The problem with extended e-books Writing

By David Kudler

I am often asked if I want to add e-books to video, audio and other frills. I will answer these questions – but they are not always the answers the questioners want to hear.

One of the most exciting things about e-books is that they are not limited to the printing features. Color is free; Font sizes and styles can be adapted by readers to their needs and preferences. But that’s the least. When the e-book boom started with the launch of the Kindle and iPad, creating was very exciting improved e-books – E-books with media and scripts –

  • sound
  • Video
  • dynamic widgets that retrieve data from the Internet
  • playful scripts with which readers can make decisions and change the narrative….

Many of us in business said to each other: Here’s a chance to make the book something really new!

Well, the chance came. It is still there. But honestly? If you’re dealing with an e-book that you want to sell through a commercial retailer like Amazon or Apple or Kobo or the rest, the options to add this kind of improvement are limited and may not be worth the effort ultimately.

There are basically three reasons:

  1. Not all retailers accept advanced e-books.
  2. Those who don’t accept that species.
  3. The market for improved e-books has not emerged – at least not where we expected it to be.

No space in the shop

First, none of the retailers accept e-books with Javascript added. It turns out that Javascript is a major privacy issue for e-books. Apple accepts e-books to which widgets have been added in its proprietary iBooks Author app. However, they are limited to the widgets they provide and you can only sell the resulting e-book on Apple.

The irony is that many retailers script e-books downloaded from their stores. In this way, they track which page the reader is on. If the reader wants to switch to another device, he can easily find his place. Hmm.

That leaves video and audio.

While most major U.S. retailers sell video and / or audio enhanced e-books in one form or another, only Kobo and Apple allow delivery through normal channels. Google doesn’t accept them at all and Barnes and Noble only accept them from major publishers. Amazon kind of accepts them – but not through KDP. You can Add audio and / or video through the Kindle Create app – but only for fixed format books. (More on that next time.) You cannot add audio or video to reflow-enabled eBooks.

Specifically, these added media files count towards KDP’s infamous “transportation fee” of $ 0.15 / megabyte. And audio and – especially – video files are large. For example, when I added the readable soundtrack to my children’s picture book (about ten minutes of story), I received a 77 MB KPF e-book file. According to the KDP, the shipping costs for my 36-page children’s picture book (with follow-up) would be $ 11.00 if I followed the preferred license fee of 70%. Since this is already an exorbitant price for an independently published children’s e-book, I would have to stick to the license fee of 35%. No shipping costs, but also much more difficult to earn money.

Two more issues creating an enhanced eBook with Kindle Creator:

  1. The PDF is optimized – but the text is part of the picture; This not only means that it is not searchable, but also that it looks bad.
  2. You cannot simply convert a KPF file that is available for sale on other platforms. (Okay – you can use Caliber. However, the resulting file is not a standard, fixed-format ePub, and would probably not clear Apple or Kobo’s validation.)

When I created my first extended e-book, that of Howard Rheingold Excursions to the other side of the mindI added some wonderful video clips that he put together that enriched the text. We’re talking about a combined quarter of an hour of video – and the original e-book weighed well over 200MB, and at that point even Apple wouldn’t take it.

1 minute of standard definition (640 × 480) video compressed to the MP4 standard is approximately 40 MB. Yes. It gets very big very quickly.

I used every compression trick I could find – and the file was still over 66 MB.

Finally, I simply resorted to taking screenshots of the videos and linking the images to the appropriate video on Howard’s YouTube channel. Not elegant, but the e-book is now 3.3 MB.

Not only do all retailers get improved ebooks from indie publishers, even if they do, it’s not always easy to make it financially worthwhile.

We don’t serve your kind

As you mentioned above, the second problem with a publisher of advanced e-books is that you cannot get the different retailers to adopt the same file.

Apple uses enhanced .ibooks format ebooks created by the iBooks Author app. Both Apple and Kobo (usually) take an enhanced e-book that is a valid ePub3 file. However, Amazon only takes a KPF file. Unfortunately, there is no simple conversion tool from ePub3 to KPF, and the file created by converting KPF to ePub is ugly. Validation would certainly not pass.

So you don’t have a very fun choice: either stick to a single retailer or create multiple versions of your e-book. And I have to tell you: The practical reality is that creating multiple versions of your e-book – each of which requires a reasonable amount of work – is probably not worth your time.


There is no one there

I have had improved e-books on the market since 2012. They were lovingly created and – I think – beautifully processed.

And they didn’t sell well at all.

And my experience was not unique.

In the early days of the e-book boom, there were many excited publishers who created beautiful books with animation and audio commentary and all sorts of wonderful improvements that allowed their book to expand the boundaries of what a book is. The market never accepted them.

How Digital Book World pointed this out in 2014, improved e-books have never really found a market. This has proven to be true for several reasons.

As we noted above, publishers cannot distribute the same content in different markets, which makes their production expensive.

Part of the problem is that beyond the “wow, that’s cool” effect, we’re still trying to figure out how to best use multimedia and scripts (for example, adding small programs that can change the way they do things) how a book is displayed about a decision the reader has made or about changes in external circumstances – the weather, the stock market, etc.). Outside of the textbook market and children’s picture books, no one has really been able to get readers to pay for the extra work required to improve an ebook.

Improved e-books don’t go away. The technology is convincing, as are the opportunities it offers for new ones species of books. But as it happened with the television that Philo Farnsworth invented twenty years before the market (in a neighborhood of San Francisco where dozens of technology startups are based today), it can take a while before we get the content and that Have audiences that we can make they are worth producing.

Want to read more David Kudler articles? Click here.

Photo: BigStockPhoto


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