Ebooks

Drop Caps

22 February 2019

Mrs. PG has gone back to address some minor typos and a few other corrections in some of the earliest ebooks she published, beginning about eight years ago. Formatting the corrected ebooks has been a trip down memory lane for PG.

As previously discussed on TPV, PG has used Kindle Create to format the books Mrs. PG has published since KC’s first availability. He has found that Kindle Create is very easy to use and produces a nicely-formatted fiction ebook. Until something better arrives, that’s what he’s using for Mrs. PG’s books in the foreseeable future.

In connection with the above-mentioned republication, PG has pulled up the original ebook files which were published with Jutoh. In the process, PG has been reminded about what a powerful and elegant formatting program Jutoh was and is.

Eight years ago, PG was strongly affected by print book formatting (he had formatted POD versions of Mrs. PG’s books) and he brought formatted files and practices into Jutoh for preparation of her ebooks at that time.

Revisiting those early ebooks, PG found drop-caps, page-appearance related formats, etc., etc. He also found he had included some erroneous code in those ebooks that made a few parts of the books look a little off upon PG’s latest inspection.

One example of this was PG’s use of drop-caps at the beginning of chapters and in the body of chapters where there was a major change in scene, etc.

Drop caps have been used in books for hundreds of years for a wide variety of reasons. Here’s an example from 1407, before the invention of the European printing press.

Historically, they marked chapter breaks, with other visual cues denoting the beginning of another long sentence, etc. They were visual cues to permit the navigation of large and heavy volumes. PG seems to remember that some of the earliest bibles did not include anything like a table of contents.

The printing press resulted in the production of many more books, but drop caps continued. In the following printed bible c. 1480, the printer left space the creation of colored drop caps after the book was printed.

(For more on drop caps throughout history, see this Smashing Magazine article)

Back to PG’s formatting.

He realized that he doesn’t remember seeing many drop caps in the ebooks he’s read recently (although he may have simply overlooked them).

For further insight into current ebook formatting best practices, PG found a blog post by JW Manus, a long-time visitor to TPV, who does custom book formatting for indie authors. Here’s part of what she says in a post titled, Why Your Ebook SHOULD NOT Look Like a Print Book:

I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend of late: Writer/publishers who want their ebooks to look (and act) like print books–and print designers turned formatters who encourage it.

What those who try to force print design into ebooks seem unaware of is WHY readers like ebooks:

  1. Portability. (I can carry hundreds or thousands of books in my purse.)
  2. Availability. If a book is in digital form and offered for sale, then it is always in stock. If you finish a really terrific book and want to read another of the author’s books, just pop over to the retail site, buy the next ebook and keep reading.
  3. Reader-friendliness. If, like me, you have overworked and/or aged eyes, the ability to increase font size and line height is a godsend. If, like me, you enjoy reading outdoors, an eink reader completely eliminates page glare and the resulting eye fatigue. If, like me, you like to read in bed but your partner wants you to turn off the damned light, if you have a tablet or backlit eink reader or smart phone, you can turn off the damned light and keep reading.
  4. Social reading. For those who like being part of a club, you can connect your books to other readers and share highlighted passages and comments.
  5. Price. Unless the ebook is coming from one of the Big5 publishers, it’s probably inexpensive enough to appeal to even the heaviest readers. They are inexpensive to produce, cost nothing to stock and free/cheap to ship. They should be inexpensive. I bet I’m not the only reader who was priced out of the print market and stopped buying new books, but because of ebooks is now back to buying four or five new books a week.

. . . .

Publishers and formatters drop the ball for one of two reasons:

  1. They don’t understand how ebook reading devices work.
  2. Their priorities are skewed.

If you don’t know how reading devices work, you have no business formatting an ebook. Period. It’s not easy keeping up with everything. Trust me, I spend a lot of time keeping up with updates and changing devices and standards. I have four Kindles, an iPhone, and two computers on which I read and/or test ebooks. I use several programs to test out new techniques. My goal with every job is to produce an ebook that can be read on any device. If you don’t know how ereading devices work, you can format an absolutely stunning looking file in Word or InDesign or Scrivener only to have it completely fall apart or turn into an unreadable mess when it’s loaded onto an ereader. If you’re using Calibre to convert commercial ebooks, chances are you’re unaware as to why that’s a bad idea. The truly clueless seem to be the most proud of creating one-size-fits-all formats for print, epub, and mobi.

. . . .

