Books on the iPad’s iBookstore

by | May 25, 2010


Last month, Joanna Penn put together a useful blog post on How To Publish Your Book On The iPad. In the article she points out the various ways you can get a book onto the iPad, including:

  • Smashwords by creating a Word file that conforms with their requirements (spelled out in the 37-page guide, by the way)
  • Kindle which is a kind of back door onto the iPad through the Kindle for iPad app
  • Lulu the author-services company that is, like Smashwords, an Apple Aggregator for the iBookstore.
  • Aggregators beside the ones mentioned above. At last count there were eight, and there’s a handy list in the article The Apple iBookstore and You put together by Scott Flora, executive director of SPANnet.com.

What Happens at the iBookstore

Over the very few days I’ve owned an iPad I’ve become accustomed to the somewhat “sealed” environment that Apple presents you with. The iPad uses the same operating system as the iPhone, so it’s very familiar.

Enlarged to the size of the iPad, it becomes more obvious that Apple is providing a seamless, regulated and safe environment for its customers. This is one of the chief elements that will—in my opinion—make the iPad successful. It is a major step toward making computing—at least a robust type of “accessory” computing—accessible and attractive to a large audience. More on that later in the week.

But having gone to all the trouble to get your book onto the iPad, what can you expect? How do the books translate into the ebooks that buyers will see when they go iBook shopping?

I had a look at several possibilities. iBooks use the ePub format, similar to the Barnes & Noble Nook, the Sony Reader and many other eReaders.

First I downloaded a free sample of Lisa Alpine’s Exotic Life which I designed, and which was featured on my blog recently. Here’s what the chapter opening pages in the printed book looked like:

thebookdesinger.com lisa alpine exotic life

Click to enlarge

I knew the graphic probably wouldn’t survive the trip through Smashword’s famous “meatgrinder,” the engine that chews up your formatted Word file and spits out eBook formats left and right. But I was surprised at just how much damage had been done to the book. It was unrecognizable:

ibookstore apple ipad fonts self-publishing

Click to enlarge

Exotic Life ($9.99) is the first book I know of that I designed that’s on the iPad. I’m not jumping up and down in joy, since nothing of the design remains. At least the cover artist gets a nice little jpeg to represent his work. You can see here all the hallmarks of the iBooks typography we saw in the first look at this platform. Lack of hyphenation, very restricted list of iPad fonts, awkward typesetting and big “rivers” of space running through the body of the type.

Next I turned to a book from a major publisher who, presumably, would have far greater resources to bring to bear on file translation. I snagged a sample of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, $12.99 from Little, Brown. Here’s what it looks like:

malcolm gladwell outliers ibookstore applie ipad fonts

Click to enlarge

Although this may be mediocre typesetting, and the same problems with the very limited palette and most inappropriate iPad fonts, this is a much better looking page. At least you can recognize that it’s a chapter opening.

The Kindle Game

Amazon, who boasts over 500,000 titles in its Kindle Store, quickly moved to release a Kindle app for the iPad. This neat ploy placed Kindle “behind enemy lines,” so to speak, to make use of the popularity of the iPad to sell Kindle books.

(And before your rush out to go subscribe to TheBookDesigner.com on your iPad, have a seat. All of the subscription products like newspapers, magazines or blog subscriptions are available only for the Kindle itself.)

I grabbed a copy of something called The Hunters by Jason Pinter ($0.00—love that Kindle store!). Here’s a chapter opener:

amazon kindle for apple ipad ipad font problems self-publishing

Click to enlarge

I guess at least you could say it looks like a book. Notice how the Kindle pages have been greyed-out, perhaps to make it look more like the eInk pages of the Kindle itself. Of course, the Kindle for iPad app has none of the polish and sophistication of the iBooks. No sexy page turns, for instance. In fact, there is only a nod to “pages” at all. It looks like you are reading a continuous “roll” of paper with pages printed on it.

I want you to see, before I close this look at books in the iBookstore, what the “storefront” of the iBookstore looks like. This is the smooth and careful environment Apple has created for this ultimate experience of computing convenience:

ibookstore applie ipad fonts ebooks self-publishing

Click to enlarge

This is slick, pared down to essentials, designed to invite your participation.

But overall, despite the beauty of the iPad itself, besodes its convenience, and despite all the dynamic possibilities it presents, when it comes to the iPad fonts and typography, when you tear off the wrapper, we are still in a very primitive phase of ebooks.

Under the polish, things are pretty crude. But will that slow down sales? Will the poor look of virtually all these ebooks deter the wide acceptance of eReaders that many people are predicting?

