eBooks have grown from less than 1% of book sales in 2007 to about 20% in 2014. However, eBooks don’t sell equally well in all categories, but are concentrated in fiction—especially genre fiction. In the UK, for example, over 45% of eBook sales consist of crime, fantasy, and romance titles. The catch-all category that includes illustrated books—as well as graphic novels, science/nature, food & drink, children’s nonfiction, and others—comprises less than 10% of sales.
Part of this is surely due to the fact that while the experience of reading fiction on a device is not that different than reading on paper, the experience of browsing a beautifully printed and bound picture book is of a different order than flipping through pictures on a screen. But there are also barriers to publishing illustrated eBooks that don’t exist for books that are primarily text.
Two Kinds of eBooks
eBooks come in two flavors: reflowable and fixed layout. eBooks comprised primarily of text are almost always reflowable, meaning that the reader can change the size and style of the type. Indeed, that is one of the benefits of reading an eBook! With fixed layout, eBooks type sizes and other aspects of page layout cannot be altered by the reader: pages are displayed as they were designed by whoever created the eBook file. In many cases, fixed layout eBooks mirror the design of the print edition of the book exactly.
Art and fine art photography books can be converted into either reflowable or fixed layout eBooks. Each has its advantages.
For illustrated books, here are the pluses and minuses of reflowable eBooks:
- Will display on many more devices than fixed layout eBooks.
- Less time-consuming and therefore less expensive to create than fixed-layout formats.
- On the appropriate device—i.e., the iPad with Retina screen—image reproduction can be excellent.
- The design of the book is totally lost.
- On monochrome eBook reading devices, image quality is atrocious.
Fixed Layout eBooks
- Pages can be fully designed, like a print book.
- Image display on appropriate devices can be excellent.
- Time consuming and expensive to create because each page has to be individually laid out, just like a printed book.
- To reach the whole eBook market, three versions must be created, because each of the major eBook sellers—Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble—has a different fixed layout file format. Therefore even more expense will be incurred compared to a reflowable eBook.
At Bookmobile, we’ve been involved with eBooks since 2001. We create eBooks for publishers as well as distribute them to all the major resellers. We’ve probably been involved one way or another with almost 1,000 eBooks. We get many inquiries about creating fixed layout eBooks, but only one publisher has actually had us create a fixed layout eBook for them. That publisher only had us do the Apple version, judging that the small screen sizes of the Amazon and Barnes & Noble eReaders didn’t justify the expense of the conversion. Based on what we see in the marketplace, that’s the conclusion many publishers of illustrated books come to: if you’re going to do it at all, do it for the premier viewing platform, the iPad.
Ways to Create eBooks
You can have a service like Bookmobile create your eBook, whether it is reflowable or fixed layout. If you have the time and inclination, you can create your own eBook.
Reflowable eBook Creation Tools
Here are tools that can be used to create reflowable eBooks:
Be aware that none of these tools create a finished eBook! Even using Adobe InDesign, the resulting files must be tweaked and tuned to actually work with the various eBook resellers’ reading software. When we make eBooks, we test them on each of the major devices, using an XML editor called Oxygen to modify the files so that they work properly.
Also, be aware there are two major reflowable eBook formats: Kindle (Amazon) and EPUB (everybody else). The great tool Calibre will convert from EPUB to Kindle; as always, you’ll have to actually test the file on a Kindle once you convert it and you will likely have to tweak the EPUB so that it converts well to Kindle.
Fixed Layout eBook Creation Tools
Exports to a fixed-layout EPUB 3.0 file. Expect to do substantial testing and editing. Programming experience will help. eBook reader compatibility with the fixed layout features of EPUB 3 is minimal, so it is a big question whether it is even worthwhile to attempt it.
Kindle Publisher Tools
For creating eBooks for Amazon Kindle, including KF8 format fixed layout eBooks. Note that Kindle’s fixed layout implementation is designed primarily for text books and children’s books.
Creates fixed layout eBooks only for the iPad. Has an option to enable the reader to switch between reflowable and fixed layout. Also has built-in widgets for things like image galleries, and you can create your own widgets. Rich support for audio and video media. If you are targeting the iPad with your fixed layout eBook, this is your best bet.
The PDF Workaround
Of course, there is another way altogether to create a fixed-layout eBook, and that is to create a PDF of the print files of the book. The eBook pages will match the print edition exactly, and the cost to create the eBook will be minimal. PDFs can not be sold through the major eBook resellers but can be readily distributed through your website if you don’t care about having the file copy-protected. There is also a way to apply copy-protection—aka digital rights management, or DRM—utilizing Adobe Content Server, but setting up an account with a service providing the Adobe DRM is cost-prohibitive for just one title.
If you’re publishing a romance or mystery creating an eBook version in addition to—or even instead of—a print version is a no-brainer. With art and photography books, it is a much tougher call whether it will be worth the effort and expense. Should you decide to proceed, it is worth considering whether to just publish for the iPad using iBooks Author, instead of spending the money to attempt to sell on platforms not so well suited to displaying high quality pages and images.
Need a printing quote, eBook conversion quote, or more information?
I’d be happy to answer questions—you can contact me via email. I welcome any feedback, including that pointing out my errors!
Don Leeper is founder and CEO of Bookmobile, which has provided design, printing, eBook and distribution services for book publishers since 1982.