Guest Post: Amazon has put itself in trouble proprietarily
This posting is a slight expansion of a comment made by Michael Perry of Inkling Books on my “Designing ePUBs With InDesign” New Release posting this morning
Michael has been a long-time friend of The Skilled Workman, and his comments have made this a much better blog. He is much closer to a traditional publisher than I. His opinions are worth analyzing and I agree entirely.
As you can see in his comment, Amazon is not interested in a fixed layout solution for the self-publishing author
As you point out, with ID-CC 2014 there’s now good quality ePub export, both fixed and reflowable. That takes care of Apple and perhaps several other ebook vendors such as the Nook. [David: Kobo Writing Life accepts an ePUB FXL book with no problem that I know of.] That leaves Amazon sitting out in the cold with its own proprietary formats, Mobi and KF8. Amazon hasn’t updated its ID to Kindle plug-in for ages and the stories I hear suggest it won’t either do that itself or help Adobe do something comparable.
My work-around has been to send Amazon reflowable epub 3.0 and live with the results. But what about fixed layout? I’ve heard that reflowable epub converts because KF8 is just a deliberately distorted version of epub. Hoping the same was true of fixed format, I queried Amazon. What would happen, I asked, if I tried to submit a fixed format epub? Here’s their muddled reply, one more centered on feelings than facts.
I completely understand that you would like to know more about KF8 files on KDP. At this time, we do not support this type of files and we do not have further information in how to handle them; I’m very sorry for the inconvenience.
But don’t worry, professional conversion services are available to publishers seeking help with formatting their work for Kindle, in case you would like to know more about this subject. You’ll find a list of companies that specialize in these services here:
Amazon doesn’t endorse or recommend any one company over the other, and all promotional copy is credited to the respective professional conversion house.
In short, if you want fixed format KF8 and create books with InDesign, you’ll have to pay some third-party company a heck of a lot of money.
That’s particularly bad for those who need fixed format the most—those who do children’s books and textbooks. In my case, I’ve been excited about the possibility of releasing a fixed format version of books in my developing “medical series” (mostly for nursing students). It’d be great because the inexpensive epub version would look almost identical to the print version, especially the page breaks. A professor could assign pages 37-62, knowing they were the same in both the digital and print versions.
The hitch is that fixed-layout for the iBookstore won’t work on iPhones or iPod touches. I’ve checked and while the iBooks app does seem to render them, the tiny, tiny text is completely unreadable. That means there will still need to be a reflowable epub version. For the iPad (and perhaps Nook) versions, that makes matter a bit messy. I’ve talked with Apple staff. The iBookstore has yet to integrate the combination fixed/reflowable for display and sale. Each has to be uploaded separately. Each will display on its own book page. Each has to be bought separate. Any linking between the two will only exist if an author or publisher assigns them to the same books series. About the only plus is that Apple will auto-detect the fixed format one and mark it as unsuitable for iPhones.
That situation is so dreadful, I can’t imagine Apple not fixing it in the near future. But for now, publishing reflowable and fixed format with the iBookstore means publishing two separate books, with the attendant risk of customer confusion and frustration. [David: My solution has been to publish the books with two subheads: One says: Fixed layout Version; the other says REflowable Version With Embedded Fonts. The iBooks Store also has a reflowable version without fonts through Draft2Digital in the iBooks Store. AS Michael says, this situation is untenable so I expect Apple to solve it.]
That said, it is Amazon that’s been left in a very bad position by these recent improvements in ID. Keep in mind that, for all the chatter about authors publishing and promoting their own books, the most popular books are and will probably always come from traditional publishers. It only makes sense. If I were a successful enough author that my books sold hundreds of thousands of copies, I wouldn’t be fiddling around with formatting, laying out, uploading and publicizing my books. I’d let a publisher do all that and concentrate on where my labor was best spent–in writing.
That means that the books, print and digital, that retailers most want to get will continue to come from traditional publishers, including the giants. That, in turn, means that those books are going to be created with either InDesign or Quark. What Adobe has done–brilliantly I might add–is make it extraordinarily easy for publishers to use the same ID document to create digital versions, reflowable and fixed format, for every epub compliant retailer, which is essentially everyone but Amazon.
As that quote above hints, Amazon has been playing a nasty little game with publishers. In the past, for all but perhaps the simplest of ebooks, publishers have had to hire someone to hand-tool their ebooks whatever the format, epub or Mobi/KF8. As by far the largest retailer of ebooks, that benefited Amazon. Many publishers had to spend such a large sum creating an Amazon digital version, they had no money left over to create epub versions for anyone else.
ID-CC 2014 flips that around. Now, creating a print version (and all popular books will have print versions) means that releasing both epub formats is quite easy. It’s the Amazon digital version that’s now the only costly odd man out. That means a Kindle version is likely to be delayed and perhaps not even published at all. Keep in mind that, given how popular the iPad is, some publishers may just tell potential customers, “You have an iPad. There’s no edition of our book that’ll run on the Kindle app of your iPad, but there is one that’ll run on the iBooks app. Just buy it.” That’ll particularly be true of books that sell more modestly. [David: as I mentioned in my release posting of “Designing ePUBs With InDesign” the current situation is that KDP will upload directly a reflowable ePUB from InDesign. If you are paranoid (and I am), I simply convert the reflowable ePUB with Kindle Previewer and upload that.]
I doubt Amazon realizes that with the coming of ID-CC 2014, the playing field has begun to shift against them. Their proprietary formats are now a hinderance to their success rather than a help. What’s particularly going to put them in trouble is all the hassle involved in creating ebooks to their specifications. There are no make-it-easy apps for Kindle-formatted books like there are for iBookstore ones (ID and iBooks Author). In the past, that helped Amazon, making a financially strained publisher less likely to create editions for other retailers. Now it’s Amazon whose editions cost extra in time, effort and money. For the moment, Amazon is still big enough most publishers will go to the trouble, at least for the reflowable editions. But if Amazon’s marketshare begins to shift, some may say “why bother.”
After all, it’s not like the typical publisher likes Amazon and wants it to succeed. Most would like a more competitive and healthier market.
Inkling Books is named after the Inklings, a group of writers who met in Oxford, England from the mid-1930s until the late 1940s. They included C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, two writers who remain well-known today, particularly though their recent blockbuster movies. The name Inkling, Tolkien said, was “a pleasantly ingenious pun in its way, suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink.”
Here’s a link to Michael’s Amazon Author page