The Kindle platform is great for many types of content, but not for all. When I offer my presentations and classes, I have a few slides that help walk Authors through the following choices. Your content might work for all platforms, or not.
For the sake of simplicity, I break eBook platforms into two major categories: PDF, and ePub. Both of these are compatible with Mac and PC platforms, and both can be sold off your own website. And, both can be used for the same content. But they will look quite different.
We all know what a PDF is. Static, colourful, suitable for things like charts, diagrams, fill-in-the-blanks, and of course, easily printable. Designers LOVE a PDF, because they know, without a doubt, that what they see on their screen is precisely what the consumer will see when they purchase it and open it. There is no fluidity to the content. It stays where you put it. This reliability is what caused the explosion of the PDF format in the first place. It can also be distributed and created more easily, and for most people wanting to sell a self-help or business book from their blog or website, the PDF option provides a very smooth experience for the consumer. The creator can use the simplest possible sales mechanism: the PayPal shopping button, which has virtually no maintenance, and is extraordinarily easy to setup, even for non-techies.
Plus, there really isn’t much to worry about in terms of things like tech support for the user. Once the consumer has downloaded the PDF, they can even use their Kindle device or software to open the file, as well as Acrobat Reader, Adobe Digital Editions, or various other software, making it extremely user-friendly.
However. (Ahem.) Let’s suppose that the user doesn’t shop that way for their eBooks. If they do a search on Amazon.com for your keywords, they will miss you entirely. And further, let us also suppose that you want to take advantage of the DRM support provided by ePub-based platforms like Amazon Kindle. And even further, let’s suppose that you just don’t want to be the one managing the shopping cart – you’d rather leave that to Amazon. And after all that, let’s just say you want it on Kindle so that you can win the bet with your know-it-all brother. (Matt, you lose.)
The big dividing line between PDF’s and ePubs is that ePubs are really all about text – not design. While they continue to evolve, and yes, images and so on can work beautifully, you’re really never quite sure what the consumer is going to see when it gets to their end.The Kindle platform is very user-friendly, virtually eliminates piracy, and allows the reader to conveniently carry their library in their mobile phone. All of that works the way it does because content for Kindle is really just text, and therefore, a very small file size. It’s about the raw, flowable text: not charts, not diagrams, not comparison tables, and certainly not large or complicated images.
Upon dissecting an ePub, which is the base of the proprietary Kindle format, you’ll find yourself looking at an html file – essentially, a web page. That’s right. Tags, text, and image files. Does your content rely on images to explain concepts? Do you have not a piece of prose, but a workbook in which users must perform exercises or fill in blanks? Do you rely on dramatic spacing and a series of complicated indents to set apart portions of your content, such as in poetry?Do you have sidebars or flyouts? Do you rely on colour to make distinctions in the text? If so, you may wish to reconsider the use of the Kindle platform, and instead, stick to PDF’s.
While ePubs have evolved dramatically, and continue to do so, the reality is that there is just too much out of your control as the creator of an ePub with a lot of graphics, colour, or special text placement on the page. The content may not look like you expect it to on all devices and all platforms. (And in fact, I can virtually guarantee you that it will not.) If that’s the case, will it still make sense? Be readable?
Understanding the nature of the ePub or Kindle platform before we start to write allows us to create content that exploits its benefits, rather than getting caught its traps. For example, novels and non-fiction prose are very well suited to the ePub – Kindle platforms. That is exactly the sort of content for which the platform was invented, and, using even the most basic marketing will virtually guarantee some sales. Creating content that relies on rich descriptions and high-impact language will do best in this situation.
This is why regardless of recent advancements in ePubs, I still caution users to rely on only the most simple formatting when creating content that they intend publish via Kindle, or a multi-platform ePub uploader such as Smashwords. When content is uploaded into useful systems like this, the interface to the creator forces the content to be reduced to its very bones, thereby ensuring compatibility to multiple retail platforms. For ePubs, simpler source content guarantees better results, and that’s why the PDF isn’t going anywhere: we still need it for its reliability of design and function.