What do you think?

Takeaway: There are now many ways for self-publishers to get into the Apple iBookstore for the iPad. Unfortunately, the ebooks haven’t gotten any better.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

37 Comments

  1. Naomi Creek

    I am an ebook designer and have been reading the comments here with interest. I have been only creating PDF ebooks (output from indesign) that have sold through independent websites, and they have done very well. Of course now I would like to get them into the ibookstore if possible but don’t want to sacrifice the nice layout and images. I have been primarily making technical photography books which have nice pics and also flash animations.

    Is there any way to convert the animations so they will work in the pdf on the iPad? If I load one of the PDF ebooks onto the iPad, it looks fantastic, preserves everything, but the animations are missing and some URL links work and others don’t.

    Also, can I sell a PDF via the ibookstore or is it only the epub format allowed?

    Will have to check out Lulu.

    Thanks for listening and I am glad to have found this site, seems like people know their stuff here :)

    Cheers
    Naomi

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey Naomi, thanks for your questions. Unfortunately I don’t have enough information to answer your questions, but I can see that this is something I should know. I’ve been using the PDF capacity in iBooks since they enabled it, but notice that many of the links in the PDFs aren’t active. I believe as of now only ePub books are for sale, but that may change. I would encourage you if you find any of the answers to these questions to let me know, and I’ll post about these topics as I learn more about them.

      Reply
      • Dani

        Hi Joel-

        Just curious if you’ve found any more info regarding selling pdfs through ibooks. I’m in the same situation as Naomi. I have several design heavy books that I’d like to publish electronically and pdf seems like the only way to go at this point. I noticed that the ibooks is now selling “enhanced” books. I’m not sure what format the enhanced books are though – pdf or epub? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

        Reply
  2. Joel Friedlander

    Yes, the Kindle looked remarkably old fashioned the day the iPad came out, and I wonder if the recent price reductions are going to help. Received wisdom before the iPad launch was that the Kindle, with about 5 million units sold in the past year, would have a big head start. But recent sales figures for iPad which show over 3 million sold in the first month look like they will negate that advantage. Reading outdoors and long battery life don’t seem to make up for all the other iPad advantages.

    Reply
  3. Michael N. Marcus

    The large-size Kindle DX (new lower-price improved model was just announced) was intended to make inroads against printed college textbooks. One or more schools just concluded experiments. I read that students were dissatisfied because they could not zoom in on diagrams and other illustrations.

    Of course the iPad makes the monochrome touchscreen-less Kindle seems hopelessly 20th-century.

    Reply
  4. Anita

    This is a very interesting article. I am in the UK working for a school text book publisher and we have just started looking at the possibility of converting some of our text books into ebook format. Seeing the issues you have had with layout and design in the converted examples I wonder whether converting textbooks which are highly graphical and with text in multiple columns is possible? Can you convert from the PDF?

    Is there a big market for e textbooks in the US?

    Any opinions would be really interesting, thanks.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Anita, I think the scenario you outline is very problematic for ePub, the format used in most eBook readers (or the related Mobi format used by Kindle). These are exactly the kinds of book that are challenging to translate to ePub. While I’ve seem some better examples of ePub conversion textbooks are the most challenging.

      Textbooks are something of a specialty but I have not heard of any etextbooks being used in the US. If you find something out, I would be interested to hear back. And thanks for visiting.

      Reply
      • David Bergsland

        I translated my font design textbook into ePub and it’s selling OK, but typographically it’s butchered. I had to convert to single column inline graphics. And the graphics were JPEGS instead of the nice crisp PDFs in the original.

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Man, David, that’s about the most difficult thing to put into ePub, isn’t it? Type design? You would have to turn virtually the whole book into graphics just to show the typefaces, yes? Why don’t you post a link and we can have a look at the results?

          Reply
      • Tony Cornejo

        Joel,
        Thanks for the great article. I work for a publisher that specializes in music and music instruction. This whole ePub thing has been a royal pain. Our company has over 3,000 titles.
        The challenge for us is that our publications are for the most part music notation and tablature. We have many of these as PDF and are creating new PDFs of our back catalog for our on site digital printing plant.
        I was tasked to get these setup for Kindle. Trying a variety of things to make this happen without out success I finally exported a PDF manuscript as single page image files and then took the output ant converted back to PDF, so in the end I had a PDF of image files. I got this to upload through Amazon’s Kindle converter and the book looks fine in the Kindle viewer for PC & iPhone.

