Learning About ePub – Making Books For Mobile Devices

What is Photics? What does it mean? That’s a common question when people inquire about my website. Photics is an area of science. But in regards to this website, Photics is my Internet publishing business. With the success of The Unofficial GameSalad Textbook, I’ve been thinking about traditional book publishing again. Although, with the iPhone, iPod Touch, iBook, the Nook and the Kindle, publishing a book today is not so traditional. I had to learn about the ePub format.

An ePub book is not really that complicated. It’s like a self-contained website. Text and images are contained inside a zip file. HTML and XML is used to format and structure the book. I wasn’t an early adopter of this technology because ePub is too “floaty”. If you want a precise layout, like a PDF can provide, ePub doesn’t do the job. I learned desktop publishing with programs like Quark XPress and InDesign. Content is meticulously placed on the page. The fluid text movement of an ePub was frustrating to me.

Yet, the iBookstore only accepts ePub books. If I wanted to participate in this new market, I had to get my projects up to date. That meant changing the way I treated my book — more like a web page and less like a printed book.

I tried using InDesign to convert my book to ePub, but it was doing such an awful job. Instead, I tried iWork ’09. Since the goal was to hit Apple’s standard, I figured that it was a good idea to use Apple software. I rearranged my book to be more like a word document and less like a document from InDesign. I was starting to see some progress.

iPhone 4 Screenshot - The Unoffical GameSalad Textbook
This is a screenshot of iBooks, with The Unofficial GameSalad Textbook loaded up. The ePub format is great for readers that like to increase or decrease font size, or change the orientation from Portrait to Landscape.

My book was looking like a standard ePub book. I was having some problems though. It was loading very slowly. At first I blamed the format, but a remedy was available. I learned that iWork creates separate files for each chapter. If larger books are not arranged properly, performance will suffer. I had to create headline styles at the start of each chapter. That’s how iWork knows where to split the book into sections. That increased performance, but there was another issue. With Chapter 4, I had a lot of images. The last few images were not displaying. That’s because it was running out of memory. To compensate for this issue, I divided Chapter 4 into additional sections. That resolved the issue. My ePub images were loading and ebook was more responsive. Pages were turning and loading faster.

I decided to take a risk. After finding success in the iTunes App Store, and successfully converting my book to the ePub format, I decided to sign up for an iBooks publishing account. This was far less of a hassle than registering as an iPhone developer, but I did find some challenges.

First, I needed an iTunes Account with an associated credit card. OK Apple, I’ll play along. I updated my account information and I got hit with another error…

“This iTunes Store account is already associated with an active iTunes Connect account. Enter a different iTunes Store account, or deactivate the existing iTunes Connect account before trying again.”

Apparently, I’m not supposed to be a developer and a publisher at the same time. So, I created a new iTunes Account. I’m in the process of getting my first book online. One more challenge is in my way. If I can solve this final puzzle, I can see if there’s profit to be found in the iBookstore. So far, I’m enjoying iBooks more than app publishing. After years of battle to create mobile video games, it’s a refreshing to be making digital books. My first iOS app (and my first Android app) is actually a book. Now I’m meddling with the preferred format.

I’m not exactly sure when ePub mania struck the Internet, but as a publisher I should know about this stuff. There are some troubles with ePub, but it’s mostly part of the learning curve. With a solid understanding of the format, I’m making some progress with ebooks. If the progress continues, my electronic books should be hitting little screens around the world.