Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I - Full Jacket Wrap

Full cover mock-up, pending final page count and size. Projected page count after editorial revisions is 175 pages. The first rough draft is complete at 162 pages, barring a half dozen scenes which still need to be inserted at various points in order to tie up loose ends and provide additional back story. Editing will likely reduce the page count to some degree, although I tend to add rather than subtract with each revision.

I is a continuation of Ayn Rand's 1937 novella Anthem, first published in England in 1938, and in revised edition in the U.S. in 1946, where it is now in the public domain. This sequel begins the day after Equality 7-2521 flees into the Uncharted Forest, and explores the repercussions and subsequent effects of that event.

Since first reading Anthem as a teenager, I have long pondered what might happen after the events depicted in the novella, several hints for which are provided in its final chapters. Among the relevant passages that have motivated and inspired this sequel are the following:
"We heard that you had gone to the Uncharted Forest, for the whole City is speaking of it."
- Liberty 5-3000, upon following Equality 7-2521 into the Forest (Part 9)
"When I shall have read all the books and learned my new way, when my home will be ready and my earth tilled, I shall steal one day, for the last time, into the cursed City of my birth. I shall call to me my friend who has no name save International 4-8818, and all those like him, Fraternity 2-5503, who cries without reason, and Solidarity 9-6347 who calls for help in the night, and a few others. I shall call to me all the men and the women whose spirit has not been killed within them and who suffer under the yoke of their brothers. They will follow me and I shall lead them to my fortress. And here, in this uncharted wilderness, I and they, my chosen friends, my fellow-builders, shall write the first chapter in the new history of man."
- Equality 7-2521, in the house from the Unmentionable Times (Part 12)
Of course, it is never quite that easy to free a people who have long been subjugated. Even more so when they do not even know they are enslaved - and in this case when they have so little sense of self that they have lost the first person pronoun from their language. How one goes about achieving freedom from oppression is a question that has haunted many nations throughout mankind's history.

The only proper answer is education. For it is knowledge that frees the mind. But man by his very nature as an individual has an independent spirit that tends to chafe at constraints upon his liberty. And that spirit is both enduring and indomitable.
"Through all the darkness, through all the shame of which men are capable, the spirit of man will remain alive on this earth. It may sleep, but it will awaken. It may wear chains, but it will break through."
              - Equality 7-2521

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"How To Make Kindle Comics & Children's Books" Version 3.0 Released

A new "3.0" edition of my Kindle fixed layout formatting guide has been released, and is available for download either from my website or from Amazon. The new edition includes both editorial revisions and content updates throughout to bring it into line with the current state of Kindle operating systems across devices and apps, based on the latest round of testing I have done.

Both the data and discussions of features and functionality have been revised, most noticeably in the Fixed Layout Functionality Chart that makes up Appendix A, where each function has been broken out into its own section so that the table data, footnotes, and commentary are all together, and inclusive of just one feature at a time, making it much easier to get a comprehensive overview of where that function stands. Moreover, the antiquated Kindle 3 has been removed and its place give over to data gleaned from recent testing of the Kindle for iOS app. The chart on the website is still in one piece as before, although I may change it at some point as well.

If you have purchased the bundle from Fantasy Castle Books you can download the updated files using the original link you were given. If you need to have the link resent please send a note via the contact form on the website and I'll get it to you. All three files in the bundle have been revised, and even if you bought the book before the PDF or EPUB versions were added, all three are now included in your download for no extra charge.

If you bought the book through Amazon you can get the update from the link provided on your "Manage Your Content & Devices" page. Amazon will not automatically send the updated version to you if you simply delete the title from your device or app and re-download it; you must do this from the Manage Your Content page in order to approve the update, since it will remove any bookmarks, highlights, or annotations you have added.

Friday, August 28, 2015

New Kindle Sample Files

Two new Kindle sample files have been added to the free downloads over on my main website. All of the sample and template files have been collected together on the Tutorial Index & Resources page for easier access, and I've made all of them free now, rather than requiring a download code.

The two new files are based on the Simple and Advanced templates, but both been slightly revised with new content and notes to augment and illustrate the features available in that particular format.

The 8-page "Basic Layout" sample uses the "comic" book-type with the auto-orientation function enabled to showcase the fact that it includes both single and two-page spreads, with and without an inner margin between them. It has no active text, no hyperlinks, and no text or image pop-ups, which cannot be added if you want these two-page layouts. It also illustrates how the Virtual Panels feature works to zoom a page, or page spread, in equally divided sections that can be swiped in sequence.

