There are really a lot of formats to consider depending on the type of e-book you wish to make.
It can truly be said that the Internet, and the various technologies and services it has spawned, have truly democratized the media scene.
If you are an aspiring musician or singer and you can’t get a record contract, you can always put your music out on SoundCloud. If you are a budding filmmaker, you can showcase your work via YouTube or Vimeo. If you are a citizen journalist or photographer, you can display your work via blogs.
But what if you are a first-time author, hoping to distribute your magnum opus via e-book format? You can do it but it won’t be easy. And the problem is that there’s an e-book format war out there that’s still raging. And this has led to a lot of confusion amongst authors (and even publishers) about which format they should make their books available in.
Although there are also many formats for music, if you go with MP3, you’re pretty safe. There are also many formats for video, but MP4 is a popular standard. For images, JPG is the way to go. But with e-books there are way too many at the moment, and none is a clear winner. To make it worse, it doesn’t look like this is going to be resolved anytime soon.
It’s hard to say what’s the dominant format right now. There’s ePub2, which is an open standard for e-books. It’s used by many vendors including Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and, a little closer to home, MPH and eSentral. There’s Amazon’s Kindle, which is a proprietary format, which logically shouldn’t be that big a deal as it is only used by one vendor. But when that vendor is Amazon, it suddenly becomes a big deal.
But the standard Kindle and ePub2 are static e-book formats and do not support multimedia. If you want your book to have multimedia elements, you have to opt for KF8 from Amazon or ePub3 or Apple’s iBook (a variation of ePub3). And if you want interactive multimedia, you’ll need to create a book app either for Android or iOS.
So, there are really a lot of formats to consider depending on the type of e-book you wish to make. Of course when the notion of e-books first emerged in the public consciousness a few years back, the excitement was with the fact that e-books can be interactive and packed with multimedia content.
The concept hasn’t exactly taken off. And it has to do with economics. It’s just way too expensive to create such content. People are not going to pay a premium or e-books to justify such big investments. If anything people feel e-books (even those with multimedia embedded) should be cheaper than print books. So, there really isn’t a strong business case for investing heavily in interactive multimedia (at least for now).
If an aspiring author wants to get into e-books, but doesn’t know which format to opt for, I suggest ePub2, which is static but accepted by most e-book vendors (except Amazon.com). A static e-book might seem boring relative to what’s possible but it’s cheap to produce and therefore more commercially viable. And, it’s accept by most e-book vendors.
Creating an ePub2 book will also allow you to create a Kindle version easily. All you have to do is create an account with Amazon and submit your ePub2 book to it for conversion, which it will do for you free of charge.
If you have written your masterpiece and want to give ePub2 a try, click here to download Calibre, an excellent free tool for creating ePub2 books. And click here for some simple instructions on how to use the tool. It’s not a simple process. There are quite a lot of steps involved and you do have to convert your MS Word document into HTML before you can convert it into an ePub2 e-book. But it’s not rocket science either.
Once you’ve created your ePub2 book, I recommend you submit it to Kobo and Kindle (which will convert the ePub2 to the Kindle format). Between these two e-book vendors, you would have covered much of the global market. Amazon’s Kindle is not available in certain places (notably Malaysia and Singapore) but Kobo serves many markets that Amazon doesn’t.
If your book is one that would be of particular interest to Malaysians, you can also submit it to MPH and eSentral, which are the main local vendors (full disclosure, I am an editorial consultant to MPH). You too, can be a published author. E-books makes it very achievable.
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.