Real eBooks: Are We Still in the Stone Age?

POSTED ON Jan 27, 2012

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > E-Books & Readers, Self-Publishing > Real eBooks: Are We Still in the Stone Age?

by James Moushon

I’m really pleased to bring you a guest post by author and blogger James Moushon. I met James through the blog and the articles he contributes to other sites like and he has been a featured blogger in our own Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies blog carnival. In this article James poses a question every ebook author might want to think about. Here it is.

So when will we start to see REAL ebooks appear on the market? You know the ebooks that take advantage of their digital environment. Ebooks that have been rendered to improve the reader’s ebook experience. As the number of ebook devices explodes into the book reader’s world, the readers are going to expect more. This statement is especially true with the younger generation whose world seems to center around instant access.

I just completed a study of twenty newly released ebooks just to see how far the art of ebook publishing has advanced in the last year. I choose ebooks from well-known authors, from self-publishing authors, some novels, some technical books. I wanted a variety for my study. I would like to share my observations and suggestions for their improvement.

My contention is that REAL ebooks should be a different product than their paper counterparts. They should be formatted differently; sections arranged differently and in some cases they should have different covers. In short, to be a REAL ebook, they should not be just a copy of the traditional book version.

The following is a list of certain areas that I feel need improvement; areas that you must consider when you create your ebook.

REAL ebooks Links

Rendering your ebook with links is a major step in the right direction in creating a REAL book. What items MUST have links?

  1. The Table of Contents must have links to the chapter headings. Most are doing this now.
  2. Author’s References—the ebook must include links to the author’s website, email address, blogs, online profiles and social networking connections (Facebook/Twitter). You need this to get your reader/audience involved.
  3. Author’s Other Books—there should be links to the buy pages for other books created by the author. Why miss this marketing opportunity.

    For example, in my study two of the ebooks were written by top 10 authors and published by traditional publishers. Both had a list of their other titles, provided credits for the book creation and the usual publisher information. Neither used links to assist the reader in buying other titles or helping their co-developers secure new business. One did have a link to the publisher’s web site. There was no links to the author’s website, blog, email address or social network information.
  4. In book links—the REAL ebook should have links in the content to footnotes (held in appendix), to word and term definitions and to references. For example, one project I recently worked on was a pictorial about Omaha Beach with over 50 original pictures inserted in the content. With the picture, its title and the picture credits, the content became very difficult to read. The solution was to have a link from the picture title to the picture’s credits in the back of the ebook. If the reader wanted to check out the source they could follow the link and then hit the back key on the ebook device. If the reader didn’t, they could ignore the link and continue without interrupting the reading experience.

Another example in my survey was a technical book about the publishing industry. It was a well written book with lots of good information and references. But there were no links. None! It contained lots of hard coded website addresses and email contact information. All I had to do was re-enter the URL into my web browser and I could find the source.

Actually this is a missed opportunity. One of the problems that traditional books have that REAL ebooks can solve is the maintenance of links in the books. As we know we live in an ever changing world. Web and email addresses change on a daily basis, it seems. So there I am with a link to some interesting information and the link is no good. A broken link, if you will.

If the REAL ebook is managed properly, you can avoid or limit this problem. You can create an online directory of links for your ebook. Then you setup a link monitoring process and a link maintenance routine and maintain a valid list of links in the directory. I call this the Goodlinks concept. Just include a link to the online directory in your ebook and you won’t lose your audience.

In fact you can draw the reader to your site and market other products and services. Of course, the beauty of the REAL ebook is you can republish it at any time with the updated links and information.

I believe the REAL ebook can help solve the read-back problems that all readers are faced with at one time or another. I watched a reader the other day try to deal with a novel that was riddled with acronyms and abbreviations. It was getting to be such a problem that half way through the ebook, she actually started writing them down on a separate piece of paper to reference later. Here is an example. “He called USAMRIID for advice.” I give up.

Other Considerations to Ponder


Sometimes the traditional book cover doesn’t work for the ebook. In this case, size does matter. That great book cover that you had designed is going to go small. On-line distributors try to catch the eye of would-be readers with thumbnail covers. The problem is that sometimes colors get in the way, the type size and face doesn’t look good small and the art gets distorted. A professional designer can solve this problem. You need one that can make the cover work in both environments. Check with our host for this site, Joel Friedlander.

One of the other cover issues is with the effort to get the prospective reader to view a sample of the ebook; some distributors will put a label over the right hand corner of the thumbnail which obscures that portion of the cover. A good designed cover will keep important information viewable like the author’s name or even the title of the book. I saw that in my study.


REAL ebooks should include, with their copyright notice, the page number source document for the ebook, especially if the book has various editions. This is relatively a new process but it helps readers coordinate content between the paper version and ebook. This is increasingly important in the educational environment. Students using both hardbound and the ebook versions need a reference point sometimes.


One of the current ebook marketing strategies is to allow the prospective reader to read a sample of the ebook before buying. All distributors seem to go at this sample process differently but at the end of the day they want to provide the prospective buyer with something that can help with the buying decision. Most of them use a percentage basis.

The REAL ebook concept can help with this process but there has to be a rearranging of the book’s sections if the process is automated like most of them are.

Let me start with an example. I reviewed the buy page on Amazon for each book in my study. I choose one ebook in my study and downloaded the sample, comparing it to the full length version. Here’s what I found.

The ebook sample was in the same section sequence as the paper version. I know there is a traditional way to setup a book. This sample was no exception. It started with the cover followed by the title page, the table of contents, the dedication, the copyright page and a list of the writer’s other works.

So you ask what’s wrong with this. If this sample was going to help sell my ebook, it probably failed. The sample was 80 device pages long but the viewer had to page through 24 pages before they could start reading the book to make a decision.

I believe if you are going to use the sample as a sales tool, there are some slight changes you can make. I would include the cover and the title page with an abbreviated TOC up front along with the author’s other books with buy links. Also I would include upfront the author’s website and contact information. Move the copyright page, dedications and credits to the end of the ebook.

If you get to setup your own sample, keep this in mind. REAL ebooks and their samples should give the prospect what they need to make a decision and only that. A sample doesn’t need a complete table of content. This ebook had 80 chapters which took up four complete device pages and the kicker was; the links to the last 76 chapters were no good. Make the sample simple. Get the reader to your content as quickly as possible.

Bring on the REAL ebook

In most cases, ebooks are still just copies of the paper version but there is a huge opportunity to improve the ebook reading experience. Creative book design and digital links can help us move the ebook experience forward in acceptance.

Currently we have a problem. Let’s face it. Until traditional publishers start to treat ebooks as separate products with different properties and requirements, we have not taken advantage of the digital product. Their approach is simple but self-serving. Get it out the door. Get the copy into an ebook format, charge a higher price than needed and watch the money fall to their bottom line.

The advantage should go to the self-publisher because they control the process. They have the ability to correct the problems easily and make something really special.

Seek a professional to help you through the process if you’re really serious about marketing your ebook.

What do you think about the REAL ebook concept? Is adding links to an already completed product just too much work or would it move your book to the leading edge of ebook world and improve the readers enjoyment?

James-MoushonJames Moushon helped lead the startup of the electronic forms industry in the creation, conversion and usage of electronic forms, working with over 200 companies and organizations. In 2003 he changed his focus to ebooks and their development. He is also the author of the thriller Call Off the Dogs, and he blogs at The eBook Author’s Corner

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Joel Friedlander

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