By David Kudler
A while back, I wrote a review of the online ebook conversion tools available through the major retailers and aggregators. 1 It’s been a couple of years, and I thought it would be a good idea to revisit them and share any new findings. I was surprised to find many!
I’ll say this up front — none of the online conversion tools handled my rather complicated test document perfectly. In every case, there was something wrong that I would have to go in and edit in the ePub file. 2 But most (though not all) of the services3 did a passable job of digesting my document and converting it into a form that was at least recognizable. There wasn’t even one that got that far the last time out!
The Test Case
I created a Word document (originally as a .doc file, but saved also as a .docx file, since a number of services only take one and not the other).
It’s essentially the same file that I used last time out — an extract from my novel Risuko with some added art. The only change I made this time was to add some color to the text, just to see how the conversion engines handled that. You can download the Word doc here.
Here’s what the beginning of the file looks like:
Note a few things, here. First of all, I’ve obviously used some non-standard fonts — one for the chapter number and another for the chapter title and drop cap. I didn’t expect any of the services to be able to handle them — as I mentioned recently, that’s hard to make happen even with an ePub file with properly embedded fonts. Still, I wanted to see what would happen.
Those custom fonts are colored bright red. It’ll be interesting to watch how that gets handled too.
The body text is Garamond — a standard typeface that’s already installed on many computers, ereaders, and tablets. The text is set justified (that is, flush to the left and right margins), with a half-inch indent for each paragraph. There’s a drop cap (the big W) at the beginning — part of the first paragraph.
There are two images. The big one at the top (created from my cover) is on its own line, while the smaller one — the lovely Haranobu print of the flautist — is inset flush with the right margin. The text flows around it.
I figured that the art would be the sticking point for most of the services. I was right.
Now, this is probably more complicated than the typical novel, which has little to no art. But there are ebooks out there that require images, 4 and it’s important to see how the conversion tools are going to handle them. The idea was to push them a bit and see whether they’d buckle under the pressure.
The Competitors Enter
I chose to test all of the major English-language ebook retailers and aggregators that accept Word documents. Here’s who I looked at (listed by category alphabetically):
- Amazon’s KDP
- Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press
- Kobo’s Writing Life
You’ll notice a couple of major names missing in the retailer category: specifically, Apple and Google. Their stores don’t accept Word documents, so there was no point in attempting the test with them! 5
The first name we looked at would be Amazon’s KDP, and not just because it’s first alphabetically. It’s the biggest ebook market in the world in every sense — most titles, most sold, most revenue. Outside the US, it may not be nearly as dominant as we see it here, but it remains the 800 lb. gorilla in the ebook room.
I expected KDP’s conversion to be one of the better ones — they’ve been doing this longer than anyone, after all. I wasn’t disappointed — though the result wasn’t perfect. Here’s the online previewer’s view of the converted document:
To give a consistent view with the rest of the reviews, I used the free desktop ebook converter Calibre to convert the .mobi file into ePub format so that I could open it in Apple’s Books app — the one I’ll be using to test the other conversions. For the sake of comparison, here’s the same book as an ePub:
Not bad. The text is properly justified, the colors are correct, and the drop cap is more or less properly sized (if a little small). The image at the top looks to be correctly placed. 6 The text is all set in Bookerly, but why not?
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