The 16-page "Zoom Features" sample is based on the Advanced template, but with the orientation locked to portrait, since in order to have region magnification you cannot have page spreads, so there's little point in making landscape available (unless the pages themselves are landscape, which these aren't). This sample showcases all of the more complex features that are currently available in Kindle fixed layouts with no book-type value added. These include both text and image hyperlinks, a linked Table of Contents page (as well a menu TOC), live text with full functionality, several methods of switching text and images for "interactive" animations, a new bilingual text example, comic panel zoom with live text in both the default and magnified regions, and "lightbox" shading both within and outside zoom areas, as well as others. Note that the interactive features do not work well on the Kindle for PC app due to its incorrect positioning of active links, so this sample must be read on an actual Kindle device.

While the companion templates have previously included both the epub source code file as well as a pre-converted mobi for reference, they will henceforth only contain the template epub file itself. Since it can be converted easily into a mobi file itself there's little reason to waste the bandwidth. And while I make these available for free, I still have to pay for file hosting and delivery, which is why I had previously charged a minor fee to those who have not purchased my formatting manual. Splitting the epub and mobi files into two separate downloads will allow me to better track what is being used and what not to waste my time updating further.

My ulterior rationale for doing this is to make these sample files more readily available for potential ebook formatting clients, to whom I send the file if they're unsure what features they want included in their project. It's often just easier to show than to explain how something works.

Finally, for those who have purchased my Kindle formatting book, there will be a new revised edition released shortly, with several updates due to the changes caused by the latest Kindle firmware upgrades, as well as some editorial revision for clarification and the elimination of a few sections that are no longer relevant. I will post when the new edition is available, and send out an email to those who have purchased though my website. Those of you who have bought the book on Amazon will have to deal with their tedious file replacement process, which has not gotten better. But more on that when the time comes.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Kindle Fixed Layout Functionality Chart Update 2015.2

For the second time this year the Kindle Fixed Layout Functionality Chart has been updated due to changes in the various Kindle reading systems. I've just completed another round of testing to determine how the latest system updates have affected functionality in fixed layouts, and some of those changes are significant, whether for good or ill.

I've also added a Change Log just above the chart to make it easier to see what's happened since the last updates, as well as adding a row denoting the latest OS version tested for each device or app.

These tests involve loading a minimum of nine different Kindle test files (more if some new variable needs testing) - each of which contain over a dozen pages that have been created specifically for this purpose - onto the seven different Kindle apps and devices I currently own. This creates a series of 72 iterations of a Kindle fixed layout file on a Kindle reading system, requiring a total of 1044 page loads (if each page is only viewed once on each system), and countless orientation changes of each device (which for the Paperwhite is a pain, to say the least), each page of which must be run through a battery of tests to determine what is working and what is not, pursuant to the ten items listed on the chart (only 8 of which I now test), and carefully noting any anomalies that occur. This tends to get somewhat confusing if one is not quite awake, and thus requires a lot of coffee (donations gratefully accepted).

The primary variables involved are the three "book-type" values (comic, children, or none), and the inclusion or absence of region magnification code in a given file. In addition, the orientation-lock variables have generally been included in the testing, with respect to page-spread functionality, which in any case has made no difference, but still has to be tested to determine that this is still true. This, of course, as with the book-type, requires a change in the metadata value, and thus the creation and conversion of a separate Kindle file for just that instance (delineated by titles such as Kindle-FXL-Comic-NoRegMag-Landscape.mobi). Region Magnification itself is dependent on its inclusion or absence within the publication itself rather than the metadata value entered, which is entirely irrelevant.

As mentioned in the notes, and obvious by the data included, I am still only testing these seven Kindle reading systems, due to lack of resources to procure more, or time to deal with it in any event. I plan eventually to get at least one HDX device, but at present just can't justify the investment, not only due to the financial expense, but as much because it frustrates me to no end how poorly the software is designed, and I'd almost rather not know what features are unsupported - or flat out broken - on yet another version of the Kindle OS. If just one feature worked the same on all devices it would make things so much easier.

UPDATE: The 'layout-blank' property has now been tested thoroughly, and the results noted.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Kindle Publishing Guidelines 2015.2


Just a few quick notes on this latest update to the Kindle Publishing Guidelines. Most of it covers minor details, but there are a couple of interesting items. All the sections containing changes are listed in the Revision History shown above (highlights mine). Those three highlighted sections are all deletions relating to Adobe products, and along with the removal of InDesign from the list of means by which "publishers can create Kindle books in-house...using Kindle Publisher tools" in Section 2.2, expunges all prior references to Adobe in the Guidelines, save for one mention of InDesign in Section 2.3 Third-Party Conversion Services, where it's listed as a "typical input format" for outside conversions (i.e. non-Amazon related).

