Publishing a Book: Print and eBook
Over time, I have written several electrical engineering books (see electronic-measurement.com). These books were written in the dead-trees print model, focused on creating a book that you can hold in your hand. I recently published VHF, Summits and More in both print and ebook editions. This was a learning process for me and I’ve come to understand a bit more about the differences between these formats.
I definitely have a soft spot in my heard for a good-quality printed book. It is just plain satisfying to hold a printed book in your hand and flip through the pages. Moving quickly between pages and chapters is easy; very tactile with immediate feedback. I often look at our bookshelf at home filled with various engineering, ham radio, hiking and travel books. It just feels good knowing I can reach out to any one of them and access useful information.
Last year, we went on a long cruise and I wanted to have plenty of reading material while still traveling light. I did not want to drag along a big pile of books, so I purchased a monochrome (“paperwhite”) Kindle with the promise of long battery life and the ability to read it in bright sunlight. It delivered on both items. And it holds a ton of books (most of them I didn’t have time to read).
It didn’t take long to realize that the monochrome e-readers are optimized for plain text. They do pretty well with text-heavy books such as novels but aren’t very good for technical books that have photos or graphics. I mean, the display is only monochrome (and many of the readers are small.)
While creating my new book, I wasn’t really happy with how my book looked on the monochrome Kindles. It seems that there are some legacy formatting behaviors that cause them to present the text in some interesting ways. Also, the photos and other graphics really didn’t look that great. I was not encouraged and almost tossed the idea of publishing an ebook version.
Then I decided to purchase a Kindle with a color display, the Kindle Fire HD 8 tablet. This device has an 8-inch display and 16 GB of storage, costing $79. I downloaded the mobi file of my book to the Kindle and was immediately impressed with the presentation of the material. The photos and graphics show up in color and look great. Another added feature compared to print, is that the embedded hyperlinks allow easy to access to web-based information.
One thing I had to adjust to was losing some control over how the Kindle displays the book. With a print book, you have absolute control…put each comma, period, character right where you want them and they stay there. On the Kindle, the reader gets to make a lot of decisions: font type, font size, color, line spacing. While the author gets to choose the words and graphics, the final presentation is in the hands of the reader.
Read Kindle on non-Kindle Devices
Amazon has done a fantasic job of supporting the reading of Kindle books on a variety of hardware platforms. You can get a free Kindle reader for both Windows and Mac. Mobile devices are supported, too, with their own readers (iOS and Android). The mobi (Kindle) file format is dominating the ebook market so I don’t have any plans to add other ebook versions.
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I prefer reference books printed on paper because it’s much easier to leaf through one quickly looking for a particular section or figure. (“Random access” in computer parlance.) I like ebooks for novels or things I’m going to read straight through. (“Sequential access.”)
You make some good points about the differences between paper books and electronic books. Ebooks are meant to be reformatted to fit a small screen, but that doesn’t work well for reference books or other publications where the text is closely tied to graphics. A PDF file is the preferred electronic format for that kind of work because it retains the layout that the publisher intended. But the user can’t easily change the font size to make it easier to read; the best they can do is zoom in and pan around.
In case anyone is interested, there’s a freely available program called Calibre that will convert among most ebook formats, including PDF. I’ve used it to convert Barnes and Noble’s .epub format to Kindle’s .azw format (the successor to .mobi).