2 Nov 2011
Creating an e-book is easy. Creating a professional-looking, classy e-book that stands out from the crowd takes skill and effort. And as e-book formats improve and start to offer greater flexibility and complexity, you're going to need advanced skills to really exploit their potential.
Not that long ago, Apple introduced iBook support for fixed format ePub files, aimed at publishers who want to produce picture books (photography, art, comics). And Amazon is in the process of introducing Kindle Format 8 (KF8). This is, essentially, an extension of the HTML commands supported by Kindle devices. Embracing HTML5 and CSS3, KF8 will ultimately make the .mobi and .azw formats currently used by Kindles obsolete. The advantage of KF8 is that it will allow for complex and creative page designs, with embedded images and rich media. Again, this is aimed at illustrated books.
The two most popular and successful e-books formats - Kindle (.mobi/.azw) and ePub - are essentially HTML web pages with various kinds of wrapping (mainly XML and, sometimes, copy protection). In essence, there's nothing difficult about them. But hand-coding HTML is tedious. That's why most of us use some kind of software packge to output the files.
You might create your book as a Word document and then have your e-book publishing service (Kindle, Smashwords, Lulu or whoever) convert the file to the formats you want. This is very easy, but it tends to produce pretty basic e-books. You may be missing a properly clickable chapter listing, for example.
At WebVivant Press, we lay out books in InDesign, output to ePub and do a little hand-coding on the resulting files. This produces high-quality e-books. However, this workflow isn't going to support KF8.
We may see tools come along soon that allow you to exploit all the possibilities of advanced formats such as KF8. But they're not here yet and, when they do arrive, they're likely to be expensive, professional-level packages, such as InDesign.
Adding rich content like video, animation and sound is no easy matter, either.
It's likely, then, that the only people with access to the skills and resources necessary to fully benefit from the advanced formats will be professional publishers (or self-publishers).
The self-publishing world is awash with shoddy, amateur works, thrown together by people with no real talent or training in book production. Of course, sometimes you may find a gem among the dross. But it's difficult to tell which books have been created by people with real skills and which hacked out over a weekend by some clueless wannabe.
The development of advanced e-book formats may give professionals a chance to differentiate themselves. Perhaps it may even save the publishing industry if enough people are motivated to seek out well-produced works. In the new self-publishing era, publishers need a reason to exist. That reason may be: quality.