Mastering the Art of e-Book Formatting

October 16, 2011

Reading the New York Times article about the e-book version of Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking you’d think that a milestone had been reached in the struggle for high-quality e-books. This 1961 book is one of the classics, and the publisher had a tradition to uphold.

Cookbooks have not been a big hit as e-books and part of the problem is assumed to be their complex formatting. Knopf in fact abandoned its first attempt to create an e-book from Mastering because the “technology was not available” to recreate the book’s “distinctive two-column format.”

The story of the Mastering the Art of French Cooking e-book affords an opportunity to look at the current state of e-book creation and the strengths and limitations of the e-book formats in use today. I call this tale Mastering the Art of e-Book Formatting. (more…)

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Is 19 eBook Formats 18 Too Many?

April 2, 2011

Which ebook formats do we really need?

By “need” I’m thinking only about consumer needs, not what the vendors want. *

Formats offered by UK Distributor

I think the only ones we need today are:

1. ePub – Not because it’s any good, but because it’s an industry standard, not just one vendor’s idea.
2. PDF – Because there’s already so much good material in this format, and it preserves “bookishness.”
3. txt – I wish this would go away as an ebook standard, but the folks at Project Gutenberg are my heroes, and can be cut a lot of slack. RTF is preferable as a container for .txt.4.
4. HTML – Because simple native browser support for reading makes the most sense, long term (via XHTML and CSS3).

And the rest be damned (except for a couple of legacy formats, like Newton and PalmDOC, which vendors can support if they’re feeling generous and have time on their hands). Each of these formats could be handled in the browser today except for the darned DRM.

So that’s the theory. The real world has commercial realities that all publishers need to contend with.

I stumbled upon an excellent site from South Africa this morning  – Electronic Books Works and its thorough Knowledge Base. You can also download a good little ebook about ebook design and formatting.

The author recommends four formats for real-world everyday use:

1. PDF
2. epub (with a nod to DTBook)
3. AZW (and its sibling, mobi), and
4. HTML

Makes sense to me.

Footnote * The vendors sometimes want what consumers need, but seem currently to want vendor lock-in, DRM, and other things that benefit primarily them, not us. This should shake out in time…

 

 

 

 

Wikipedia's format listing

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eBook Formats

December 19, 2009

Gosh I do write an awful lot about eBooks, but it is the flavor-of-the-year, not just for book publishers of course, but for readers (and publishers) everywhere. Always controversial, it never fails to “make good copy,” as they used to say in the newspaper business.

O’Reilly, the company; Tim O’Reilly, the founder; Andrew Savikas, a leading spokesperson and technologist; along with a host of other very bright staff, keep that firm at the forefront of all things important in digital publishing. They need to make money, and I should imagine they make a great deal, but they’re also extremely generous in sharing their knowledge through blogs, conferences, interviews and the like.

I think that a (free) subscription to O’Reilly’s “Tools of Change for Publishing” blog is an absolute must, regardless of where you make your home in the publishing food chain. It’s always full of provocative data and observations that all can likely extrapolate great value.

Like many veteran analysts of electronic publishing, I’m a great advocate for standards. They rarely cause harm, and generally are a force for the good of all users (if not for some selfish vendors who fight them).

Speaking of selfish vendors, Amazon has continually tried to push a proprietary eBook standard onto the publishing industry, attempting a range of strong-arm methods to enforce the standard if publishers wanted to get prized Amazon eBook distribution. I always knew that this would pass, and the evidence from O’Reilly (and others) is that the industry is finally fighting back and supporting the broad eBook standard, EPUB. Sony supports it, Barnes and Noble supports it, Adobe supports it: Amazon, your brief time in the sunlight is drawing to a close. You now support PDF (ouch). When will you become a good corporate eBook citizen and embrace EPUB? Very soon I predict.

A recent blog entry on O’Reilly illustrates what’s happening there, and I believe that what’s happening at O’Reilly will soon be what’s happening across the industry.

This first chart, based on “relative volume,” is a trifle confusing as Mobi somehow disappears:

orm_download_formats

This second chart, based on “relative volume, rather than percentage,” is more clear, although it does raise a question as to why all formats are declining. I could not find the explanation.

 

oreilly_download_volume2

 So…there you have…something.

I’m sticking with my prediction. Amazon will have no choice but to capitulate and support EPUB, and thereby stop trying to pretend that it is Heaven’s designated vendor for all things eBook.

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The Best of Today’s E-Book Readers

November 6, 2009

So much easier to use the title of the article I’m blogging that to think up another title that says the same thing: “The Best of Today’s E-Book Readers” is the name of a brief, superficial and badly-researched article in PC World, published November 2nd.

I note it for two reasons. The first is that the author gives the top prize to SONY not Amazon. Related to this is that the prize is apparently awarded to SONY because of its support of the open ePub format, versus Amazon’s proprietary format. My comments about the article, also posted to the site:

I feel this is a very weak and badly-researched article. My reasons:

1. ePub is an open format of the IDPF. Adobe supports it, but it’s not “Adobe ePub.”

2. “Eliminating paper saves resources”: this is a VERY tired and largely inaccurate statement. It has emotional appeal: eBooks don’t kill trees. Many eBook enthusiasts naively argue that the carbon footprint of eBooks is negligible, while printed books are environmentally evil. This assessment is far too simplistic. The millions of servers utilized 24 hours a day by companies like Amazon and Google consume vast amounts of electricity. So too of course do computers, most of which are also left on around the clock. The consumer electronics industry operates on a planned obsolesce model. Hardware usually cannot be upgraded sufficiently to support new features; it must be replaced. While the computer industry is making sincere efforts to encourage recycling, according to the Electronics Takeback Coalition (www.electronicstakeback.com), “only 13.6% of the consumer electronic products generated into the municipal waste stream [meaning, that people tossed out] were ‘recovered’ for recycling in 2007. This compares to the overall recovery rate of all categories of municipal waste (which) was 33.4% in 2007.” The same source quotes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that 41.1 million desktops & laptops were discarded in 2007 in the U.S. All of this coincides with a time when the forestry, papermaking and printing industries are making great strides in reducing their carbon footprint.

3. Finally, the reviewer does not appreciate just how venal was Amazon’s miserable attempt to dominate the marketplace with the aid of a non-standard digital format, AZW. Now that all of the important competitors do support the industry-standard ePub format, surely SONY deserves more than 2 bonus points for its ongoing ePub support.

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