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Tool of Change Notes: The Business of eBooks

Greetings from Midtown Manhattan.

Today I partook of two half-day tutorial sessions. These are my amplified notes from the morning session on eBooks: Business Models and Strategy. There’s not much InDesign info here, but it’s good background for what’s to come tomorrow with Adobe, Quark, et al.

The panel of speakers covered a list of topics from the perspectives of four publishing markets: trade, higher education, research, and STM (science, technical, medical). The speakers took a novel approach to the session “handout.” Instead of a paper book, PDF, etc, the notes are posted to a GoogleDocs wiki that they collaborated on putting together. It has a lot more info from the session and links. One of the hosts jokingly asked us not to edit the wiki while he was presenting. I was tempted, but listened to the angel on my right shoulder rather than the devil on my left.

First and foremost for eBooks, epub is the format to know about. It is an open standard XML-based file format that allows text to reflow and adjust to the size of various screens. epub is generally thought of as an intermediary format between the authoring/composition tool and the eBook itself. Think of epub as the eBook version of a press-ready PDF. Not the final product, but a necessary step. Amazon’s Kindle and the SonyReader use proprietary file formats which are basically epub wrapped in DRM. Though others, like Adobe with their Digital Editions and the Stanza app for the iPhone use straight-up epub. The epub standard is maintained by IDPF, the International Digital Publishing Forum. Happily, InDesign CS4 can export to epub through the Export to Digital Editions command. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about that feature around these parts in the future. Here are some of the options for exporting to epub in InDesign CS4.

There was much talk about the problem of college textbook prices. These books are very expensive and change little from year to year. This engenders a good deal of resentment from students who feel like they’re being gouged. They either end up buying books used, downloading them from a filesharing site, or just going without. We were told that 20% of students now don’t buy the books assigned by their professors. This in turn, pressures the publishers to charge even more per unit to recoup their costs. It’s a “pricing death spiral”, so something’s gotta give. There was mention of the trend being toward courseware and services as the model going forward, now that content itself is increasingly viewed as “worthless.” Ouch.

Social networks are big and getting a whole lot bigger. Shelfari is an interesting social network built around books. You build a virtual bookshelf to display the books you’ve read, are reading, or want to read. You can rate and review books, see what’s on your friends’ shelves, create book discussion groups, download your book lists, and so on. I made a page for myself.

Geospatial is a big buzzword in publishing now. I’ll have more on that when I write up this afternoon’s session on XML in Practice. The eBook session mentioned Authormapper, which uses geotagging for journal articles. You enter a search term and it returns the articles plus a map of where they came from. Here’s a map of articles that mention InDesign. Not exactly sure of the value here, but it is interesting. I think I can see David and Bob. But who’s that down in San Diego?

Being an eBook session, lots of folks were anxious to hear Amazon’s announcement of the Kindle 2. Here a good run-down on the Kindle 2 from Wired. I like how thin it is 1/3 inch (.85 cm to everyone outside Americaland). Still seems a little goofy looking, but much better than the old version. I might actually be tempted to plunk down the $370 bucks for something like this. Amazon says there are over 230,000 titles available for the Kindle, with the eventual goal of “every book ever printed, in any language.” Slackers.

Symtio is a means of selling eBooks in good ol’ fashioned brick and mortar book stores. The deal is you buy a thing like an iTunes gift card with an access code and use it on the Web to make your book purchase. This is an attempt to cut the brick and mortars in on the action of eBooks. How kind. I can see the niche, especially when it comes to gift giving. Intangible items like digital content make lousy stocking stuffers. Still, Symtio has a ways to go. When I plug in my zip code to see the nearest retailer with Symtio, it’s 137 miles away.

Extra Points on Piracy and Pricing

  • When it comes to the issue of piracy, some markets are very concerned (college textbooks), and others totally unconcerned (journals). Some fall in the middle (trade). The trade publishers monitor the bit torrent sites to see what users are doing with their content, but they are not wasting a lot of time worry about it.
  • eBook pricing is all over the place. There is a huge disparity, everywhere from the same price as a hardcover print edition, all the way down to free. Amazon set a price point of $9.99.
  • When content is “free”, publishers are trying to move to a services model to generate revenue. To create a service model, they must first find out how the material is being used. Then they can design applications around the content to give people what they want. To that end, publishers are starting to think outside of the silo of an individual book, and looking to connect their content to other books, or the world at large. One example of this is “open indexing” where a secondary index of the eBook is generated by the readers, in something similar to a blog’s tag cloud.