2.2.1 Kindle Plugin for Adobe InDesign

The deletion of this section removes any mention of the Kindle Plugin for InDesign in theGuidelines, along with the link to its web page. That page still exists, and is linked to from the side menu of the other Kindle Publishing Tools pages, but is still marked as "Beta." The removal of it here from the section on "Paths to Getting Your Content on Kindle" implies that Amazon are giving up on support for this plugin, and no longer consider it a valid path to publication.

This is not wholly surprising, given that they haven't updated the plugin (or the corresponding Kindle Plugin for Adobe InDesign Publishing Guidelines) since version 0.973 in September of 2013. In fact, they've never updated the plugin for InDesign CC, and still list CS6 as the latest version supported. But then, they still list Windows 7 as the newest PC operating system too. Until now I just presumed they were being negligent, but the intentional removal of this section says otherwise. Were they preparing to release an update they would not have done this.

2.2.1.3 Using KindleGen

Removed the "C:>" root element from the command line example.

Added a note that "zip formats are supported for XMDF and FB2 sources" and "directory formats are supported for XMDF sources."

Changed/added the following -locale element references:

zh: Chinese (from ch:Chinese)
pt: Portuguese (from bp: Brazilian Portuguese)
ru: Russian (added)
3.1.1 Text Guideline #1: Body Text Must Use Defaults

A new paragraph has been inserted to the third bullet item (detailing the range of gray-scale colors acceptable for text elements with a forced color), giving specific directions on how to determine what the gray value is for a given color. See the Guidelines for details.

3.1.4 Text Guideline #4: Other Encodings Are Supported 


Some editorial clarification here simplifies a previously convoluted and unnecessarily redundant sentence structure, while a second method for specifying HTML encoding by an XML declaration has been added:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
In addition, the first method (using the <meta> tag in the head element) has had its character set reference altered from the previous "iso-8859-1" to the more standard "UTF-8".

3.1.5 Text Guideline #5: Use Supported Characters and Spaces

Previously titled "Spaces and Unicode Characters," this section adds two new paragraphs stating that plain text UTF-8 should be used to represent characters (hence the change in the preceding section), except where XML entities are required. The second paragraph specifies the three instances where XML entities are strictly required, these being:

< (&lt;)> (&gt;)& (&amp;)
where the values in parentheses are required in order to avoid misinterpretation of the code by the reading system. For example, if ampersands are used in the opf metadata it will result in a failed conversion.

The example is provided here that the © symbol should be used rather than the &copy; named reference.

3.6.5 Image Guideline #5: Use GIF or PNG for Line-Art and Text

Removed the previous reference to the 127 kb image file size restriction. Now it just says "...fit the image size limit."

3.7.3 Table Guideline #3: Create Simple HTML Tables

Removed all the references to specific Kindle iterations, including the Kindle 1 with its particular issue in dealing with tables. Now it just says that <table> tags "can be displayed on Kindle devices and applications." Period. Not sure if this means the ancient K1 can now handle simple tables, or that they no longer care. The only person I knew who had one got rid of it years ago.

3.8.3 Styling Guideline #3: Design for a Good eBook Experience

A new section that adds a lengthy paragraph that is essentially useless, and includes this utterly unenforceable guideline:

Using fixed-layout format just to replicate print layout is not allowed in Kindle books because customers report this as a bad user experience.
As if they could know what your intention was. Maybe you intended to replicate the print experience, results be damned. Or maybe you just suck at formatting. Hard to say. But I guess Amazon intends to try. Does this mean they plan to start pulling poorly formatting fixed layouts? One can only hope. On that note, however, see the next section.

4.1 Metadata Fields Supporting Fixed-Layout Books

Okay, so now we come to the crux of the matter. Amazon has made a crucial change to the Region Magnification metadata description which, oddly, not only does not remove it (even though it's non-functional, and thus, irrelevant), but essentially makes it mandatory. Not the element itself, mind you, but Region Magnification itself. Here is how it now describes this element:

An optional tag for enabling the Kindle Panel View and Kindle Text Pop-Up features that are required for comics and children's books (italics mine).
I employ the italics to point out the seeming discrepancy in the statement. In essence, the tag itself is option only because it doesn't work; i.e. it makes no difference if you add it or what value to assign to it. As I have discussed both in my Kindle tutorial series and my formatting manual, KindleGen will add the RegionMagnification entity itself (and the correct value of true) if Region Mag is, in fact, present in the publication, regardless of whether you put it in the metadata or not, and will remove it otherwise, even if you enter it with a value of false. Thus, there is no point in adding it at all. The tag is truly optional.