Drop-caps. They’re pretty, I get it. Unless you are a pro and willing to te st your coding across a multitude of devices, delegate drop-caps to the print version. And don’t forget to test in landscape mode. The results can be… disconcerting.

. . . .

Text-wrapping around images. This is another element that can seriously bite you in the butt. It can work, but only if you know exactly what you are doing (and just because you can do it in Word or InDesign doesn’t mean you know how to do it in an ebook). Consider the many, many, many readers who use their smart phones as ereaders. What happens on an iPhone as it struggles to fit everything on the screen would be laughable if it weren’t so annoying to the reader. It can be pretty nasty when readers need a larger font size, too.

Link to the rest at JW Manus

In Jaye’s post, she includes a page capture of an ebook in which the drop cap looks fine in a Kindle Fire, but not in a Kindle Paperwhite.

So, PG removed the drop caps in the old ebook file when formatting the new one.

 

Harry Potter Forever?

24 January 2019

When PG checked out Amazon Charts this morning, he discovered that Harry Potter occupied six of the top ten positions on the Most Read Fiction chart.

The Most Read chart ranks books by the average number of daily Kindle readers and Audible listeners each week. Given Amazon’s domination of the ebook world, Charts should be a reasonably-accurate of the behavior of English-language ebook reader behavior.

If PG’s grand-offspring are any indication, few in their generation will have any concern about reading ebooks (although they still like physical books as well). Plus a cast-off operating Kindle ereader works as well for book-length text as a new tablet or ereader does, so the younger generation in a family may benefit from the occasional hand-me-down or obsolescent device.

In a perfect world for those who are curious about human behavior, there would be some sort of means by which Amazon could track which of the hardcopy books it sold were Most Read so the behavior of ebook and printed book fans could be compared.

On the non-fiction side of Amazon Charts, Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming,  is ranked first in both the Bestselling and Most Read charts.

Observers of human behavior have long observed that people will sometimes purchase non-fiction bestsellers that they don’t manage to read. For example, Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time is notorious as a book which is started, but not finished. It is the standard against which all other purchased-but-unread books are measured.

From a 2014 Wall Street Journal article by Dr. Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison:

It’s beach time, and you’ve probably already scanned a hundred lists of summer reads. Sadly overlooked is that other crucial literary category: the summer non-read, the book that you pick up, all full of ambition, at the beginning of June and put away, the bookmark now and forever halfway through chapter 1, on Labor Day. The classic of this genre is Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time,” widely called “the most unread book of all time.”

How can we find today’s greatest non-reads? Amazon’s “Popular Highlights” feature provides one quick and dirty measure. Every book’s Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning.

Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book’s five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we’re guessing most people are likely to have read. (Disclaimer: This is not remotely scientific and is for entertainment purposes only!) Here’s how some current best sellers and classics weigh in, from highest HI to lowest:

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt: 98.5%
This seems like exactly the kind of long, impressive literary novel that people would carry around ostentatiously for a while and never finish. But it’s just the opposite. All five top highlights come from the final 20 pages, where the narrative falls away and Ms. Tartt spells out her themes in a cascade of ringing, straight-out assertions.

“Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins: 43.4%
Another novel that gets read all the way through. “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them” is the most highlighted sentence in the seven-year history of Kindle, marked by 28,703 readers. Romantic heat in the late going also helps to produce a high score.

. . . .

“A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking: 6.6%
The original avatar backs up its reputation pretty well. But it’s outpaced by one more recent entrant—which brings us to our champion, the most unread book of this year (and perhaps any other). Ladies and gentlemen, I present:

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty: 2.4%
Yes, it came out just three months ago. But the contest isn’t even close. Mr. Piketty’s book is almost 700 pages long, and the last of the top five popular highlights appears on page 26. Stephen Hawking is off the hook; from now on, this measure should be known as the Piketty Index.

Link to the rest at the Wall Street Journal 

PG notes that the standards applied to Amazon Charts (average number of daily Kindle readers and Audible listeners each week) and the Hawking Index (how many people stopped reading a book before finishing it) are different, but he finds both interesting.

Amazon provides another interesting collection of data in its list of The 10 longest sales streaks at No. 1 in Amazon history

Harry Potter has four of the top 10 streaks, but Michelle Obama is also on the list and, given current sales trends, may climb higher.

 

Draft2Digital, Baker & Taylor, and OverDrive

2 December 2018
Comments Off on Draft2Digital, Baker & Taylor, and OverDrive

From Indies Unlimited:

Those of you who use Draft2Digital to distribute eBooks outside of Amazon should have recently received a message that Draft2Digital has now partnered with Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 eBook distribution platform.

