For authors and publishers already overwhelmed, last week’s news about the Google eBooks store and Amazon’s Kindle for web only added to the waterfall of controversy pouring into an already raging river of e-book and publishing hype. The big takeaway from these two announcements, and a recent “Books in Browsers” event that I attended, is that the web browser is an important player in e-books.
Self-publishers can benefit from adding browser-based e-book options to the services they should already be using to sell their books, such as Smashwords, Scribd, and Amazon DTP. This best-of-breed group will get their books in all the dedicated e-book readers, mobile, and multi-use devices, and now, delivered in the browser.
Now here’s why browsers are so important, and how to get your books in them.
Browsers: The Forgotten Platform
In the frenzy of formats, platforms, and devices, awareness of the web’s importance as a e-publishing platform simply faded into the background. But the Books in Browsers conference in October brought the browser to the attention of many publishing insiders. BIB10 was an astonishingly high-level gathering of 120 people from nine countries, including publishers, librarians, and toolmakers (many of whom were notable and even famous names), for a two-day working meeting. It was hosted by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, who is largely concerned with building a digital library and providing universal access to books, music, movies and, via the WayBackMachine, its billions and billions of archived web pages.
One of the advantages of the web browser is that it does not constrain text inside a container. With proper formatting, HTML can provide a beautiful reading experience on a 19-inch flat-screen or a three-inch mobile device. The browser even gracefully delivers transmedia books with embedded audio, video, images, and graphics — something today’s e-book readers are hard pressed to do. Even if a book is enclosed in a container (providing discovery, sales, and downloads), the browser delivery system lets book buyers access their downloads from the cloud — using any device they happen to be near that has an Internet connection, as long as it has an HTML5-compatible browser. It’s worth noting that computers and smartphones are able to take advantage of books in browsers, but many dedicated e-readers can’t.
Rise and Fall of Dedicated E-Readers
With over a billion browser-friendly, web-enabled devices worldwide we are suddenly back to the future with e-book publishing. One has to wonder, why did all the device and e-book publishers feel like they had to create e-book readers?
One answer is because multi-use devices are simply not as light and comfortable as a book. That’s going to change, and when it does, your Kobo, Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader will become inconvenient and redundant — or get smarter and lighter and do more things. Today’s versions are pretty dumb and are considered “transitional devices” by people who gaze into tech’s crystal ball. For example, Craig Morgan of Publishers Weekly and Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired, talk about this in an interview about Kelly’s book, What Technology Wants.
Big Name Game Changers
The launch of Google eBooks last week has put books in browsers in the headlines. Hours after the announcement, Amazon announced Kindle for Web, making browsers even more relevant. Kahle saw this coming a long time ago.
“Google’s promised Google Editions [rebranded Google eBooks] are going to be available in browsers,” he predicted in his Books in Browsers 2010 keynote speech back in October.
Kahle also told us, “Amazon is putting its toe in the books-in-browser world with its recent beta. Then there’s Starbucks and LibreDigital’s recent announcement that they will make bestsellers readable in browsers while at a Starbucks. Ibis Reader, Book Glutton, rePublish, sBooks, and the Internet Archive BookReader are other emerging technologies for reading in browsers.”
Readers can now buy hundreds of thousands of e-books from Google, or download over two million public domain titles for free. They can access their downloaded books on any device with an HTML5-enabled browser from their computers or via apps for iPhones, iPads, and Android-powered smartphones. Buyers can access the books they purchased on any e-reader based on an open platform, like EPUB, which includes the Sony Reader and the B&N Nook. (The Sony Reader Store is the search, purchase, and download engine for Google eBooks.)
If you’re self-publishing, you should add Google eBooks to your list of places to sell books. This will get your book into the largest number of e-tailers and devices, not to mention brick-and-mortar bookstores like Books Inc. and Diesel, who are helping their customers buy digital. In order to make this happen, here are your tasks:
• Upload your book to Google eBooks and promote it through their partner program.
• Upload your book to Smashwords for sale in their store. Distribute in their catalogs: Their Premium Catalog aggregates your book to major retailers and their Atom/OPDS Catalog gets your book in major mobile app platforms. They also provide HTML and text formats easily read in browsers.
• Upload your book to Scribd for social media attention, previews, sale, and distribution to the customer’s device or for display in their browser-based reader.
If formatting is not your forte, or you just don’t have the time, you can throw about $250 at a service like eBook Architects who will do it for you.
Ignore the Hype
The above covers the vast majority of sales outlets, but that doesn’t mean that other products, services, and programs aren’t also begging for attention. I try them out as they come along, but mostly give up in frustration due to their difficult, buggy, and largely beta interfaces.
This is a profitable marketplace — self-publishing is seeing three-digit growth! — so there is lots of activity and the hype is not likely to die down anytime soon. Meantime, best practices for self-publishers include sticking with the above best-of-breed products and services, and focusing on quality. Participate in membership organizations and communities (like the Small Publishers Association of North America) that can help separate hype from truth, and concentrate on getting your book to (virtual) press, which means paying attention to writing, editing, design, and marketing.
Carla King is an author, a publishing and social media strategist, and co-founder of the “Self-Publishing Boot Camp” program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and as diaries on her website.