Guest post: The future of ebooks by Michael W. Perry at inklingbooks.com
Michael’s comments are worth reading
I didn’t ask his permission this time, but this is an excellent comment by Michael in reply to my posting about the probable need to go back to using Amazon’s Kindle Export plug-in in InDesign CS6. Michael’s comments are again right on target as far as I can tell.
My only hope is that someone at Amazon reads them.
Many thanks for such a detailed explanation. My main take-way is that Amazon is making the creation of ebooks by InDesign users far more complex and difficult than it needs to be. While that may not matter much to the lone novel writer with his aging laptop and copy of Word for Window, it does matter a lot to publishers, large and small, who do use InDesign. Why would Amazon do that? I have a theory.
But first a bit of Seattle geography. I lived there until August of last year. Amazon does some of its technical work in Silicon Valley, but it has a massive presence north of downtown Seattle in what’s called South Lake Union. If you’ve been there, it’s east of the Space Needle and runs northward. The city drove away a lot of small business, including some manufacturing, to make it high-tech, upscale and tax-rich. (Seattle’s politicians are very liberal and Democratic, hence they care nothing about all those blue-collar men put out of a job.) Along the way and probably not accidentally, it made the Microsoft billionaire, Paul Allen, still richer, since he owned much of that land. There are a some details about the area here:
As the name indicates, South Lake Union is at the south end of Lake Union. At the north end of the small lake, ship traffic going east and west on the Montlake Cut crosses the lake. On the Montlake Cut about a half mile west of the lake are the offices where Adobe develops InDesign.
I described that to point out just how easy it would be for Amazon to cooperate with Adobe to give InDesign a powerful export capability. Even when the traffic is bad, Amazon employees could drive to Adobe’s offices in under fifteen minutes. No long-distance cooperation is necessary.
I also happen to know:
1. That Adobe’s InDesign team is eager to give the app powerful export capabilities for every format, including Kindles.
2. That Apple, in far-distant Cupertino, cooperated with the InDesign team to give it the powerful epub export capabilities it now has.
3. That working with a not-very open, proprietary formats like Mobi and especially KF8 is very difficult for InDesign developers. They can’t do it without Amazon.
4. That Amazon has refused to cooperate with Adobe in this matter and also, as you’ve described above, has not even updated their buggy plug-in for ID CS6 for ID-CC.
My theory? It paints Amazon as ruthless, indifferent to others, and willing to do anything to stay on top. In other words, it paints Amazon as it is.
When I contacted the Kindle team about the best way to move a book in InDesign into the Kindle format, they told me to hire a third-party company. Put more bluntly, they said I should spend a large sum of money to get for a Kindle store what ID provides for the iBookstore in about two minutes. They could not have said “we don’t care” more eloquently.
In the past, what has that meant? It’s meant that the typical small publisher had to face a terrible choice. Amazon owns perhaps 70% of the ebook market, so he feels he must bring that Kindle edition out. But having done so, his budget for digital editions has been exhausted. He has nothing left to create versions of Apple or B&N. Amazon gets a Kindle-only edition without spending a penny.
Fortunately, that’s where ID-CC-2014 has shaken up publishing. Now any publisher who creates a print edition has, almost effortless, also created both reflowable and fixed-layout editions for most of the rest of the ebook market. Amazon, with its proprietary formats, is left out in the cold. And, according to you, the old workaround, sending Amazon an epub 2.0 version only works, and erratically, if it comes from a dated copy of ID-CS6.
What’s my response? First, I don’t take being mistreated lightly. All the added trouble of publishing for Kindles means that the platform moves to the back of the line. It’s the last to be published and most issues are Amazon’s problems not mine. I’ll make the effort to make sure all the images appear, but the petty issues like bullet lists and small caps will just have to remain as Amazon’s software creates them. From Day One of the digital revolution I’ve told myself I wouldn’t be editing code, so I’m not going to be tweaking code headed for Amazon. They’re going to have to find a way to work with the world, not insist that the world mold itself to them.
Personally, I’m hoping that that dramatic sea-shift in publishing will force Amazon to take those 15-minute drives to work with Adobe. And I’m hoping that, until they do, publishers both large and small adopt an Amazon last policy, going to all the added bother of creating a Kindle version only when every other version is taken care of. Amazon may not care about authors and publishers, but it certainly cares about its bottom line.
I also hope Amazon abandons their own buggy plug-in and works with Adobe, helping Adobe to create a high-quality Kindle export. That will be much better and probably cheaper, since Adobe can adapt their epub code to KF8.