Baker & Taylor, a massive distributor of books, movies, DVDs, and other entertainment, has been in business for over 180 years.

. . . .

But wait, you may be thinking (or at least I was), Draft2Digital already uses OverDrive to reach libraries. Why do we also need Baker & Taylor?

The short answer is that they offer different services and are used by different libraries. The long answer is more complicated.

OverDrive, as you probably know, also distributes eBooks to schools and libraries. OverDrive was founded in 1986, originally to convert analog video and audio media to a digital format. In 2000, they extended their business online and began what would eventually become one of the first – and biggest – eBook distributors to retailers, libraries, and schools. OverDrive is compatible with just about any ereader on the market.

. . . .

When Baker & Taylor decided to branch out into the distribution of eBooks, they became … well, you could say frenemies … with OverDrive. In 2009, believing they were forming an exclusive partnership, OverDrive signed on to help Baker & Taylor develop their own eBook distribution services, one that was superior to the one OverDrive was currently using. They even gave Baker & Taylor access to their list of accounts, sales and marketing data, inventory, and servers. It didn’t end well.

Now they’re competitors when it comes to distributing eBooks to libraries. Some libraries use both systems; some only use one. Because OverDrive has been in the business of eBook distribution longer, they’re used by more libraries and have, according to some, better developed technology. Because Baker & Taylor has over 180 years of paperback and hardback book distribution behind them, they’re catching up quickly.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

PG notes that libraries tend to purchase their books from sales organizations that tailor their services to meet the needs of libraries.

By opening their doors to indie authors via Draft2Digital, Baker & Taylor and Overdrive are making it possible for libraries to easily purchase books from local indie authors as well as the increasing number of nationally-known and read authors who self-publish.

KDP Books Unavailable To International Readers

18 November 2018

From David Gaughran:

A situation blew up at Amazon over the weekend which has made most KDP ebooks unavailable to purchase for international readers who use the US Kindle Store — one which has also exposed a glaring security problem.

This issue — which is either a bug or a badly bungled roll-out — is causing great confusion as its effects are only visible to those outside the USA, which might explain why Amazon has been so slow to address it, or even understand the problem, it seems.

The first reports were from a few weeks ago, when Australian readers who use the US Kindle Store were unable to see a handful of new releases. It seems to have spread significantly since then. This weekend I noticed the issue myself for the first time. Buy buttons had disappeared from a couple of my ebooks and they were no longer appearing in Search results or on my Author Page. It was as if they had been ghosted. Readers around the world confirmed the same thing — except those in the USA, where all these books continue to be visible in search and purchasable by readers there.

Looking around the Kindle Store this weekend, it seemed like half of the KDP books I checked were unavailable for purchase to international readers, and similarly missing from search results (and, in some cases, author pages). They were undiscoverable by international readers, in other words, and even if those readers navigated to the pages of those Kindle editions directly, price tags were gone and Buy buttons had been removed.

. . . .

So the system seems to think that I shouldn’t be using the US Kindle Store — even though, like many Irish people, I’ve been using the US Kindle Store exclusively since 2011 — and it is blocking me not just from purchasing this title and many other titles, but is also rendering them invisible in search too, so customers don’t even know there is an issue unless they somehow go directly to the book’s page on Amazon. New-to-you readers internationally who use the US Kindle Store won’t even know the problem exists otherwise, or that your book does, I guess.

It gets weirder because this bug or glitch or whatever it is seems to be very inconsistent. All of my non-fiction is unavailable to international readers. Some of my fiction is gone too, but not all of it. If I Iook at someone random from the charts like Bella Forrest, all of the books of hers I checked are gone.

. . . .

I spoke to Amazon customer service yesterday and tried to explain the issue. Amazon didn’t seem to understand it, and just inserted a US postal address in my account instead, which “fixed” the problem as far as they were concerned. And, yes, I can now see my books and all the others which were invisible to me beforehand, but everyone else internationally still can’t see them or purchase them in the US Kindle Store – which is the only place that millions of international readers are able to purchase ebooks (this point must be repeated again and again as misunderstanding abounds — not everywhere has a local Kindle Store and such readers are supposed to use the US store).

Amazon’s “fix” had a number of unintended side-effects. As Amazon now seems to think I’m based in America, I no longer get charged VAT on ebooks. Instead, a test purchase I made applied Washington state sales tax of 6.5% — the customer service person put in Amazon’s Seattle HQ as my address — instead of the 23% rate of Irish VAT that Amazon is legally required to apply to ebook sales to me.

