08 August 2012

The Changing eBook Market: Tablet Update

publishing.pngThere's another sea change coming down the line - and it's one that could completely upend digital publishing.

Again.

Remember 2003? Cory Doctorow had just published Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Palm and Blackberry were the highest tech handheld devices available. And everyone said they'd never read off of computer screens.

Remember 2005? I first heard Mike Stackpole talking about digital publishing then, and I was still skeptical.

Remember 2007, when Doctorow was still having to argue that people liked reading off of computer screens? And it was still met with skepticism.

Then eInk (the technology) happened. It wasn't like reading off a screen. It was like reading paper books, and the digital publication revolution began in earnest. ePub and Kindle formats quickly dominated, with PDFs (which had been around for a while) suddenly taking a back seat to reflowable text. PDFs, after all, aren't real eBooks - they're digital representations of a printed page. Which kind of sucks when your screen isn't the size of a printed page.

And then... tablets. Holy crap, tablets.

Look at this article: 12 stats that matter in digital publishing. We are on track to a third of all US adults owning a tablet. 400% increases in adoption rates. E-ink (the company) has actually lost money, despite having a huge hold on the market.

People do love reading off that screen after all.

So this is going to cause two big changes for digital publishing (one already in progress):

  1. Sizes of images are going to go up in true eBooks. Apple is already requiring considerably higher resolution images to support their Retina tablets (1400 px wide). While this requires some rejiggering of your production process, it makes a big difference when some places (cough Amazon cough) charge you an additional "delivery" fee based on filesize.
  2. PDFs will come back in popularity. Fast. And none - none - of the major eBook players are currently set up to handle PDFs well, to the best of my knowledge. If you sell yourself (which you should be, and here's how), it's not hard to sell a PDF in a zipfile bundle. Places like OneBookshelf (aka DriveThru Fiction, RPGNow, DriveThruRPG) make it easy to sell watermarked PDFs. And it's dead simple to create a decent-looking1 PDF from any modern word processor. It's WYSIWYG. And just like digital publishing itself, it'll upset the current status quo - both at the market level, and by making it easier for anybody with a wordprocessor to "publish" themselves... with all the good and bad that entails.

PDF has, honestly, been an afterthought for me in the past. Even now, I usually generate the PDF simultaneously with the print layout - and after I've done the eBook work. While I expect that reflowable eBooks aren't disappearing anytime soon, I think PDF is going to have to be a bigger part of my process.

What do you think?


1 Advanced book design is its own thing.
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