However, according to the latter half of this statement - which is the portion added in this update - Panel View and Text Pop-Ups are now required for Kindle comics and children's books (respectively, one must presume, since Panel View is only available in comics). This is not a critical distinction for comics, however, since the Virtual Panels feature is present by default where custom panels are not provided by the content creator. Still, this statement technically makes is a requirement to include your own "Region Magnification" elements, a term the Guidelines uses interchangeably for Panel View (i.e. in the heading for section 5.4).

The real dilemma here, though, is with regard to children's books. Many Kindle ebooks of both types consist of full page images with the text included in the image. This is a poor design decision, as I have often stated, due to the loss of many crucial features, but one that is unavoidable for many ebook creators due to the cost and complexity of adding pop-up elements. According to this new addition, that is no longer an option.

Now, granted, this has technically been the case all along. Section 4.2.2 which follows this has always listed as "Requirement #2" the use of Region Magnification in children's books, rather than adding it to the later "Recommendations" section. But it has not been strongly enforced.

Does the addition of this clause imply that Amazon intends to begin enforcing this rule more diligently, and start refusing children's books with no Text Pop-Ups? Or is it just a strongly suggestive guideline that has been added in order to be more consistent with the section that follows?

Curiously, where this metadata element chart is repeated in Section 5.1 for comics the change has not been carried over. Editorial oversight or intentional omission?

8.1 Media Query Guidelines (and subsections 8.1.1—8.1.5)

Incidentally, I did not do a post when the 2015.1 version of the Guidelinse was released, as it included only this one change, although it was quite useful. This new "Media Query Guidelines" section was added which is fairly extensive and contains a lot of very helpful notes for handling backwards compatibility. This is, of course, primarily of use for reflowing ebooks, and so not as much of interest for my purposes, as fixed layouts are another beast entirely.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Amazon Changes Kindle Unlimited Payout Method

Amazon has just announced a critically important change to the way authors are paid for titles borrowed through both the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Online Lending Library programs. The former is Amazon's successful $9.99/month ebook subscription service, while the latter is the one-book-per-month benefit Prime subscription members receive, but both reward the authors of the borrowed books with royalties paid on a monthly basis.

In either case, the authors of the borrowed titles have previously been paid a percentage of a "global" fund each month, divided equally between the total number of titles borrowed, regardless of their length, or whether those books were ever read. This is a crucially important distinction, as it has given and enormous financial advantage to authors of shorter works, since the payout has always been the same for, say, a 20-page children's ebook as it is for a 600-page historical novel: they each count as one borrow, and thus impart the same payment.

This, along with the general downward push of ebook pricing by consumers who feel ebooks should be cheap due to their lack of physical substance (as if the content does not matter), has lent great emphasis to the proliferation of shorter works which can be produced (and consumed) much faster. The continuing trend of children's ebooks to top the sales charts in percent of growth year-on-year bears witness to this trend. And while I am not an advocate of exclusivity in general, there has been very little incentive for authors of longer works to enroll their titles in Kindle Select, Amazon's exclusive distribution program that is required for all titles to be included in the lending programs.

However, today Amazon announced that beginning on July 1st, they will radically change the way that payouts are distributed to authors of borrowed content. Rather than dividing the funds on a per borrow basis, the payments will now be allotted on a per page read calculation. That is, the total global fund for each month will be divided by the total number of pages read of each author's work during that period, and doled out accordingly.

This has significant implications, both with regard to the benefit of enrolling in the lending programs, as well as to the creation of new content. It will now be vastly more advantageous to add pages to your work (as far as Amazon's program is concerned, at any rate), rather than releasing shorter pieces in order to get more titles borrowed. And while we all would like to think that book content is produced solely by authors who care only about the work itself and not the monetary benefits, one truth I've learned during my years of successes and failures as an author is that writing books is a business, and the authors who are most successful approach it that way, producing content calculated to bring the greatest return on their investment of time and energy. The Kindle lending programs have become a pivotal part of that return for many, dispensing tens of millions of dollars to authors every year - many of whom have been utterly ignored by the traditional publishing machine.