        It just seems like all the rush for eBooks involves being able to spit content out to any device. This is unfortunate because like textbooks our offerings could really take advantage of the multimedia capabilities such as embedded audio and video.

        iBookstore seems to allow easy filing of PDFs. To bad they only sell ePub.

        Reply
        • David Bergsland

          What’s this about easy filing of PDfs, but only selling ePubs? I just read an article about how the new iBooks for iPad with PDF support reads PDFs really well.

          Reply
          • Joel Friedlander

            The new iBooks app has both EPUB ebooks and PDFs, but they segretated into different presentations of the iBooks Library: you can’t view them both at once. And I haven’t seen any PDFs for sale in the iBookstore. But the iBooks app is now my favorite PDF viewer of all time, it’s super and much smoother than the web-based variety of book viewers. You should try it.

        • Joel Friedlander

          Tony, those are some hoops you’ve been jumping through! It does seem like a “rush” because it’s something a larger company can understand, they don’t want to miss the boat, so let’s get those ebooks out there. But we know it’s really difficult with the tools we have now to make a decent job of many heavily-formatted books. These will have to stay in PDF until the tools, and our skills, improve. Thanks for visiting.

          Reply
  5. Joel Friedlander

    Ibrahm, is the Amazon Kindle app for iPad available in Qatar? That would give you a good ebook reader and access to over 500,000 books. More ebook readers will be coming out for the iPad so even if iBookstore is not available yet, there should be plenty of ebooks from other sources. Please let us know how your search goes, thanks.

    Reply
  6. Ibrahm

    I bought iPad only for the reason for book. I live here in Qatar. But it’s very unfortunate that ibookstore does not sell the book in country Qatar. If u can guide me to such area where I can buy the books will appreciate

    Reply
  7. Julia Lindsey

    Joel
    We are just now looking into converting all of our books to an e-book format. I am disappointed how the graphics in your book converted on ipad. If the book you designed was formated on smashwords originally do you think it would have looked better? I am under the impression that the format for smashwords is different than the format sent to the printers.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Julia, this was about the worst example (unfortunately) that I saw of the dozen or so books I’ve looked at in the iBookstore. I’m sure that if you contract with someone to do these conversions for you, you will get a better result. The files that Smashwords requires are Word files. Most printers require high-resolution, production-quality PDF files. If you’d like to talk about this further, email me at jfbookman ( at ) gmail.com.

      Reply
  8. Marla Markman

    Terrific post, Joel! As a vendor who is in the midst of consulting a client on e-book conversion for her future book, this topic hit the spot. It was great to see what the book pages actually look like on these various devices, and I like the comparison of the low- vs. high-budget conversions as well. My client’s book will have sidebars and charts in it, and we wanted to know how that would convert. We’ve download a similar book to the Kindle to see how it converts these elements, but I would love to see what the iPad does to them. If you come across any Joel, I love to know what the results were.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Marla. Sure, I’ll keep a lookout. It looks like the skill of the vendor you use may have an enormous impact on what you get as a final result. We have a lot to learn!

      Reply
  9. Michael N. Marcus

    Correction. I meant to say “huge word spacing,” not “letterspacing” in my description of the Silverman book.

    Reply
  10. Michael N. Marcus

    I’ve had my iPad for about six weeks, and have downloaded about 50 books. Some were iBooks from from iTunes, some are Kindles from Amazon, and some are PDFs from Lulu or my own PC.

    My most recent purchase was Sarah Silverman’s “The Bedwetter,” in iBook format. It looks the most booklike, but the huge letterspacing and lack of hyphens is disturbing. OTOH, the page turning is cool. I have two choices of text size.

    I just finished “Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust,” in Kindle format. I have Apple’s Kindle app. The book’s pages were uglier than the iBook, with horrible word spacing, no hyphens, strange breaks within words, and pages with just one line of text on them. It’s as ugly as the worst self-pubbed books I’ve seen. Pages are turned by flicking a finger or tapping the lower-right corner of the screen, without the illusion of turning pages provided by iBooks. I have five choices of text size, three choices of “paper” color, and adjustable page brightness.

    I also used the GoodReader app to check “Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy” an eBook about Outskirts Press that I published through Lulu.com. I loaded this and PDFs of several other books I wrote, from my PC. Because they are PDFs, they look exactly like the printed page — except that the photos ae MUCH better than on paper. There are no hyperlinks, and pages are advanced by tapping the bottom of the screen. I can use two fingers to zoom-in, providing more page size flexibility than the other formats.

