THE Internet has democratised media so that anyone can create their own content very easily.
Enterprising video enthusiasts can create their own YouTube channel and generate a huge following.
Those who prefer audio content can create podcasts. Those who wish to have a soapbox to expound on their views can create their own online news sites and blogs.
And so it is with books. There was a time when you had to secure a book publishing deal to get a book out. Now, you can very easily create your own e-book. The question is what format should you adopt?
In the past, I’ve written about how e-books are the last man standing when it comes to media content. Consumers love to watch movies and listen to music digitally. But many people still like to read books the old fashioned way — via print-based physical books.
I think it’s fair to say that e-books are still at a nascent stage in Malaysia, although it has taken off quite well abroad, where Kindle books (by Amazon.com) are very common. I still believe it’s just a matter of time before e-books become mainstream in Malaysia, although that might still be a few years away.
Still, if you are an aspiring author but don’t have the connections to get a book publishing deal - which is becoming harder and harder to secure these days — it’s worth looking into self-publishing via e-books. Companies that want to make full use of content marketing should also consider publishing e-books that help promote awareness of their brand.
In this article, I will try to give a broad overview of where the e-book industry stands right now and what all aspiring authors should consider before making a decision on format.
But first things first: What exactly is an e-book?
DEFINING THE E-BOOK
If you take the broadest definition, an e-book is simply a digital file that contains the content of a book. Under this very broad definition, you can present a story via Microsoft Word or PDF and technically, you have a book.
But in the publishing world, these two formats are not really considered e-books. For downloadable e-books, the industry standard is something called ePub2. It’s an open source format that’s HTML-based (the same kind of coding for websites) and allows for reflowable text.
That means text size can change depending on your preferences. It also means that the page can adjust to whatever screen size you are viewing the e-book on, whether it’s a device as small as a mobile phone, medium-sized like a tablet or large like a desktop computer.
Many e-book retailers have adopted the ePub2 format for the e-books they sell with one notable exception — Amazon.com, which uses its own proprietary format called Kindle (which is based on format called mobi). The characteristics of a Kindle book are very similar to an ePub2 book, with reflowable text as a key feature.
If you’re an independent publisher or an aspiring self-published author, you really have to consider making your e-books available on these two formats: ePub2 and Kindle.
With ePub2, you are able to make your book available on many e-book stores around the world, but most notably Kobo, which serves both the Malaysian and Singaporean markets. It’s important to have your book in Kindle to penetrate the US and European markets but do note that Kindle is not available to either the Malaysian or Singaporean markets. That’s why it’s important to have both.
Both ePub2 and Kindle are designed for text-based e-books and not graphics-heavy or multimedia e-books. For the latter, you will need to use the ePub3 and Kindle Format 8 (KF8) respectively.
The problem with ePub3 and KF8 is that unlike their text-based cousins (ePub2 and Kindle), which are easy to format, these two multimedia formats require quite complex coding. To date, there is no easy way to create ePub3 or KF8 multimedia e-books.
If you have an e-book you wish to make that really needs to have multimedia elements — such as photo gallery, audio clips, video clips etc — and don’t want to invest in hiring an expensive programmer to do the formatting for you, one solution is to use a web-based publishing service.
WEB-BASED PUBLISHING SERVICE
There are many such services around, designed specifically to be an idiot-proof way to create multimedia e-magazines and e-books. One service I’ve tried is called Joomag (www.joomag.com) and I’ve used it to make a pilot issue of a judo magazine in which I wanted to feature photo galleries and video clips.
Joomag is a subscription-based service. Like many such online publishing services, there is a free option but with very limited functionality. The most affordable paid option costs US$9 (RM38), which is very reasonable.
The more expensive options give you more functionalities but I’ve found for my purposes, the US$9 version is good enough.
The good thing about online publishing is that you can very easily incorporate multimedia content into your e-book without having to do any coding at all. Not all the features are necessarily very intuitive but for those that are more complex, there are online tutorials and videos that you can watch to learn how to use them. If you find that you really cannot figure out how to do something through those tutorials, you can chat with their live operators who can guide you through the whole process.
In the absolute worst case scenario, where neither the tutorials or online chats do the job, the operators can demonstrate how a particular tool or functionality works by taking over your computer remotely and literally executing the process on your laptop as you observe (of course, you must give consent for your computer to be taken over by the operator). I’ve used this option once or twice for some very complex stuff that baffled me.
Joomag has billing systems in place so you can make your e-book available at a certain price (set by you).
However, instead of downloading your e-book, what your customer does is read your e-book online. That means they must have Internet access to read your book.
That might seem limiting or impractical as these days most people have mobile Internet access through their phones. Still, it is not clear whether consumers will embrace online reading as opposed to reading downloaded versions.
If you look at how other media is being consumed, it does seem like young people don’t particularly require their content to be downloaded. Many seem perfectly happy to watch a streamed movie or listen to music via streaming services. Will they also be just as open to reading a “streamed” book? I guess time will tell.