. . . .

Related issues aside, I hope Amazon starts making an effort to understand what is happening here as this is a particularly bad situation for international self-publishers whose readers will naturally trend international too, and who will be disproportionately affected. It also prevents self-publishers around the world from checking their books on Amazon.com — which they need to do for innumerable reasons.

Whether all this is a (bungled) feature or a bug, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Amazon is taking its eye off the ball in so many aspects of its business right now, at least pertaining to books. Amazon’s greatest strength is that it still has the scrappiness and innovative outlook of a start-up — which seems to be achieved by essentially having 1000s of start-ups incubating under one big Amazon tent, who seem to compete with each other for resources and attention and site real-estate.

. . . .

At times like these, Amazon feels incredibly atomized, made up of 1000s of departments who don’t (and won’t) communicate with each other, For example, if you have decided to make hundreds of thousands of ebooks suddenly invisible and unavailable to millions of readers unless they switch to a different Kindle Store maybe — I dunno, radical idea here — email people about it? And if it is just some horrible bug, which has been growing for several weeks to the point where most self-published books are now ghosted to international readers, maybe start working on fixing it? Just a thought.

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

PG notes that David’s post is from November 12. This is the most recent post on David’s blog, so PG assumes the problem he describes may be continuing.

Are Electronic Course Packs Fair Use?

28 October 2018

From The Authors Guild:

For the past ten years, in the Cambridge University Press v. Albert case, publishers have been battling with Georgia State University over whether the University’s providing its students with digital course packets that include excerpts (often full chapters) of books constituted “fair use.” Under court rulings in prior cases, the law was clear that providing photocopied course packs without a license was not fair use. In this case, however, the district court has already twice sided with Georgia State University, finding fair use on all but a few excerpts, and now the appeals court has again sent the case back down to it. On October 19, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s second decision that the vast majority of Georgia State University’s digital excerpts were fair use, with instructions for how to get it right this time.

. . . .

This case has been closely watched by authors, publishers, and universities as a measure for when excerpts for classroom use need to be licensed or not. In the intervening decade, many universities appear to have stopped paying for these types of electronic classroom uses. Authors who used to regularly receive licensing income from classroom use report that that revenue source has dried up in recent years. A favorable outcome in this case would put universities on notice that they should start paying for those uses again.

. . . .

One of the major errors that the Eleventh Circuit failed to correct is the district court’s analysis under the fourth factor. The law describes the fourth factor as: “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” As such, a fair use is one that should not replace a current or potential market for the work. The Supreme Court instructs courts conducting this analysis to look at the impact on current and potential markets if the use were to become widespread and unrestricted.

Instead, the lower court looked at whether the publishers already had electronic licenses available to universities in 2009 for excerpts for the specific works—an extremely narrow view of an existing market.

. . . .

Moreover, the court’s rule that the taking must be so great that the copyright owner no longer has the incentive to write or publish was created out of thin air and would make pretty much any particular use fair use. Few individual uses will be so great that they will be the deciding factor in whether to publisher or not (or write for that matter); it is the cumulative effect of these free uses that makes it increasingly hard to publish material that is not highly commercial.

Of greatest concern to authors and other creators is the fact that the Eleventh Circuit failed to remind the lower court to consider the impact on potentialmarkets from widespread use, and to remember that the relevant market to be considered is broader than a particular format. Whether the publishers had already made the particular works available for e-licensing for e-course packs should be irrelevant – yet the district court chose to focus on that point. Under the court’s analysis here, uses of copyrighted material that eliminate potential markets entirely—and thereby eliminate potential income for the authors as well as the publishers—may qualify as fair uses.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Read to Your Kid With the Perfect Sound Effects Accompaniment

18 October 2018

From Offspring:

Last night, I read my daughter a story before bed, like I always do. I picked an old favorite from her bookshelf—Giraffes Can’t Dance. But this time, a musical cast accompanied my narration.

“The warthogs started waltzing …” I read. Just then, a romantic melody started playing.

I continued. “And the rhinos rock ‘n’ rolled …” Suddenly, there was an interlude by an electric guitar.

The lions danced a tango that was elegant and bold.” Right on cue, a dramatic tango tune cut in.

Okay, so there were no actual musicians in my kid’s bedroom—that would have been weird as we were sitting in our pajamas. But it felt like they were there, thanks to a free iOS app called Novel Effect.

. . . .