The key factor in this change is that a single ebook that is borrowed now returns an investment more in line with the amount of work it took to create it. A short novella of 100 pages will be paid a rate one third of that received by the author of a full length 300-page novel, and 1/6th the royalty allotted to the author of a 600 page book that likely took an equally longer time to write - assuming, of course, the whole book is read from start to finish.

And that is the other crucial component of this change.

Just borrowing and sampling a book is now no longer enough to trigger a full payment to the author of that work; instead, Amazon's "Big Brother" ability to monitor the status of all content on the Whispersync web (created ostensibly to allow a user's account to sync a title across all of their devices and reading apps) gives them the data required to make this change, since they know exactly how many pages have been read in every ebook ever bought or borrowed from them (assuming it has not been hacked and side-loaded by the reader, which at best is a small percentage of the total number). This is one case in which this admittedly creepy surveillance capacity turns out to work in the content creator's favor. If a reader borrows five books, say, but only reads 10% of each (the minimum required to trigger the payout previously), while another reader borrows just one book but reads the whole thing, the authors of those works will receive due compensation equal to what the readers actually consumed.

And as far as I can see, that is as it should be.

One factor that I will be highly interested to see as a result of this is how it affects the per-unit payout. That is, given an equal number of total ebook borrows month to month, with at least some of these now receiving less compensation due not being read completely, logically speaking the remaining titles that are read clear through will receive a higher payout overall than they would have otherwise, since it is based on a total pool of funds that is established by Amazon each month (and drawn at least in part from subscription fees for Prime and Unlimited membership).

This amount has always varied month-to-month, due to seasonal trends in reading, but has ranged anywhere between $1-10 million, give or take, generally averaging something like $2-3 million (this month's being $10.8 million due to a huge $7.8 million bonus). With the establishment of Kindle Unlimited in July of 2014, the per-unit payouts have rapidly declined - dropping from $2.20 per borrow in June of last year (just prior to the KU rollout) to a low of $1.33 in October - due to the increasing number of borrows among which the pool must be shared. My guess is that this is Amazon's attempt to rectify that problem, as well as the dilemma presented by the steadily increasing number of subscription members overall.

The ultimate question is: Will Amazon increase or decrease the monthly payout based on these factors? And more importantly, will authors feel they are being compensated more fairly as a result, or less, and how will they respond?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kindle Textbook Creator Updated

Amazon released a major upgrade (1.5.14.0) to the fledgling Textbook Creator app this afternoon that adds two significant improvements: support for embedded audio and video (as well as popup images), and simple table of contents creation. There are also new rulers and guides to help you align the inserted content.

You can find the official announcement here, and download the updated application here. The User Guide has also been updated from edition 1.1 to 2.0, and can be downloaded from the link on the lower-right of the application page.

A quick look at the Revision Notes shows several new sections have been added to the User Guide:

Before looking at the specifics of these changes (and several others that are curiously not listed), I should point out that the files created with KTC are currently only readable on newer HDX Fire tablets, since they are by nature higher resolution fixed layout files that the older (and smaller) Kindle readers are not well suited to view without some means to magnify the text, which KTC does not yet provide - unless you use the new image pop-ups to do so; but this is cumbersome at best, as it employs a clunky icon rather than actual interactive text as in the standard KF8 fixed format. The program outputs the unique Kindle Package Format (KPF) file type, rather than the standard AZW3 or other fixed mobi formats that are supported on nearly all Kindle devices and apps. Note, however, the following detail from today's announcement:
Access to the interactive features in these textbooks...will soon be available on other free Kindle reading apps for iPhone, iPad, Android phones, and Android tablets, as well as Mac and PC computers.
Notice that they do not include any additional Kindle devices, only Kindle mobile or desktop apps. Still, this will greatly broaden the usability of these files, and bring them to the majority of screens most readers of digital textbooks are likely to use. Textbooks are, of course, the intended purpose of this file format, although in the KDP Help Topics the listing for KTC is found under the somewhat ambiguous heading Publishing Illustrated Content. Even more confusingly, this page has long had interactive content listed as available in this format, even though it has not been until today. But then, this is hardly the first time Amazon has gotten ahead of themselves: note that the KTC Beta page already states that the KPF format can be read on all of the Kindle free reading apps, which is dramatically enforced by the included promo video. Note, though, that the page still lists the app as being in Beta.