Finally, the other day I mentioned that I would be posting TOC-inspired content on my Twitter page, without actually describing what Twitter is. For those who haven’t heard of it (or just don’t see the point), The Content Wrangler has an article called Ending the Twitter Mystery, which does a nice job of explaining why someone would want to participate in microblogging phenomenon.

Much more to come…

Mike Rankin

Mike Rankin

Editor in Chief of, InDesign Magazine, and Author of LinkedIn Learning courses on InDesign, Illustrator, GIMP, Inkscape, and Adobe Dimension.
Mike Rankin

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37 Comments on “Tool of Change Notes: The Business of eBooks

  1. Great info, Mike. Thanks! I’ve been pooh-poohing Digital Editions for a while, but clearly in CS4, they’re finally pulling it together. I’m looking forward to what you learn tomorrow!

  2. This comment’s going to be completely unrelated to InDesign :)

    I bought two or three ebooks years ago when I still used my Palm PDA. It was a small screen, but the advantage of that (opposed to the huge screen of the Kindle 2) was that I could put it in my jeans pocket and forget about it until I needed it (in the bathroom lol).

    The problem was that the PDA died and the books had to be “activated” with the creditcard number used to purchase them at the time. My creditcards had been replaced by then, and I no longer had a portable reader, so those books are now gone.

    Even if that’s a problem solved by now, the price of the readers and their too-large sizes to conveniently bring them where-ever I go will still keep me from buying an ebook reader.

    Until the readers with flexible screens are affordable I’ll continue buying my books via Amazon’s marketplace. And let’s not forget that having a lot of books on display makes you look smart. That’s something that’ll never happen with digital books :)

  3. I bought couple of Digital Editions protected PDFs, and I can’t figure out why on earth is a separate reader neccessary. If they’d only opened in regular Acrobat (or Reader) I’d be a happy boy.
    The Flash based Digital Editions offers very poor navigation features. It’s a real pain to read there something that originated as set-size page layout.
    On top of that Mac version converts everything (including the 10pt type) into lowres bitmap on printing no matter whether it’s desktop printer or PostScript file. (Yes, being desperate, I tried to break the law an turn the protected PDF into normal one)

    All in all it is a pointles piece of software.
    (I have nothing against electronic books. But what is insufficient on plain password protected PDFs?)

  4. Roland-
    I agree on all points. The flexible screens are coming, but not any time soon. I posted some info on them on Publicious after the CES show. DRM is a huge issue, and it’s the number one thing that made me dismiss eBooks so far. If I buy something, I don’t want it to go poof some day (unless I want it to). There was a very interesting article and discussion on access vs. ownership on BoingBoing last month

    I’ll pass along those thoughts to the Adobe folks here and get a response.

  5. One correction: The Sony Reader 505 and the Reader 700 can natively read ePub; the Amazon Kindle cannot.

    Worth noting: (1) The only real growth in the book publishing industry in the past year has been in ebooks. (2) Several of the major publishing houses are committed to making all of their backlist and future trade titles available in ePub format.

    Regarding InDesign: Although ID CS4 has made great strides toward simplifying the creation of an e product with the Export to Digital Edition, it still has a long way to go. We have had a great deal of difficulty in getting the export function to work correctly.

  6. Richard, I’m also interested in what didn’t work for you when exporting ePub files. And did you find any good workarounds?

  7. @Richard: You are correct that ePub straight out of ID CS4 will not work on the Kindle directly. However, Mobipocket (owned by Amazon) has a free conversion app that will make ID generated ePub work on the Kindle. More info is available from the Mobipocket.

  8. Lexcycle, who makes Stanza, one of the most popular eBook readers for iPhone/iPod, supports the ePub format. They offer Stanza Desktop in beta (currently free) for both Mac and Windows. It exports so an ePub file can be opened in Kindle.

    From their FAQ:

    >How do I save content to my Kindle?