    None of the eBook formats is perfect. My ideal would to have the accurate reproduction of a PDF combined with the page-turning illusion of Amazon iBooks. Hyperlinks would be nice, too.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      I’m with you Michael, waiting for that format that combines the best of PDF and ePub and consistent across all platforms. I just got the GoodReader app also, since I couldn’t find any way to upload documents to the iPad. It works really well.

      Reply
  11. Mayowa

    Great post Joel.

    As you say these readers are pretty crude beneath the lipstick, yet it seems the adoption and purchase rates continue to skyrocket (184% increase in ebook sales inr recent months). That makes me think readers will accept convinience anyway they can get it.

    It can only get better.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Mayowa, you are right on the money. The forces pushing toward digital books are very strong and won’t be stopped. Besides convenience, there’s also price, ecological concerns, and availability. But I hope the move to ebooks does not, in the end, mean the death of typography.

      Reply
      • Mayowa

        Me neither sir, me neither.

        I will be on the tail end of adoption myself. Nothing like a real book as far as i’m concerned.

        Reply
        • David Bergsland

          Of course, things do change. I have spent most of spring and I will spend much of summer dealing with boxes of books, building rooms to hold the bookcases needed to hold those books—most of which I do not really need. I’m just a compulsive reader.

          I must admit, I’m hoping for a rich benefactor with an extra iPad around to donate to my cause ;-)

          Reply
  12. Cheryl Anne Gardner

    I don’t think the formatting will deter ebook readers. eBooks have been around a long, long time. Many of us started out reading HTML ebooks or PDFs or Txt files. So none of the so-called formatting issues have had any affect on me, a reader who reads on average 3-4 books a month. I have a Sony Pocket ereader, so you know that is a stripped down basic dedicated reader: no fancy bells and whistles, no ridiculous virtual page flipping, no internet connection, no nothing … just the words. For me, like many heavy readers, an immersive experience for us lies with the words. I buy more digital books now than I do paper. If I buy paper, it has to be something I will return to over and over, and it has to be hardback of collector quality. I only buy paperbacks now if they are unavailable in ebook, like obscure foreign translations.

    As for the Smashwords formatting, there are tips and tricks to get a good looking ebook product in Microsft Word. Sure, it’s plain, but it has to be in order to be compatible across platforms, and THAT, is the biggest consumer bone of contention. It needs to look the same on screen and on whatever device I want to use. Ask any long-time ebook buyer and they will say the same thing: We want the words, and we want cross-platform standardized formatting.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Cheryl Anne, I’ve seen the Sony and it’s a nice little unit. And I think the way your book purchasing has evolved may be indicative of what will eventually happen in the print book world. That is, printed books will gradually become high-end items, cultural artifacts with a hefty price and a special “aura” because they aren’t . . . normal (i.e. digital) books.

      I agree with you that the words are the crucial part. Nothing in a book design can enhance the author’s text, only take away from it. And I say that as a designer. I often make this point to clients who want to “pimp their book.” Remember a book that made an impression on you, changed your life. It was that immersion in another world, not the paper or the running heads or the color photos, just the skill of the author, nothing more.

      Thanks for your input.

      Reply
  13. betty ming liu

    really helpful to see your visuals on the difference between kindle, ipad — and the real printed page. sigh. your opening chapter page would add a lot to the reading of that book. i guess if i never saw this post, never used a kindle and just had an ipad, ignorance would be bliss. i would just assume that reading e-books was a bland experience. and it might not matter because everything else about the ipad is so jazzy.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Betty, yes the Exotic Life design worked well, and the author was quite happy with it. It looks like there is a lot of skill that can be deployed to make these ePub books better or . . .

      And yes, you’ve hit on something. “Books” are increasingly devolving to “text” and that is pretty bland.

      Reply
  14. Jolie Beaumont

    Thanks so much! I was wondering what the pages of these ereaders looked like. Now that I know what to expect, it won’t be such a shock when my book comes out.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jolie, you can see that some look a lot better than others! I hope yours looks like one of the better ones. Loved your excerpt, by the way, good luck with the book.

      Reply
  15. David Bergsland

    ebooks at this point are where HTML was in the mid 1990s. CSS without the fonts or the divs. Have you heard of any solutions yet?

    My PDF downloads at Lulu at still selling better than epubs, but Kindle is doing well—and this is with a highly graphic book on font design. It’s a strange situation.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      David, I haven’t heard any good news on the typography front, but my antennae are out. Interesting about your PDFs. I think this whole situation is really up in the air and it will be interesting to see where it settles.

      Reply

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