In addition to the output format issue, your source input file for the page layout can still only be PDF, either as single or multiple page files. Individual pages can be added or deleted, but you cannot change the page layout from within the program; it is solely used to compile the source files into a Kindle-compliant output format - though now, of course, you can also embed multimedia content in those pages. And that is the big news here today, as outside of reflowable ebooks in the Kindle for iOS app, this is the first time that media files have been supported on the Kindle platform. So let's take a closer look at some of those details.

1.1 Import Format

Kindle Textbook Creator now supports the addition of the following multimedia file formats:
Video: .mp4
Audio: .mp3
Images: .jpeg or .png
Images can now be embedded as "figure pop-ups" to supplement whatever graphic content is already designed into the PDF source file. These and the audio/video content are displayed as icons that can be placed wherever you would like them on them page by simple drag and drop. Tapping on the icon in the published ebook will activate an internal plug-in that will play the content. Additionally, when previewing the packaged content, the interface provides you with a preview of the currently selected file in its native plug-in. But more on this in a minute.

1.2 Export Format 

Even though it is not listed in the Revision Notes, a new paragraph has been added to this section that could use a bit more explanation. In essence, it says that you can update a KPF file on your KDP content page, so long as it was initiallyt created using KTC - presumably you would want to do this if you go back and add new interactive content to a title you have already published - but, if you create a new version of a title published in a different Kindle format you will have to publish it as a new title.

Unfortunately, that is all the information that the User Guide provides. However, if you go to the Help page for this topic you will find some additional (and rather critical) details, including a link to the KDP Customer Support contact page that you can use to have them link that new edition of your work to the previously published version, so that you do not lose accumulated reviews, etc. But as it states on the Help page, sales rankings for the two editions will still be calculated separately for each.

1.3.2.1 Rulers and Guide Lines 

As mentioned, there are now guide items to help you align your embedded content on the page. There is a Show/Hide check-box on the View menu that surrounds the Document Window with rulers, and if you hover your mouse over one of these you can click and drag out guide lines for horizontal and vertical alignment. A tool tip tells you the current position of your cursor. Units are in Points, which unfortunately I can see no way to change. Grab a guide line with your mouse and drag it to the ruler to remove it.

1.3.3 Properties Panel (Previously titled "Right Panel")

The newly renamed Properties Panel on the right is where you'll find the new option to add a page as a linked location in the Table of Contents, as well as all the functions for adding and editing your interactive content. A couple of screenshots give examples, which we'll look at further in the sections below. The panel content here changes depending on what is selected in the windows on the left.

1.4 Keyboard Shortcuts 

Rather than listing "Delete Page" as the Action for the Delete keyboard command, the new edition of the User Guide gives it as "Delete Plug-in" instead. This means you can no longer use the keyboard shortcut to delete unwanted pages from your project by highlighting them in the Pages Panel on the left and simply hitting the delete key, but must now use the option in the Edit menu drop-down instead, or right-click on the page thumbnail on the left to bring up a context menu that contains a Delete Selected Page option. In a way this is really best, since it keeps you from deleting a page by mistake when you meant to delete a plug-in that you thought was selected instead!

2.3 Building Your Table of Contents 

This new section details the fairly simple and straightforward task of adding pages to a Table of Contents. As mentioned earlier, a new check-box in the Properties Panel provides the option to "Include Page in Table of Contents" whenever a page is selected, along with a box in which you can include a Page Title label of up to 100 characters for each entry.

Bear in mind that this does not create an actual TOC page, but only produces the Kindle device menu links. These can be seen (and tested) when you preview your project by selecting a new icon at the bottom of the Inspector. Select the little device icon on the left to return to the Preview options tab.

2.7-2.11 Plug-ins 

Five new sections have been added that go into all the gritty details of adding and editing the three new media types that KPF supports. I won't go into all the specifics here, since that is the purpose of the User Guide, and it's all a fairly intuitive process. Amazon has provided new options for adding media files in a couple of places: from the Edit > Insert Plugin menu drop-down (where there is also a Delete Plug-in option), or from the Insert icon in the menu bar next to the Undo/Reco icons. As mentioned earlier, you can also delete the plug-in by selecting its icon and either hitting the delete key or right-clicking to get the option from the context menu.

When you add a media file you will get a suitable file type icon which you can drag around the page to a suitable location. In Amazon's delightfully annoying editorial style, they have provided an entire new section (2.8) of nearly a page in length to state (in four numbered steps) that you can change the location of an icon at any time if you change your mind.