    >Simply open the book in Stanza, plug in your Kindle to your computer using the USB cable that was supplied with the device, select File->Export Book As->Amazon Kindle, then browse to the Kindle on the save file dialog. The Kindle will appear in the dialog with the name you assigned to it when you first registered it.

  9. Thanks I’m reading all these recaps with interest.

    I buy fiction ebooks. I hate drm because it restricts what I can do with this – I have no interest in uploading stuff to sharing sites. I used to buy adobe drm files – I liked the way they displayed. All was well until they FORCED me to upgrade to digital editions. I was quite happy using adobe reader but I couldn’t download the books I’d just bought without upgrading to digital editions. In the end I managed to lose some books. Adobe’s response? Oh download them again. That’s fine if the store or publisher you bought them from hasn’t disappeared off to the great house in the sky. Or if they allow you to download the file more than once. Anyway the long and short of it is I now buy Microsoft Reader files – why? I can convert those to html and I’m not beholden to the whims of Microsoft to read my books. But I’m sure the publishers would call me a pirate. I should not have to do this to ensure that I will still have a readable copy of the books I bought in the future.

    I also think that publishers are being foolish they pay adobe or whoever to put drm on their books – this makes them beholden to the whims of adobe et al. It also adds to the cost of publishing.

    Until this DRM issue is solved I don’t think ebooks will take off. I also think that ebook readers are far too expensive.

  10. if i need to modify some changes in epub version, how to do it? i can’t import back to ID CS4.

    (my friend gave the epub version to me only, no original file)

  11. I’m trying to generate a Kindle compatible format with embedded fonts using ID CS4’s Export to DE and converting the epub result to a Kindle format. The epub file from ID looks ok in ADE and calibre (they seem to use the embedded font), but not MobiReader or Stanza (they use a default display font).
    Nothing seems to preserve the embedding when converting to mobi or azw, using any of several programs (mobigen, calibre, stanza). Mobigen at least creates something that works, but no font embedding. Stanza creates a corrupt file that nothing can read, and calibre something in between those extremes.
    So I’m still looking for a toolset or workflow that can produce the desired results.
    Any suggestions?

  12. Please if somebody knows how can I export to epub without loosing blank lines tell me how! I need to know it badly.

    Thanks a lot

  13. I have been trying to export my InDesign files to Epub using Export for Digital Editions in a trial version of CS4. I have created character styles and Paragraph styles for every different kind of font I am using. When I export, I always get an error message saying, “Some fonts were not embedded. “Helvetica” “Times”. When I open my exported epub in ADE none of the styles I created exported. No matter what I check in the export nothing seems to hold my styles. The fonts when viewing my epub are not what they look like in my Indesign file. The same thing happened to me in CS3 that is why I downloaded the trial of CS4 hoping from what I’ve read would solve my problems. Any help would be very much appreciated. What am I doing wrong?

  14. @Ray: I think the changes need to be made in InDesign and then the epub re-exported. It’s very clunky.

    @Gina: I know that the epub exporter has had a lot of problems and some stuff just didn’t work. I believe that the 6.02 updater fixed several very significant epub export problems. So you should probably check that out. (I don’t know if you can update the trial version though.)

  15. I’d like to see some discussion about what acually gets exported in a epub document from Indesign. In my very rudimentary tests, I found that most styles were, no transparency was, neither were callout lines or much of the layout. So my guess is that text-heavy or text-only documents seem to be the best choice for epub. But it would be nice to have a list of what will get kept and hat will get tossed during a epub export. It would also be nice to know what programs will even open an epub. I thought I had to install Stanza on an iphone to even look at the epub I exported from InDesign. It turns out that Adobe has it’s own viewer designed especially for the purpose. Who knew!? It’s called Digital Editions.

  16. David wrote: “I think the changes need to be made in InDesign and then the epub re-exported. It?s very clunky.”

    I downloaded a great thing yesterday from Adobe called “PDFXML Inspector”, which reveals the contents of .epub files so the code can be edited directly.

    If you scroll to the bottom of the page (to number 7, about 7 lines from bottom of page) you get the link to download the full version (rather than the plug-in for Acrobat, which didn’t install for me).

    Now all I need to know is HOW to tinker with the code so that fonts really are embedded as they are supposed to be. Any ideas? (I’m reasonably familiar with CSS and XML, but the .epub format is new to me.)

