The Crazy EBook Craze

    June 17, 2003

The Web is awash in ebooks. Is this a passing thing? Or will interest sustain? Maybe even grow?

My sense is that people will continue to be interested in ebooks, and that this interest will grow. However, I expect the demand for better quality content and presentation to increase substantially.

Many authors take the position that since they are only producing an ebook, perhaps to be given away, sharp presentation of meaningful content in some magical way matters less than it does in the print media. Further, few make the effort to edit and polish, as is mandated in printed material. Thus what is offered is often only in draft form, insufficient throughout, with lack of editing and polish apparent on all sides.

As people become more demanding, the quality of ebooks will improve. We see something similar even now in poorly crafted websites disappearing quickly. Surfers are demanding better quality in the site, content, and support. Webmasters will heed their demands, else find another line of work. Those who publish ebooks will need to meet increasingly demanding standards.

What Is The Best Publishing Format?

There are lots of options to be considered. However, software available to compile your book currently falls into just three categories. The compiled book is …

  1. An .EXE file which requires Windows with Internet Explorer Ver 4.0 or higher be installed.
  2. An .EXE file which includes a browser within the compile which will run on any Windows system.
  3. A .PDF file, which will run on most systems.

While there are other book readers such as the hand held Palm, one recently released by Microsoft, and eBookMan, the above are the options for use on a personal computer.

The Three Compilers Of Type #1 above.
eBook Edit Pro ($87.50) – This may be your best bet. You are guided step by step through the compile in a way that assures results will be good.

E-ditor ($97) – Similar to the above. Password protection options are available to meet most needs. (More about passwords below.)

Activ E-Book Compiler ($30) – I used this to compile my latest ebook and found it to be a solid program. In some respects it lacks the polish of the above, but it is functionally solid. Support was terrific.

Why These Are The Best
I tried all of the compilers of type #2 above. Their failing is in relying upon the browser component included with their compile. There may be others, but I am aware of only one browser available to programmers. In trying these programs, I felt as if the browser was the same in each, and the one my partner and I used in writing The HTML Editor. While I can’t speak for others, the browser we used is limited in capability, and may behave unpredictably.

For example, it can not handle some graphic designs, table content, and so forth. Since the technology and tools continue to change rapidly, eBook Edit Pro, E-ditor, and Activ E-Book Compiler have taken the high ground. They are hooking into elements needed that exist within IE 4+. This means they are as up-to-date as possible. And they will likely remain so.

The Bad News
By requiring IE 4+ be installed, many Windows users with earlier versions of IE will not be able to read your compiled ebook. Numbers are debatable, and differing points of view abound. But this may amount to shutting out as many as 20% of Windows users. While this percentage can be expected to decline, it won’t happen overnight.

One Possible Solution
If you compile only for Windows, you eliminate all MAC users. While it is again a debatable number, most feel they constitute over 11% of computer users.

Option #3 above is the Adobe Acrobat compiler which produces a .PDF file. Since a free Acrobat reader is available on most systems, you can reach nearly all computer users with this format. ($250)

There are those who claim one should use Acrobat and ignore all else. I disagree for two reasons. A lot of people do not like this reader, are not comfortable with it, and find it difficult to use.

Second, their browser does not see a web page anything like IE or Netscape does. This may not be a major factor unless you have carefully formatted your work as a web page. For other sources, such as a Word.Doc file, you can expect little difficulty.

NeoBook Is A Possibility
is an option, it is not easy to use. And it also has it’s own notion of how things will be displayed. Apart from it being long in the tooth and out of date, the compiled file will run only under Windows. I passed on this with little hesitation.

My Solution
For my latest ebook, I used the Activ E-Book Compiler. But eBook Edit Pro or E-ditor would have worked equally well. Both deal effectively with the page format I wanted to use.

However, because I did not want to eliminate what may possibly be a third of the market, I also compiled a .PDF version. While the format I wanted is lacking, the result is hopefully sufficient.

A Note About File Sizes
I was concerned when I saw a finished file size of over two megabytes. My background in shareware suggests large files are not downloaded as frequently as smaller ones. Since shareware sales derive from downloads, holding size to a minimum really matters.

Given some great input, I see the situation is different with ebooks. If the book is a freebie, hold the size down in order to encourage visitors to take the time to download it. But people who have bought it, will not be much concerned about size. In fact a large size may add to the perceived value of the work.

The Ebook Guru
If you would like further information about options available, be sure to check with Eva Almeida <eBooksNBytes.Com>. She’s sharp, bright, and willing to share. You’ll find a number of well written reviews on her site. I began here, and did not uncover any option she has overlooked.

Do You Need Password Protection?
I struggled with this point at length. In the end, I decided against it. Here are the options I discarded.

Full protection means the book can be installed on only one system and will not run on any other. Unless you have a specific and significant security need, ignore this option. It means personal delivery of each copy, and support in providing lost passwords.

Another option is to require a password, but hold it constant in all copies. This seems pointless to me, for one who is willing to give away a copy of the book, will not hesitate to pass along the password as well.

While there are other options, they seem a bit contrived to me. Many require individual delivery of the book. And all will bring requests for lost passwords. (One option that may make sense for you is offered below.)

In the end, any system can be broken. The better plan may be to keep things simple, and ignore those who may take advantage.

How I Set Up Protection
Good protection can be obtained by uploading the book to a new directory now and then. Another option is to password protect the directory, and change the password as appropriate.

I uploaded the book files to a password protected directory. Then I ordered up a neat script. When a customer’s credit card has been approved, they are transferred by my merchant service to the download page. (People entering from elsewhere are redirected to the Order page.) On the download page, they copy and paste the password displayed to access the protected directory. I change the password now and then.

An Aside: William Bontrager <WillMaster.Com> created this script for me. If you can use a copy, William can provide one for far less than I paid. I highly recommend the man, his work, and support.

Wrapping Up
In deciding upon a compiler, the place to start is with Eva Almeida. For sure she has it covered.

Whatever your choice, focus on your content. It needs to be sharp and pro, and well polished. Your potential customers are becoming more demanding with each passing day.

Bob McElwain, author of “Your Path To Success.” How to build ANY business you want, just the way you want it, with only pocket money.
Get ANSWERS. Subscribe to “STAT News” now!

Phone: 209-742-6349