March 19, 2014 Last Updated 1:42 pm

Wednesday column: the travails of previewing your new eBook project in different ecosystems

Each Wednesday, TNM invites digital publishing leaders to discuss industry topics, or explain the latest solutions involving digital media. This week’s column is written with the novice eBook publisher in mind, those using the free and online tools available to self-publishers and those newspaper and magazine publisher creating new eBook lines.

One of the horrors of print publishing is submitting what you think will be perfectly fine files to the print and getting a mess returned to you. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often, but sometimes that photo you thought was perfect turned out to be the thumbnail, and that perfectly paginated text suddenly looks like alphabet soup.

Digital publishing, one would hope, would avoid these pitfalls because they do not involved a third party who is doing the print production. But there is still production to be done, and third parties to deal with.

In both eBook publishing and digital magazine publishing, the new work must end up with the digital distributor. What makes digital different is that the distributor is also often also the owner of the device the end product will be read on, and the operating system of the device. For those with limited exposure to many of the different platforms, a few words on what to expect, and how to preview that digital file.

Apple:

Despite the growth of Android, and despite the dominance of Amazon in book sales, Apple still provides the easiest way to produce an eBook out there, but unlike Amazon or Barnes & Noble, Apple does not allow you to preview your digital books or magazine through an online previewer. This is actually a good thing.

The easiest way to submit an eBook to Apple is to use iBooks Author. The platform is unique to Apple and most publishers have only dabbled with it because the resulting books can not publish elsewhere, and can’t even be read on an iPhone (publishers continue to scratch their heads about that one). But previewing an iBooks eBooks is a snap as the program allows previewing on both Macs and iPads. And because iBooks Author is a wyswig platform, the surprises are very few.

Nonetheless, there are some things to keep in mind. First, don’t rely on Mac previews. There are two reasons: one, most people will use an iPad to read the work, and two, those fonts you are using on your Mac will look fine on the same Mac you used to build the eBooks, but need to be tested on an iPad.

iBooksAuthor-Preview

When iBooks Author was updated last fall, a mistake was made with the upgrade that left out the ability of the program to embed custom fonts. This was fixed, but a few publisher have reported since then that they have had problems with some specific fonts – it is a rare occurrence, but a quick preview will prevent any mistakes.

With ePub books, Apple again does not provide an online preview solution. But the iBooks app, I have found, does a good job of formatting the file in a consistent and acceptable way (you may disagree, of course). My problem with ePub files and iBooks is that not all the formatting may come through. But testing on your iPad is easy.

But what if you don’t have an iPad? Well, the thing with creating eBooks or digital magazines for Apple is that working on a PC, or using another tablet for previewing simply isn’t an option. Apple has you boxed into a corner there.

With apps, as any developer will tell, there is a whole, convoluted way to preview apps involving provisioning profiles and much stress. But the good news, and one reason to not talk much about it here is that, in the end, involves testing your app on their tablet. The result is that one gets a really good chance to really test the app. But, but, but, unlike eBooks, app performance can vary greatly from iPad to iPad. Most developers like to have the latest model and fail to recognize that what works great on an iPad Air, may be a slow, painful experience on an iPad 2 (and on an original iPad… don’t even think about it). Because of this, keeping those earlier generation iPads around the office may be a smart thing to do.

Amazon:

As most platforms for creating digital magazines have been busy providing solutions for converting their Apple-first magazine apps for other platforms, and because so many digital magazine outside of the Apple ecosystem remain replica editions, I’d like to concentrate on eBooks.

AmazonPreviewerBoth Amazon and Barnes & Noble have created easy to use online systems for building eBooks (and Amazon’s CreateSpace is an easy to use solution for print-on-demand book publishing). But as Amazon has not yet created a solution similar to iBooks Author, eBooks for the Kindle will be a variation of ePub – the .mobi. Here one comes up against the same issues one does when submitting an eBook for Apple, variation in the final product.

But Amazon, in addition to its online previewer, also has its own Kindle Previewer. Between the two solutions one might think that variations from what is being submitted can not happen. You’d be wrong. But luckily, the issues seem to be small.

But Amazon’s solution always involves a 24 hour lag time between submitting one’s work to “review” and getting an answer back. TNM’s own eBook, Talking Digital, was rejected the first time through because much of the content originally appeared online here (though in altered form). The book was simply resubmitted, reaffirming that TNM had the right to publish, and the next day the book as available as a Kindle Edition.

With Amazon, it is advisable to build in an extra day, but this is nothing compared to the wait time one might encounter with Apple and its app and book review teams. There, it is not uncommon to wait five days for an app to be reviewed, or 48 hours or so for a book. On the other hand, if an objection is made on a submitted iBook, the next submission is usually reviewed within 24 hours. Additionally, one can communicate directly with both the developer and paid books support teams, if necessary.

Barnes & Noble:

NOOK Press is an easy to use site that shares a lot of similarities with Amazon’s KDP site, and as the goal is to submit an ePub this should, in theory be easy. But I experienced some scary moments with creating a decent product for the NOOK that makes one wonder what is going on.

Unlike both iBooks and Kindle, testing one’s file using the NOOK app proved to be pretty irrelevant. On all devices uses the file looked fine. But once submitted to NOOK Press strange things happened.

Using the online previewer I found some text missing from the front of one chapter. So I went to the online editor which allows you to edit the file directly and found nothing wrong. Another check using the previewer and suddenly things were fine. But I also found that large chunks of text on the copyright page had been jumbled. How did this happen? It is impossible for me to tell, but it scared me to no end.

NOOKPress-editing

With NOOK, I found that previewing the app outside of B&N’s system was not the important step. Whether you are using Scrivener or Calibre or some other solution, it is what happens to your file once submitted that one needs to be on the watch for.

On the bright side, going back and forth from the online editor to the previewer is easy enough, but you won’t want to make major changes there, especially if it involves graphics.


Next week’s Wednesday tech column discusses how new trends in web development impact magazine design.