It is still surprising to many people that eBook development is a complicated process. The increase in the number of eBook creation tools over the last 3 years has led to many claims that eBook development is as easy (or should be as easy) as pressing a button.
Despite these claims, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there are many tools that can create eBook files, and sometimes these tools can do a decent job, especially for certain types of eBooks. However, when developing eBook files, there is a direct correlation between the amount of human interaction with the code and the quality of the final product.
So, why is this the case? What makes eBook development so complicated?
1. Formats. While many people will say that the ePub and Kindle formats are the same thing, there are still some differences between the two formats. The best practice is to create each format independently, not just auto-convert an ePub into the Kindle format with the KindleGen tool. While that does add time to the development of the eBook, it also increases the quality of the reader experience.
2. Reading Systems. If you look at any of the major eBook retailers you will see that they allow consumers to read eBooks on a variety of devices. For example, Amazon has the basic Kindle, Paperwhite, Fire, Fire HD, and Fire HDX, as well as apps for PC, Mac, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry. While retailers do try to create a seamless reading experience across devices, that is not always possible. The best eBook files will be designed to take the differences and quirks of each eBook device into consideration and attempt to be compatible with all of the reading systems that each retailer supports.
3. Display Engines. On a deeper technical level, every reading system, whether it is a device or an app, uses a display engine to translate the HTML code in the eBook file and display it on the screen. The most common display engines are Webkit and Adobe’s RMSDK, but there are also many variants of Webkit being used, as well as hacks and overrides imposed by each reading system. These display engines do not all work the same way, and you will regularly see both major and minor differences in how eBook content looks on devices that supposedly use the same display engine.
4. And more… Those major hurtles are not the only problem areas for eBook development. There are also the issues that come with fonts, images, tables, lists, and other more complex formatting, as well as enhancements and additional features that an author or publisher might want to include.
In all, designing an eBook is more difficult than just laying out the content in InDesign or Word, especially if you are looking for a consistent design across multiple devices and retailers. Its not going to get easier, either. The difficulties of eBook creation will actually increase with the coming support for ePub3; built-in accessibility, more focus on semantic markup and semantic inflection, better support for enhancements, and other new functionality will add both time and complexity to the eBook development process.
eBook quality matters, and customers will notice when an eBook is not designed well. It is always best to spend the extra time and energy up front to make a better eBook file than to fix an inferior product after your customers complain.