What an eBook File Should Contain
Before I get to the topic of the day, I want to briefly address DRM. eBook consumers HATE DRM. It turns honest customers into criminals as we strip the DRM of digital files to make sure that we can read on the digital device of our choice. It increases the cost of digital publishing. It causes consumer confusion. It is, in my opinion, the number one deterrent of widespread ebook adoption. The FTC is holding a hearing on DRM in March. You can make a comment until February 9, 2009. Please go and make your voice heard. This might be a real opportunity to change ebook reading for the better. COMMENT FORM HERE. [Thanks Jane A for direct link].
I know that ebooks are kind of in a nascent stage to print publishers but it’s not so early in the birth of the digital book that I fail to be surprised by the lack of innovation when it comes to digital book content. I’m not talking the enhanced versions (admittedly not a huge fan of these from Harlequin because they take you out of the book itself) or these video enabled epubs (because no device can yet play them, but yeah for experimenting). I’m talking about adding text files that contain something beyond the book proper.
In reviewing the comments and emails of other readers and applying my own experience, I’ve come up with the following types of content that MUST be included and then a list that I RECOMMEND be included in every digital book file.
- Color Front Cover. It surprises me that Random House and I think, HarperCollins, does not include the color cover copy of a book. While most dedicated ebook readers are grayscale and not color, the iPhone/iTouch and laptops, netbooks, etc. all have color screens. Further, in the future, when there are color dedicated devices, we don’t want to rebuy the ebook just to get a color front cover. These files should be future proofed.
- Blurb. Stanza has created a very nice format which allows you to view the cover and blurb of a book before buying it. Calibre, the free software interface for the Sony Reader, Cybook and now the Kindle (in beta), also allows you to browse your library and read the excerpts, if you include that in the metadata. Readers want to be able to have the information available to a paper reader even after the book is purchased. There are several reasons for this but one of them is because avid romance readers buy several books at one time and use the blurb to determine what to read next.
- Color Back Cover. Again, provide the same content
- Table of Contents. This is a must and not all publishers include a linked table of contents, particularly smaller epublishers. It’s vital for a reader to have a TOC because it makes it easier for the reader to navigate the book.
- Frontpiece excerpt. Nearly every paper book has an excerpt from the book placed right inside the cover. This can help to increase a reader’s interest in reading the book and it can help to jog a reader’s memory about whom is in the book.
- Allowance of user formatting. I understand that some of the joy of a printed book comes in the paper and the type (font) that is used but my guess is that digital readers have less of an emotional tie to those items. Instead, we want to be able to read the book in the font type, size, and manner that best pleases our eyes. Amazon uses two different DRM schemes: AZW and TPZ. The TPZ files apparently allow for font embedding. The problem with this is that it restricts the readers ability to change the font, it doesn’t adequately take into consideration the differing font size that readers employ, and as one reader at MobileRead noted, some publishers choose terrible fonts for the digital device.
TOPAZ allows embedded fonts, but the font technology seems to be very crude and the problem with embedded fonts is that some publishers choose truly terrible fonts. See the enclosed screenshot for one example, note the general raggedness of the font and the very narrow descender on the y’s.
- Illustrations included in the print version. While a large scale number of illustrations might be unwieldy at this time, most readers can handle larger files. Almost every dedicated ebook reader will read a 4 GB SD card. The iPhone and iTouch have increasingly larger harddrives. Because of that, the size of the ebook file should not be an immediate deterrent from including graphic images such as maps, diagrams, flowcharts, etc.
Whenever readers in paper get something a digital reader does not, we feel punished or inferior as reader consumers. Coupled with the already harsh limitations (DRM and lack of resale opportunity), this makes us believe that publishers aren’t interested in courting us as readers.
The following are items which should be included from a publisher standpoint because it allows for free advertising of other books. The point is that you want to excercise the reader’s already innate desire to buy more books by equipping them with the information to do so.
- Clickable link to author’s website.
- A link to the author’s newsletter. (This was a suggestion by a commenter at Drollerie Press).
- Author Biography
- Author Extras such as a recipe, author’s note, historical background
- If it is a connected book, the name of the other books and how they are connected and where to buy them (if in eform, if not, tell us that it is print only).
- Chapter excerpts from the other connected books.
- Chapter excerpts for books within the same genre.
Thanks for the readers like Lee, Emmy, Mary, Joy, and others who sent me suggestions. If readers have other suggestions, please drop them below.