How do we make an electronic book?
Step 1: text
ASCII alphabet, defined in 1963.
Step 2: structure
Markup languages, prototyped in 1970s, standardized in 1980s
Step 3: rendering
Typesetting software, DeskTop Publishing software, developed in 1970s
PostScript page description language, early 1980s
Step 4: portability
World-Wide Web, circa 1990
Adobe Portable Document Format, 1993
Step 5: putting that all together
EPub standard: 2007
Inside EPub: a website in an envelope
An EPub file is essentially a .zip archive. Inside is:
- a MIMETYPE file that declares the file format
- a Manifest that lists the contents of the package
- a Table of Contents for navigation
- a folder full of content
- HTML files (one per chapter?)
- image files
- a CSS stylesheet
Producing EPub files
Most common method is to start with final print layouts in Adobe InDesign, and attempt to export cleanly.
For backlist titles, manual conversion via cheap labour in South Asia is most common method.
It is also entirely feasible to create EPub files natively, as if they were web pages.
Amazon’s Kindle does not read EPub
But, the Kindle format is structurally very simply to EPub. It too is basically a website in a wrapper.
Publishers can deliver EPub files and Amazon will convert.
“Kindle8″ format just announced will also be based on HTML5.
App Development – An Alternative
Apps (for iPhone, iPad, or Android, etc) are software applications. Generally speaking, they are developed as unique pieces, and as such they can be more expensive to produce, especially if they contain multimedia elements.
Getting EBooks to Market
Part of Amazon’s success is making it easy to get ebooks into the Kindle store.
A general trend toward the adoption of EPubs in all other channels; standards are not quite standard, however.
Apple has been pushing “fixed-layout” EPubs for layout-intense iPad books. Targeted toward a single device.
Amazon pays wholesale price, but generally sells for a flat $9.99. Has also encouraged publishers (and especially self-publishing authors) to price ebooks lower… down to $1.99.
Apple launched a new “agency model” when the iPad and iBookstore were launched: publisher sets selling price; retailer takes a 30% cut. Terms of trade are that every retailer must sell at the same price; this covers publications from the “big 6.”
In summer 2011, Apple began rejecting apps (like Kindle and Kobo, as well as many magazines) that sold content by linking out to a retailer’s website. Apple’s policy is that all content for iOS apps should be sold through the iStore, at a 30% cut.