As you read a children’s book aloud, your iPhone, iPad or connected speakers play custom music and sound effects to enhance the story. The system uses voice recognition technology to drop in the sounds at the perfect moment, so you can go at your own pace. There’s a well-timed “ba-dum-bump-chhhh” in The Book with No Pictures, the hum of machine engines in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and lively underwater effects in The Pout-Pout Fish. There are even some voice cameos by certain characters—in Where the Wild Things Are, Max appears with his famed line “I’ll eat you up.”

Novel Effect works with more than 200 different books, from classics to recent bestsellers. There are some titles that come with the app, but for most of the selections, you must already have a copy of the book, whether print or digital. (There’s also an option to open a book in iBooks directly in the app.) Once you tap “Read book,” you can just set your device aside and start reading.

. . . .

Novel Effect is currently creating media designed to be used with Alexa, which makes a lot of sense. It’d be nice to not need my phone at all to use the technology.

Link to the rest at Offspring

Amazon just announced a new water-resistant Kindle Paperwhite

16 October 2018

From CNBC:

Amazon upgraded its popular Kindle Paperwhite eReader on Tuesday with new features that align it more with last year’s Kindle Oasis — but this device is more than $100 cheaper.

The Kindle Paperwhite is probably the e-reader you should buy if you’re in the market for a new one, but only if the following features sound like they’re worth the upgrade.

. . . .

The new device is water-resistant, which means it can be dropped into a pool or up to 6 feet of water for 60 minutes without getting damaged. Amazon also added Bluetooth and support for Audible so users can switch back and forth between listening and reading if they connect headphones or a speaker. You still need to own the Audible and eBook formats for this to work.

The Kindle Paperwhite is thinner and lighter than last year’s model and has one additional LED light that makes the screen brighter even when it’s used in the dark.

Amazon is adding new presets to its fonts, too. You might read a book in a certain font and size, but then hand it off to a child who prefers a different setting. It’s a useful feature if you share your Kindle with multiple people, or if you wear glasses occasionally but want to toggle between certain fonts and sizes at different times of day.

Link to the rest at CNBC and here’s a link to the new Paperwhite.

PG bought the original Paperwhite not long after it was released and, for him, it’s the ideal device for reading ebooks. He prefers the screen and form factor to that of a tablet for extended reading.

Contra to the OP, PG likes the fact that his Paperwhite automatically dims the screen brightness when the lights go out. (He doesn’t remember if it’s a setting he selected or the default.) For him, a dimmer screen provides a better experience when the room is dark and his eyes are dilated. If Mrs. PG is prudently going to sleep at a reasonable time, the Paperwhite barely brightens the room at all. YMMV.

 

Amazon’s Kindle Oasis has a new competitor: The waterproof Kobo Forma

5 October 2018

From Ars Technica:

Kobo’s newest e-reader is going after fans of Amazon’s Kindle Oasis. The new Kobo Forma is the company’s most expensive and comprehensive e-reader yet, coming in at $279 and featuring a waterproof design and an E-ink Mobius display.

Seemingly cut from the same cloth as the Kindle Oasis, the Kobo Forma has an 8-inch display with a large bezel on one edge for gripping. This pseudo-chin has buttons in its center that can be used to flip through pages when the device is either landscape or portrait mode. It’s uncommon to see e-readers used in landscape mode, but it’s a cool feature to have for those who may prefer it (possibly after getting used to reading in landscape mode using smartphones or tablets).

The Mobius technology built into the HD E-ink display uses a flexible plastic layer to make the device more durable while keeping it light. Weighing about 195 grams (0.43 pounds), the Kobo Forma can withstand drops from up to two meters, and it also meets IPX8 standards, which means it can withstand being under up to two meters of water for up to 60 minutes. Kobo also claims that the Mobius tech lets the Forma withstand “more bends, twists, full handbags, and overloaded backpacks” than other e-readers.

. . . .

The new e-reader debuts not long after Kobo and Walmart announced their partnership to bring e-books and audiobooks to Walmart customers, and in turn, to more people in the US. Kobo devices and services are popular in Canada, the UK, and other countries, but only recently did the company decide to come back to the US to try to compete with Amazon in the digital reading market.

Through the partnership with Walmart, Kobo e-readers are available in Walmart stores and online, and customers can access Kobo’s library of more than six million e-books and audiobooks through both the Walmart and Kobo mobile apps. The two companies also have a $9.99-per-month audiobook subscription service that, like Amazon’s more expensive Audible, includes one complementary audiobook each month.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica and thanks to Judith for the tip.

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