Thursday, June 05, 2008

Some Notes About eBooks

Publishing a book is always a demanding project. But there are a lot more options these days than there used to be. And some of the newest options can substantially lower the costs of publication, thereby making it feasible to publish books and documents which previously could not have been published without the backing of a major publishing company.

One interesting option is to publish a book as an eBook. The website offers more information on this web page. If you browse that website, you'll see that a lot of major book publishers are now offering their books in the form of eBooks. The most universal format is probably the PDF format which can be read with Adobe Acrobat Reader. However, one of the chief benefits of that format in certain situations can be a drawback in other situations. The benefit is that authors have complete control over formatting. The device which is used to open the file won't change the fonts or the margins or any of the other things about the document which can be important. The problem, though, is that a document which is formatted for printing on a standard letter-size printer, and for viewing on a standard computer monitor, may require constant scrolling when it's being viewed on one of the new portable document reading devices or on a PDA.

Hence, there are various document formats, including:

Adobe Reader
Microsoft Reader
Mobipocket Reader
Palm Reader
Gemstar eBook
Instant eBook
Microsoft Word
Plain Text

It helps to know what format one's eBook reader needs to see prior to buying or downloading an eBook. For example, one of the hottest new eBook reading devices is known as the Amazon Kindle. Amazon (which has an obvious advantage when marketing eBooks, due to its enormous name recognition) uses a format known as Digital Text Platform. As it turns out, the process of publishing in Kindle format involves uploading one of the supported formats and then having Amazon convert the document to Digital Text Platform format. They publish a great deal of information to guide one through the process. Suffice it to say, though, that they recommend that you create the original document in HTML format (the same as a normal Web page), or in the form of a compressed .ZIP file if one is using multiple HTML files as well as image files and things of that nature.

You can send them Microsoft Word files and then have the files converted to HTML files by Amazon. Until fairly recently, creating HTML files from within MS Word was problematic because of the extraneous Word-specific codes which made it possible to re-open such files later in Word for subsequent editing. Those codes created absurdly bloated files which took forever to open in one's browser once they'd been uploaded to a web host. Dreamweaver (the most popular and powerful web design program for professionals) actually had a function for stripping extraneous codes out of HTML files created with Word. Fortunately, Microsoft learned from its mistakes, and Word 2007 now has the ability to save a finalized web page in the form of an HTML file which has no Word-specific codes. Of course, one should wait until the page is almost ready for publication before saving in that format, since it can't be opened and edited again in Word once that's been done. But that doesn't mean that it can't be edited. One can open it in web design software such as Dreamweaver or in an HTML editing program such as CoffeeCup (or, if one is really feeling adventurous, in a standard text editor such as Microsoft Notepad). Personally, I recommend CoffeeCup for those who don't want to spend a fortune but who still want a very solid web design program. They even offer a free version, which is fine as long as one doesn't need all of the features of the full program. Go to this page if you want to download the program for free. Be aware, though, that it helps to know something about HTML if you want to get the most out of the free version. The regular version ($49) is more powerful, and a bit more intuitive, too.

The savvy publisher will take individual readers' needs into account, and will often offer a single book title in multiple eBook formats. Of course, that works better for some types of books than for others. Novels, short stories and other types of books which are primarily comprised of simple text can be easily adapted to a wide variety of formats, because such books work well regardless of how the margins are set and regardless of the fonts or font sizes which are used. Other types of books may be more limited in terms of how easily they can be adapted to different formats.

One of the advantages of eBooks is that there is no printing cost for the publisher, unless the same book is also offered in the form of a traditional printed and bound book. If an eBook gets printed, it gets printed by the buyer or recipient of that book (assuming that the file isn't digitally protected in a manner which prevents printing). So there are obviously no warehousing costs for preprinted books.

Of course, that's also true of "print on demand" books, but "print on demand" books still need to be printed and shipped once customers have ordered them online. With an eBook, there's instant gratification for the customer, who can have a document in his or hands (or, to be more accurate, stored digitally on the receiving device) within just a few minutes of ordering the document online.

Speed is also a major benefit when it comes to the revision of books and documents which need to be updated frequently. For that reason, eBook may very well be the perfect format for creative directories, resource directories, specialized phone directories and other documents of that nature.

While it is possible to make good money by publishing eBooks and selling them online, eBooks are also great as a means of publishing books when one's objective is to offer such books for free. For instance, publishing a beautiful full-color printed catalog can be a major expense (which may or may not pay off in the form of sales), but that same catalog can be offered online, as a PDF file, for next to nothing.

One particularly good option, when publishing eBooks, is offered by That company allows one to publish such eBooks for profit, or to distribute them online for free. (This link will take you to a web page with more information about that option. This link will take you to a page with additional technical information.) If you charge for your eBook, then takes a 25% commission on your royalty (or "creator revenue"), but there's no setup charge and no production cost, so if you choose not to charge customers for your eBook, there is no cost! Naturally, you'll need to promote your eBook by linking to it (e.g., from e-mail messages, blog posts and so forth), but that's no big deal.

Whereas it's typically far more expensive to print documents in color than to print them in black and white, the inclusion of color doesn't increase the cost of publishing an eBook. It does increase the file size (and download time) somewhat, so it definitely helps to learn something about how to optimize file sizes for viewing color graphics on the Web. You should also remember that some eBook viewing devices (such as the Kindle) can't display full-color graphics. But an eBook in PDF format is probably intended for viewing on actual computers, anyway, so that can be a great way to distribute photographic portfolios or full-color catalogs.

Now, let's say that you decide to offer a full-color catalog of products (such as fine art prints or paintings) in the form of a free downloadable eBook from You could include a price list in that eBook, along with an order form and instructions to those who want to order your products. They could print out the order form, fill it out and then mail it to you along with payment, thereby enabling you to conduct business which involves payments with checks or money orders.

But what if they want to pay with a credit card or debit card, and they don't want to do so by means of an online e-commerce store? Or what if you don't want to go through the hassle of programming e-commerce functions into your website? What if you're marketing your products by means of a blog or some other type of site where e-commerce programming isn't really an option?

PayPal has always been a good option for people who wanted to add e-commerce functions to their websites even though they didn't qualify for standard merchant accounts. But now the PayPal Virtual Terminal feature allows sellers to accept credit card or debit card payments via phone, fax, snail mail or face-to-face transactions! The seller still needs to be able to access the Internet (to process the payment), but the buyer doesn't need to be able to do so. In conjunction with an eBook catalog, the new PayPal Virtual Terminal feature would enable a seller to easily sell to anyone who was able to download that catalog and print the order form therein, regardless of how that person wanted to pay. Of course, distribution of printed flyers, brochures and catalogs to people who couldn't access the Web would enable one to make credit card or debit card sales to those people as well.

Whenever possible, it's ideal to sell via an e-commerce website, preferably with the help of a company (such as or or which will not only process the order, but also produce the product and ship it directly to one's customer. But that isn't possible with all products, so it's great to be aware of all of one's options. Whether one is selling eBooks via (and/or or distributing free eBook catalogs for the purpose of selling products using the order forms included in those catalogs, eBooks offer a lot of options to would-be entrepreneurs with far more vision than money!

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