe that importance of UI (user interface) cannot possibly be underplayed. Book publishers and developers should feel that way too – their UI being the cover and pages they design.

Photo by Julia (ClassroomFree) via Flickr

Balance rewards for casual users and superfans alike: In the context of gaming, this implies making gamers work hard for reward rather than just allowing them to buy rewards. It also means that while the serious gamer will enjoy these challenges and work hard towards attaining those rewards, the experience should be designed so that there is something exciting for the casual gamer too – one who might just want to kick back and enjoy a five-minute break for instance. Both serious and casual gamers should be able to take something from the experience of gaming.

Such a philosophy requires a commitment to take game design as seriously, if not more, as its development. The challenge is to keep casual gamers from being intimidated and yet make the game not so simple so as to bore serious game addicts. As the development of e-books shifts more rapidly towards higher end, enhanced books, developers have the opportunity to engage new readers and serious ones alike. Similarly, the ability of e-books to facilitate social reading means developers can employ tools that will allow readers of all hues to come on board.

Make your experience a place of peace: Unlike most other games which are violent and rejoice in much blood and gore, Zynga’s games pretty much preach the opposite philosophy. They allow users to get away from the mind-numbing grind of everyday life and kick back and relax. “One thing we heard constantly [from gamers they interviewed] was [that] they looked at our game as a place of peace,” McCarthy explains. Zynga’s games are a throwback to the glorious times when life was simpler and all you could hear was “the wind blowing and the birds chirping”.

Photo by Janelle (Heart felt) via Flickr

Books inherently are capable of transporting the reader to another place. Depending on the genre of the book you are reading, you could be in the midst of a pitched battle or sitting in the lawns of a Mughal prince, maybe even running from a giant turtle fast enough to save your life. E-books in particular can enrich that experience by adding to the environment through imaginative sound and graphics. However, the reader must see value in these embellishments and not come to view them as unnecessary nuisances. The latter could spoil the party for the reader and for someone who has yearned all day for a book, another mind-numbing experience could indeed be a deal breaker. Publishers, now more than before, have the responsibility to ensure that the reading experience continues to be a pleasurable experience, especially as e-book developers, most of whom have cut their teeth in the IT sector and believe that louder and faster is better, get accustomed to the nuances of publishing. In publishing, more often than not, less is more.

Respond to user feedback in the context of long term vision: This axiom could not be stated more exquisitely. The customer is always king, still is, and knows best. It will bode publishers and developers well (they still work separately and don’t quite understand each other) to observe how users read and what they want out of a book they are reading. In this age where every behavioral aspect is “statisticized” and numbers are crunched to ensure that every permutation and combination of reader profiles are deciphered, it still makes sense to step back and let the reader decide what he or she wishes to read. Forcing a genre or a book down a reader’s throat because it looks cool on screen or or is easy to develop or even because one segment of readers in another part of the world found it fascinating might not be the way to go.

From a long-term perspective, it is important that new readers take to books, given that so many other media vie for their attention. This desire to attract new readers can sometimes tempt publishers and e-book developers to make books seem like video games, noisy and a riot of colours. Publishers can play an important role in such a situation, bringing their experience and knowledge of reader habits to bear upon the final product. While it is always important to push the envelope and experiment with styles, the prospect of scaring away the reader with too many bells and whistles is a real one. It therefore becomes important for publishers to keep an ear to the ground and understand how readers receive the new technologies that emanate from the developer’s labs ever so often, even it is just a lonely voice of dissent. E-books are still at a nascent stage of their evolution and a misstep could result in a terrific opportunity being lost forever.

Very few publishers offer their readers an honest opportunity to comment on their books, whether on their content on their presentation. Perhaps readers may have an insight or two to offer if they are given a chance to offer some feedback. Incorporating such feedback into the publishing process might actually yield dividends.