Once you have added a media file icon to your page (or selected one already there), the Properties Panel on the right will provide you with a number of options, as well as a bit of info about the file, including its size. An important note on this point is that the KDP file upload size is limited to 650 MB (a restriction that was recently increased substantially from its previous 50 MB limit), and should you attempt to insert a file larger than this you will receive a warning that the file exceeds the allowed size. However, you will not receive a warning should two or more files exceed this size! It will, in fact, actually package the project and produce a file that will not be accepted for upload to the KDP portal.

Below the file info is a Replace button that allows you to exchange the current file with another, and below this there are several text entry boxes for adding a title and descriptive content to your media. Again, this is all very simple and straightforward, and does not even require reading the User Guide.

3.1 Previewing Your Book

Just a slight bit of elaboration has been added here to explain the new TOC and Device icons and their respective tabs, as mentioned above.

3.3 Uploading Your Book to KDP 

Another reiteration of the KPF file replacement protocol has been added here, which adds nothing new to what was said above. The hyperlink to the KDP webpage has been removed from the Properties Panel (as has all of the previous Help text found there) and moved to the Help drop-down menu instead. The remainder of this section is the same.

Conclusion 

While KTC is still clearly a Beta program with few frills and even fewer customization options, this first update makes a very significant leap in terms of content. The possibilities of what can be done with interactive media in a Kindle fixed format file have improved three-fold at one fell swoop, although it would be far more useful were it also available in the far more developed, and EPUB-based, KF8 format, rather than the PDF clone stamp that it is. But most average content creators don't have the time or interest in learning HTML/CSS coding, so the PDF input is a plus for them, making it easy to create print and ebook editions from a single file - one that can now quite easily have bonus content added in its digital incarnation. The icon-driven UI leaves a lot to be desired - particularly when held against the graceful interface produced by iBooks Author. KTC is clunky and old-school in many ways, but it's simple and it's easy, and for many users simple is best.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Kindle Textbook Creator Breakdown

An astonishing new app was released by Amazon today called the Kindle Textbook Creator that creates yet another entirely new ebook format for the Kindle with these astounding "enhanced" features:

* You can add notes
* You can add charts!
* You can use the dictionary!
* You can search Wikipedia!
* You can sync across devices!

But wait, doesn't the old Kindle format do all that? Ah, but there's more!

You can also add "flashcards" (well, not yet, but someday...), and columns (just like PDF), and math equations (from the font embedded in the PDF), and graphs (copied as an image from the PDF) and all you have to do is load in a PDF! So, basically, the "new" .kpf (Kindle Package Format) is a .pdf file with the file extension changed. You put in a PDF, and out comes a PDF clone that can only be read on a Kindle.

So now let's look at what the new format cannot do, or is restricted to:

  • The input can only be a PDF
  • The output file is not reflowable
  • There are no text or image overlays
  • There is no MathML support (since ePub3 is not a valid import format)
  • Output file cannot be read or opened directly in a Fire device or Kindle app
  • Output file can only be uploaded to KDP for publishing
  • The file created can only be sold on Amazon, per terms of service
At present there is no way to actually add the "flashcards" that I can find. There are, in fact, only four options available at all. Two of these exist on the Edit menu, and consist of "Insert Page(s)" and "Delete Pages". The other two options are available from the File menu or from little icons in the upper right corner:
The Preview option brings up the built-in Inspector, which is a variation of Previewer, with basic set of menu options: 

On the right the Device drop-down menu shows that there are currently four available preview modes: Fire HDX & HDX 8.9, iPad, and Android Tablet. Curiously, the Kindle Voyage and DX are also listed (though greyed out), even though the release notes specifically state that these "e-Textbooks" will not be available on the Kindle eInk devices.

The Package option outputs your file to the .kpf format for upload to KDP. You can also save your project as a .kcb file for later editing (make sure you do this as you cannot re-open the packaged .kpf file in KTC, and will have to start over if you did not save a project file!). Both of these files can be opened and viewed using a zip extractor and/or a text editor, but most of the content is encrypted gibberish, and what can be read is essentially useless - the "book.kcb" file contains a handful of lines with some obscure metadata and path reference elements.

Also, the file that is output from KTC is virtually the same size as the input PDF (5.64 Mb > 5.62 Mb in my test), showing again that essentially it is still more or less the same file, except that now your "PDF" can only be read on a Kindle and nowhere else (and only on someKindles, at that).

The Inspector does not actually allow you to "preview" any of the features touted in the press release as benefits of this new format (i.e highlighting, dictionaries, etc.). In fact, the only "interactivity" in the Inspector is to change the page zoom in increments from 100% to 400% - which is essentially irrelevant. The live text layers I created in the PDF were not active in the Inspector, though I must presume they would be in the published file.