    I gather you can also use it to edit IDML files, but I haven’t tried that yet.

  17. Just a general comment re: ePub exports from InDesign CS4. It’s “working” fine, but the resulting files look absolutely terrible. We’re working with very art/photo heavy textbooks and all of those elements end up at the bottom of the file. We’re going to have to go in and edit all of the XHTML ourselves or send these files out for clean-up.

    I wish Adobe would test these export tools with complex layouts.

  18. I am new to CS4 having previously been a Quark operator, am now finding publishers want books set in Indesign, then exported to epub, when doing this fonts are not embedded, although they are open and active in indesign and PDF documents, can anyone tell me the answer?

  19. @derek – To get your desired fonts to export from Indesign CS4 you need to define those in Para Styles as individual styles – for example H1 style may include Myriad, SemiBold,12pt, H2 (based on H1) will inherit Myriad Pro, SemiBold – but you can alter styles, i.e. 10pt, Regular. However, if you need another font to be added create another style with a unique name and define it as ‘based on nothing’. Then it will use the new font you select.
    Then, don’t forget to tick the ‘include imbedded fonts’ tickbox in the export to ePUB dialogue.

  20. I am interested in testing export to ePub and DE. What I don’t understand — from the article above — what the process is.

    Do you export > ePub and THEN > create a ADE from that? If so, what program does that? (I can only seem to find the DE viewer/reader downloads).

    Can ID4 export direct to DE? And if so, how does the DRM bit work? I am interested in self publishing my own ebook but I don’t understand part about the DRM and how it is licensed/added to the exported document. Can anyone shed light on this?

  21. I work for a publisher, and we sell both print and eBook versions of our titles. It’s only recently that we’ve even tried to use InDesign to export to ePub, and I have to say to get usuable results requires meticulous setup habits.

    Here is a link to an article that discusses what you need to do to get better ePub files:

    Before you begin, make sure you download all the latest CS4 patches because many of them addressed ePub export bugs.

    Another useful tip I haven’t seen anywhere else: when you want to display a full-page image (such as your cover art, a map, a color plate, etc.) you need to create an .indd file that is precisely sized at 590×750 pixels. No margins or bleeds, please.

    Now go out to PhotoShop, size your photo to 590×750 at 300 dpi and choose the “Save for Web” option. Set it for “maximum” .jpg output (which will still downsize the file significantly, but display even small text crisply inside your ePub) and save it. Now place it in your picture .indd file and save.

    Keep in mind that you must use an .indb to generate really good ePub files. I’ve learned that the best way to ensure page breaks is to break something out as a separate .indd file within the .indb. The title page is a single page, separate .indd file, for example. As is the copyright page, the dedication page, the TOC, the “coming soon from author” page, a picture plate page, etc.

    The only .indd files with more than one page are the chapter files. Use only “open type” fonts, and keep it to a minimum. Always create paragraph and character styles, keep it to an absolute bare minimum, and your ePub will look sharp and professional.

    Practice makes perfect. Keep playing around until you get a template setup that gives you good results and use it to generate all your ePubs.

  22. I’m trying to make an epub of a friend’s InDesign file but it just won’t export to Digital Editions. Just wondered what would commonly cause this. I’ve tried deleting all the images but that didn’t help. (This included a bunch of eps files that were embedded) I did notice, however, that there were a small number of eps files still visible in the links palette but with no page indicated. Could that be the problem?

    Thanks for any help

  23. @EM: I would suggest bringing this up in the forums (click Forums at the top of the page). Be sure to mention what actually happens when you export… what’s the result? What’s wrong? Thanks.

  24. Just want to reiterate the importance of having a fully updated version of CS4. If you’ve got 6.0.2 or earlier, there’s a significant bug that makes exporting to Digital Editions pretty much a crap shoot in which the house always wins.

    Specifically, documents in an indb book aren’t guaranteed to show up in the ePub doc. If you’ve got an indb with more than one section, it’s almost certain that you’ll loose some or all of the sections after the first one.

    The updates fix this problem.

  25. Additional comment to Dereks from July 2009, same with me, where I do have photoprints with few text included into the photobook design.

    Now I am about to recreate my book to let the text be at the end of the page for each photo to avoid this messing up.

    Best from a German artist,

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