The publishing industry often comes across as a tight-knit one, one that often refuses to borrow ideas from other types of crafts. This is slowly changing now as many professionals who started their careers in other sectors are finding upper management jobs within the publishing sector. Perhaps it is time we incorporated best practices from other trades, practices that will help the publishing sector forge ahead.

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.

Away from India, it seems like e-book development and sales are finally picking up. More publishers are investing in the development of e-books and many are seeing substantial returns on investment. The following infographic dwells on a study by Aptara and Publisher’s Weekly. A similar study in India would be of immense help and would in fact help those who have not yet invested in e-books make an informed decision on whether to invest.

Click on the image for a larger view.

 

This year, Publishing Next had just one panel discussion that purely concentrated on the technological aspects of publishing. Chaired by Brij Singh, co-founder of Fliplog, the panel sought to explore how new advancements in digital technologies could be incorporated to create a more involved experience for the reader. As such panels often do, this one too brought out the sharp differences between the “techie” (now almost used derisively) and the publisher communities. There emerged though a few important points:

L-R: Pratheek Thomas, Dilip Kumar, Jai Zende, Jagish Repaswal and Brij Singh

a. Publishers seek solutions that are unique to their needs. This holds an important lesson for companies that provide e-publishing services because very rarely does one size fit all. Packaged services that are attractively marketed using colourful brochures by people who shy away from answering the tough questions do not cut it with publishers, especially with those that understand a little about e-book development and need to know it can make their books look more attractive.

b. Publishers need to educate themselves on the details of e-book development. This actually follows from the earlier point because many companies that provide e-book development services, unfortunately, gloss over the details and it becomes incumbent upon the publishers to ask the tough questions. Questions like: which formats are available? Where can they be viewed? Which are the preferred formats? What will my illustrations and fonts look like in the e-version? How closely will the layout match that of the printed version? Where can they be sold? How do I store and protect them?

c. Communication needs to be in a language that publishers understand. This is for the techies. It is important that the understand the terminology of book making and speak to publishers in a language that they (the publishers) are comfortable with. Very often, e-book development companies fill their brochures and other forms of communication with technical terms that obfuscate the details and, more often than not, put off the publisher. Terms like HTML5, SGML and XML mean little to the publisher. Instead it might help e-book developers if they learnt about widows, orphans and flyleaf pages. Total disregard for the book and its content and a pitch just based on technical capabilities is sure to lose an e-book developer its clients.

d. The pricing of services needs to be revisited. For publishers, this is a new game and, understandably, they are shy about wading into these waters. Given that the whole world is breathing down their neck and that they are told to develop e-books or perish, they have to make sense of the investments because the returns are yet unheard of. Companies that develop e-books must be aware of this and price their services rationally. Maybe a model that allows publishers a free first book so they can see what are the benefits? Or a discounted rate on the first book? Or a payment model that is based on commissions off sales? Companies need to be imaginative here.

e. Not all technologies are for all books. For example, fiction that is purely text have no need for development as enhanced books or apps. Technology companies should understand a publisher’s list and pitch their products accordingly. It is necessary for them to explain to the publishers the limitations of current technologies so that the expectations of publishers remain realistic. In the case of books in Indian languages, the limitations of reproducing certain fonts must be clarified before production of e-books is undertaken.

f. E-book development companies need to stand by what they deliver. Here it might be better for them to under-promise and over-deliver. This follows from the earlier point. Many companies have promised publishers the moon and have fallen far short of expectations. In many cases, unfortunately, this has resulted in publishers swearing off e-books altogether.

g. There is no platform yet, that is purely Indian, that caters to the sale of books. This becomes important when dealing with publishers of books in Indian languages. While Amazon has entered the Indian market, neither its reader, the Kindle, nor its e-commerce platform support Indian language books. It is therefore important to make publishers aware of this lack of a platform that might render their investments useless unless, of course, the e-books can be sold from their own website.

Suffice to say that much ground needs to be covered before a robust and sustainable environment around the development and sale of e-books is implemented. The publisher and developer communities need to work together towards the conception of such an environment and not insist on working in isolation.