Unfortunately there is no way to know this, since after actually uploading the file to KDP you can only preview it in the online previewer - there is no download button or link to save the file for manual preview on a device or app as there is with all other Kindle formats. Therefore, I cannot speak to the quality or functionality of the final published content, as I have no intention of ever using this to produce an actual book that I would want someone to read. You are free to do so if you like, but I can see no good reason to bother with it at this point. Bear in mind that KTC is still technically in beta, although since this is a public release that more or less overrides its beta status.


There is a User's Guide available to download from the KTC page, but it tells you very little (since there is, in fact, very little to be told). The FAQ, however, is fairly lengthy this time, and includes a few important bits of information, such as:

Q10: Can I sell books I create using Kindle Textbook Creator outside of the Kindle store?
To which the answer is "no" - followed by a link to the license agreement that says so in perfect legalese.

On the positive side, Amazon learned from the Kids Book Creator debacle and added an Undo button, so that's something I suppose (there is also a "redo" button in case you change your mind again, but I recommend the "uninstall" option instead).

Monday, January 19, 2015

KDP List Price Requirements

Authors distributing their works through Kindle Direct Publishing should be aware that Amazon has recently altered their ebook pricing structure for the 35% royalty option to include restrictions based on file size. As you can see from the screen cap above there are now three divisions within the 35% option, requiring new minimum prices for files over 3Mb in size, with $1.99 as the new minimum list for those between 3 and 10 megs, and $2.99 as the lowest allowable price for files over 10 megabytes in size.

Until now there were no conditions set on the size of an ebook file in the 35% margin and no delivery charge associated with the file delivery, so that for a .99 cent title an author receives .35 cents, regardless of the file size. Ebooks receiving the 70% royalty have always been subjected to a .15 cents per megabyte bandwidth fee for the initial download, which is one reason the minimum price for this option has been $2.99 from the start. By comparison, at .15 cents per megabyte a .99 cent title at the 35% royalty would cost more to deliver than its profit margin affords at sizes over 2.3 megs. As a practical example, the file for The Saga of Beowulf is 2.31 Mb (640 pages in print, with a half dozen images), which deducts exactly .35 cents from my profit for each purchase.

With ebook files beginning to increase in size (often dramatically) as multimedia content is added, the logic here is obvious: Amazon is looking to a future when ebooks sold in KF8's more content-rich format will frequently contain enhanced audio-visual content, and thus require greater bandwidth to deliver - the addition of a single video, for example, can swell the file size to 50 megs or better depending on its length and compression ratio, and even shorter graphic novels will be hard pressed to come in at much less than that and keep the image quality decent. But since Whispersync delivery is free to users, the added cost must come from somewhere. Consequently, Amazon is making something of a preemptive move here as it eyes the future.

The most obvious and practical result of this new policy is that for titles with files larger than 3 Mb the .99 cent price point is now no longer an option. Amazon is essentially stating that going forward .99 cent titles are restricted to basic text-only ebooks of a reasonable length (or very short works with a handful of images). In essence, there will be no such thing as a .99 cent enhanced ebook on Amazon. For larger books, prices must be higher.

But the most interesting thing about this structure change is that while at first glance it appears to put a heavy limitation on the 35% option, in fact the 35% rate is by far the more profitable for larger files. A 10 Mb file at 70% will cost the author $1.50 in delivery fees, leaving only .59 cents on a $2.99 title after Amazon deducts their 30% share, whereas the same ebook at the 35% rate would net the author $1.05 - .46 cents more! And of course, the difference only goes up as file size increases: a 50 meg file at 70% will cost the author a whopping $7.50 for delivery alone! This effectively eliminates the 70% royalty as a possibility for enhanced ebooks, which is why Amazon has just raised the bottom line for the other option.


As you can see from the table I made above, in practical terms 7 Mb is the dividing line for a $2.99 list title. At that size the 70% royalty nets $1.04 after delivery fee is charged, a penny less than the same $2.99 title with the 35% margin chosen. One can always raise the price, but that has drawbacks of its own each author will have to justify for themselves. For an ebook listed at $4.99 the dividing line increases to a 12 Mb file, with the 70% royalty netting six cents less at that point than the 35% option, but sales will also likely drop by half due to the higher price, depending on your popularity as an author, so you'll have to take that into consideration as well. Of course, if you're a well known author none of this will matter to you much, as you're probably charging $15 or better for your books, and unlikely to be reading this anyway.