e-Book Recommendations and Formats

I did a lot of research recently into helping a client convert her printed book into a digital format. The original we were working with was an Adobe InDesign file, and an output of almost 600 pages.

Here are my notes.

Rights Protection & Formats

Consideration is: Keeping customers from willy-nilly just sending a copy to their friends of your hard-made work, downgrading its value.  It is probably not possible to make any e-book 100% un-breakable for sharing. Kindle and EPUB formats have plenty of articles online on how to break their protection, and with password-protected PDFs, I easily found articles on how crack their passwords also.

But it is probably a lot more important to make it more difficult. If you make it fairly difficult, it also sends a message to any customer that this is obviously not what was intended, and they are really going against the agreement they made when purchasing the e-book. So it could still happen, but if someone would have to go to a lot of trouble to do it, it seems to me that it would not be that likely (with your audience).

But for the above reason, I do feel like we should rights-protect it in some way.

Formats

.EPUB

EPUB format can use rights protection and you do not require paying the huge royalties of Amazon. (It is an open standard.) It is designed to be browsed in any device or software, and flow naturally to accommodate that.

The challenges could be in the amount of conversion needed (although it really might not be that bad), and having to get people to download an e-reader software.

PDF

PDF was actually designed to send files that were meant to be printed. The problem with this is that it means you have to sort of choose one standard (fixed) layout for your document. It makes it much more likely that someone would have to zoom or pan around the document to see everything.
The advantages are: PDF reader software is very universal; It holds the highest likelihood of doing a direct output from the original InDesign files and potentially having that work without lots of modification.

You can add a user password. That is, with certain software it will generate a user-specific password. So anyone would literally have to pass that along with the PDF for someone to read it, which certainly ratchets up the resistance to doing so.

You can add watermarks to a PDF, which I assume can include specific information like, “This copy was purchased by Hans Müller of Hannover, Germany, and is intended for their use only” — or something specialized like that.

You can do things to a PDF to make it much more of a pain in the ass to print out, if that is a concern. And also, to copy and paste it into another document, if that is an issue.

Obviously, you can always do a screen shot of a page, but that is also something somebody could do with their phone with the hardcover book!

Distribution

It’s nice in a way to think of a platform such as Amazon, whose whole job is to sell and distribute digitally rights protected books. Amazon is attractive because Kindle is such a near-universal platform; and they do everything for you so seamlessly. But they take at least 30%, and it just doesn’t seem necessary. Furthermore, I personally have ethical issues with being dependent on such a monopoly (you could agree or disagree with this).

There are sites like e-Junkie that manage all this for you too (I hate the name, almost to the point of never wanting to use that particular service, BTW) for $10 a month, they will distribute your ebook with no extra fees or royalties. They will stamp user information on to a PDF, which is a deterrent. They can also create a unique user password for a PDF. (More information here.) This kind of thing is good. Maybe a good-ol’ PDF could work.

Woocommerce

I have a feeling that since you’re already more and more into the WordPress + Woocommerce train, and that seems to be working well, this is the way to go, with some sort of plugin add-on, which lets you rights-protect the e-book. Then you are selling direct from your site, where there are no additional fees and other stuff going on.

This plugin looks good, works for PDF or EPUB, and does all the protections mentioned above that you would need—watermark, personal password, etc. It is totally configurable. It is an “official” Woocoomerce plugin, and as such is a little bit expensive—$79/year, but then that is only $6.58/month, and I think it goes down upon annual renewal.

More about PDFs

This is the first solution to try, because all we have to do to get started is do an export from InDesign, and see how it looks. It may work great, but my concern is about not being able to easily change text size, like you can in e-readers; and overall wondering if the fixed print layout will work online (even if we changed that layout; there is less flexibility than an EPUB format, where you can “flow” the text to accommodate different devices).

Table of Contents Feature

This sample file demonstrates how easy it is to make a table of contents. (If you don’t see the TOC by default, you can just choose View -> Table of Contents or the equivalent in your PDF viewer.

Full-Text Search

Obviously, a big advantage of an e-book is that you will be able to search the text by using a search box. A professional index is still helpful, but lots of people (honestly) will just use the search box, once they have one to use.

Index

I could not easily find specific instructions about turning a traditional index into links that point back to the specified parts of the text, but I would be flabbergasted if that was not an easy thing to do when converting the document. (Update—Yes, this works.)

Text Size and Readability

This could become a killer for using PDF format, actually. It was designed to send documents to be printed, whereas e-book formats were designed to flow into different devices. We would need to make sure that the PDF is easily legible at the sizes most customers will be looking at it.

Recommendations

I think our biggest consideration is whether to go with PDF or EPUB. Let’s start by having your Indesign person do a vanilla export of the InDesign file in both of those formats, and play around with it a little, taking into account some of the usability considerations I mentioned above—readability, usability on a computer, and so on.

Based on this, we may want to decide on either PDF or EPUB. Then, we could decide which security measures make sense.

At this point, we would want to determine whether we need professional help from an outside service.

Once we have the final file, I think we’ll be able to easily set up the WooCommerce plugin to sell rights-protected copies.

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Chris