Sunday, 27 November 2011
Ebooks: Does Size Matter?
In the usual recondite fashion, the answer to this is: ‘It depends’. But when it comes to e-readers, if you haven’t considered this question when publishing your latest e-book you could be in for a tricky ride.
Part of the problem has arisen from the manufacturers of e-readers making out how adaptable their products can be, how any book can be scaled or made to re-flow to fit the viewing screen, either automatically or at the whim of the reader. This is all very well, but it has lead to the bamboozlement (it’s a real word I looked it up) of an entire industry concerning their products —as well as a certain amount of decapitated chicken behaviour as to how to best go about designing e-books. The simple answer to all this is size, and the guide to this already exists in the distilled wisdom that the publishing industry has managed to accrue over the last few thousand years. Over this period, though some books have been intended to be more or less portable, the common factor has been that they have all been designed to be read by a human being.
Just because Apple, Amazon and a few hundred technology companies in that last couple of years have come up with some electronic gizmos that display words and images, doesn’t mean that people’s fingers have got smaller or their eyes closer together. The reader (ie the meaty thing with a brain) is still for most purposes the same as the guy peering at clay tablets 5000 years ago, and the common issue is display size.
The thing that we call a ‘book’ covers such a variety of printed paper creations that the idea of trying to squash digital versions of every book into every kind of e-reader seems almost laughable, but this is what the manufacturers want you to believe can be done, both as a reader and a publisher.
The platform a book is read on makes a huge difference and it is as well to draw a clear line in the sand when it comes to what you create for them. The wikipedia chart provides a very helpful view of display sizes for most of the current e-reading devices, and it doesn’t take long to figure out that most fit into just two size ranges: pocket-size, and mid-size. If the industry is planning any large size, flexible screen fold out or roll-up devices they haven’t let on yet, but as things stand you should be aiming at one of those available, not both.
The ubiquitous Kindle (and it’s competitors) is not a multimedia device, or a games platform; it is best suited to being an e-novel platform. Pocket sized, eye-friendly and within the size limitations, perfectly suited for that purpose. It’s screen is 3.6 inches by 4.8, or 600 x 800 pixels. Writers of novels are fine here, text works well and it doesn’t suffer too much from being re-flowed as some formats have a habit of doing (If you’re publishing a novel you will have an easier time of it than creating anything involving pictures). But if a reader tries to view a comic, a magazine or a big picture book on one of these small sized devices, they will see something, but they are going to be missing out on a major part of the experience. If you are publishing a big bumper book of recipes with full spreads of chocolate treats, the kindle is not going to be your platform. Think in terms of size; either don’t publish for this type of device at all, or consider making a tailored, cut-down version that fits the screen and doesn’t have to be re-sized (heck it may even boost sales if people like the small version, there’s a good chance they will buy the big one as well).
Producing image heavy books for the ipad is another game entirely; the ipad and similar sized interactive tablets are all roughly 7.75 x 5.82 inches, 1024 x 768 pixels, which is larger than the e-novel readers but still designed to be portable. Size should also be considered right at the outset here as well; the reader should be able to comfortably view the page without having to change or drag the image around too much, or they may find it frustrating. Merely converting your existing picture book onto a common format and letting the reader deal with it’s viewing is unlikely to get the sales you might hope for. Taking the whole book apart and re-designing it to fit the magic 7.75 x 5.82 inches may take you some time, but it will be much more reader friendly.
We are enjoying a honeymoon period at the moment where the technology is new and the audience more receptive, people are forgiving of the quirks and foibles they encounter in the systems and publications they are buying, but they will very quickly tire of having to make too many clicks and gestures that interrupt the flow of the reading experience. Yes, the i-pad and its ilk allow for all sorts of interactive fireworks in your book, a route that leads into the realms of games and multimedia, but making the product the right size for the platform will do you favours in the long run. Think about how people are going to read your book; if you want people to read with their eyes not their fingers, then make sure it is designed so that they can do that easily. At the end of the day, size does matter and you should have that in mind when you set out to publish.