How eBooks are Different from Print Books
Before we compare the top ebook platforms, the first thing you should consider are the ways in which ebooks are different from print books.
Many authors new to eReaders might assume that getting their book designed for electronic viewing is much the same as having a print book designed. However, this is rarely the case. There can often be significant differences in the way an electronic book looks when compared to your printed version.
To begin with, the function of an ebook is very different. While a printed book has page spreads, with left- and right-facing pages, along with static content, an ebook is meant to allow for the text to be changeable, to flow. This is because the size of the device screen will vary, and most devices allow readers to choose the font size, and even the line spacing and orientation of the display. These are very crucial elements that change the way the text is treated when it comes to design. In some cases, meeting these requirements may mean that layout choices are a lot less flexible, with a lot fewer options—but there are numerous benefits to the functionality of eReaders as well, and it’s best to consider your book design in ways that will capitalize upon the strength of the device rather than focusing on getting your ebook to look exactly like your print version. Flexibility is the key! Since ebooks do not have static pages in the way that print books do (with the exception of some fixed layouts for iPad), by relinquishing the expectation of being able to control the precise location of every line of text, you will end up with a much better result.
Let’s explore some of the main differences between a print and ebook.
- Static vs. Dynamic Pages
A printed book is typically a fixed element. With the exception of the release of new editions of the work, an ebook is a more dynamic book. This means the content will shift depending on the choices set by the user. Readers may be able to alter the font, font size, line spacing, background color, and line height of the text, depending upon the options set by their device. Screen sizes or the ability to rotate the screen for a larger view may also differ greatly, which will impact how much text appears on a page. The ebook is designed to reflow text to fit the device upon which it is being read—from the small screen of an Android phone to the large screen of a Kindle DX or Apple iPad.
- Navigating Content
One of the main things an ebook has over print books is the ability to search and navigate content. All ebooks will have a linked table of contents so that readers can easily access a particular chapter or section of work; however, there may also be active content that allows readers to follow a cross-reference link to another portion of the book or a hyperlink to an actual web page (depending on the device functionality). Readers may also be able to look up a word right from the page, highlight content, write notes, or share passages and reviews with others online.
- Security and Anti-theft
Another thing that greatly sets ebooks apart from their print counterparts is the ability to secure the content. While physical books can easily be shared, copied, and passed around, ebooks can be protected by something called Digital Rights Management (DRM). This has often been controversial due to the varying opinions of what readers should be able to rightfully do with content they have purchased. (See Digital Rights: The Revolution of the Arts.) Controversy aside, DRM is digital file encryption, which protects your file so that it can be read on only one specific kind of reader (and sometimes, even on only one specific device). This is meant to cut out the possibility of file sharing or theft of content, for better or worse. Many online retailers, such as B&N and Amazon, are now incorporating book loaning options, which at least allow users to lend a book to another user with the same eReader device, for a limited period of time.
- Purchasing Content
While there are numerous places where you can purchase print books online and receive them within one to two business days, you can purchase and receive an ebook within about 60 seconds. A Kindle owner, for instance, can browse the Amazon bookstore, preview a sample of the book, and then buy the book (all without a computer), where the purchase can be made and the book can be downloaded to their device in under one minute using WiFi. The lowered price of ebooks also allows readers to try content they might not otherwise risk buying.
Consider Your Design Needs
When deciding upon an ebook file type, it’s best to consider your specific content and then consider whether the ebook type or device upon which you would like to place your content will actually support your design needs.
These are some of the things your book might have:
- Embedded fonts
- Font color
- Background color and Borders
- Images Wrapped to text
- Text Wrapped to text
- Color Images
- Inline Images
- Bold/Italic text
- Varying font sizes
- Paragraph Indents
- Varying line spacing
- Strikethrough text
- Paragraph Rules*
- Left, Right, Center, Full Justification
- Right and Left Justification
- All Caps
- Small Caps*
- Space Before and After Paragraph
- Initial Raised Cap
- Initial Drop Cap
- Cross References
- Basic Tables
- HR Lines (Horizontal Rules)
- Orphan and Widow Control
- Sound files
- Interactive Apps
- Video (Video is not yet fully supported by any device; although video can be created for iBooks in ePub, it will not pass validation.)
Only the items set in bold are readily supported on all devices without additional special coding. The bold items set with an asterisk are items that can be simulated in all devices with special coding. This means that if your work contains items not set in bold, your work will probably not easily convert using a free “meatgrinder” application, which will convert your work automatically or to multiple formats all at once. Not all items on the list above are supported on all devices, so in Part II, we will break down the strengths and weaknesses of each ebook format.
Continue on to Choosing the Right eBook Format (Part II)