Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Kindle Publishing Guidelines 2014.3

The latest update to the Kindle Publishing Guidelines is out, with a lengthy change log that includes a few important changes. While consisting primarily of editorial revisions to specify which Kindle device a given formatting recommendation applies to, there are two specific changes to Kindle content production that are significant, these being sections 4.3.7 and 4.3.9 as given in the Revision Notes shown above.

4.3.7 Recommendation #7: Do Not Include an HTML Front Cover

The first of these reverses a long-standing error in Amazon's Kindle production policy. Until now this section heading read Include an HTML Front Cover, while it now emphatically says not to (as I have long advocated). Including one has always resulted in two cover images appearing, causing reader confusion due to the apparent unresponsiveness of the first page turn. Moreover, there has never been a good reason to include an HTML cover page, since all Kindle devices and apps render the jpeg cover image correctly, as well as using it for the bookshelf image.

As the Kindle Publishing Guidelines itself now states:
While Amazon previously recommended an HTML front cover page for fixed-format books, this is no longer necessary.
Kindle books should only have one visible JPEG cover. This cover should be a high-resolution JPEG image that has the same level of quality as the subsequent pages. Any instances of HTML cover pages should be deleted to avoid a repetition of the cover image.
Presumably the HTML cover page was originally included in order for the Guide to point to the cover as the first page the reader sees, if this was so desired (since it could not point directly to an image at that point, as it now can). But since the implementation has been inconsistent, opening to the jpeg image in many cases, as well as the reader being able to swipe back to the cover image anyway, this has caused confusion and frustration for many readers.

The recommendation to include a high resolution cover image is now all the more important, since it will be rendered as a full page image on first opening.

4.3.9 Recommendation #9: Do Not Include Start Reading Location

This is an entirely new addition which addresses an ongoing issue with the first page to which a Kindle ebook opens on first reading. This has been erratic and seemingly random, since the same ebook would open to different pages on different Kindle iterations, depending on a number of confusing factors (including, among other things, the appearance or absence of a "toc" entry in the Guide, as detailed on pages 74-5 of my Kindle formatting manual).

While Amazon has repaired several of these errant instances, some have continued to persist (such as the perplexing inability of the "Go to Beginning" entry to open at Page 1). This issue is now eliminated with the newest Guideline recommendation:
In Kindle fixed-format books, the OPF file should not include the start reading location (”Go to Beginning”) guide item. Amazon now sets this guide item to the JPEG cover for Kindle fixed-format books.
All fixed layout Kindle ebooks will now open to the cover image (which should now only be a jpeg image), rather than to the title page, the table of contents, the first page after the table of contents, or any other random location in the publication. This provides for a consistent user experience across devices and platforms, as should have been the case all along.

Note that Section 3.5.1 on "Recommended Guide Items" still lists the "Go To Beginning" entry as a valid item. This is likely an editorial oversight, but since the removal of the start reading Guide item is only a recommendation, the entry is technically still valid, though not advised.

Note also that you can still include a "bodymatter" element for the start reading location in the Landmarks section of a nav doc, though this will not affect the page to which the book first opens, but only create a linked menu entry to the chosen page. Using KindleGen

Among the other changes made in this edition is the inclusion of Dutch as an optional language in KindleGen (using the locale option nl during conversion).

3.6.3 Image Guideline #3: Use Color Images

Removed the line describing the difference between eInk and color tablet devices, and added a statement that photographs must be in the jpeg format. Specifically, the line removed stated that:
The Kindle e Ink devices currently have a black and white screen, but color is available on the Kindle Fire, Kindle for iPhone, and Kindle for PC.
This is curious, since the removal of the reference to a greyscale display hints at the coming of a color eInk screen. Although this has long been awaited, to date there is no evidence that a reflective color display is forthcoming, and we have already missed this year's pre-holiday release window, so presumably it won't appear for at least another year.

The appended statement that photos must be formatted as jpegs is followed by further image clarifications in the next section.

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

This entry has been extensively revised to make it adamantly clear that line-art and text images should not be formatted as jpegs, which blur sharp edges when adding compression, but should instead be embedded as either gifs or png files, which preserve crisp edges - and even enhance them, in the case of gifs, by reducing color values and grayscale contrast (as the added line "including black-and-white drawings" makes clear).

One line has been removed here that bears comment:
The automatic conversions applied by KindleGen are best avoided.
This statement was always inaccurate in this context, since all supported image formats are converted to jpegs during the KindleGen conversion, and therefore cannot be avoided. What was meant instead was that the cleanest possible image should be input in order for KindleGen to apply the best conversion possible. If an already compressed jpeg is embedded, its quality will only get further reduced by the additional compression applied by KindleGen when converting to the low Mobi 7 image standards.

This requirement is emphatically repeatedly in this section several times, culminating in the conclusion that
Amazon insists on GIF or PNG file formats for line-art.
Finally, a lengthy section has been added to the description of the MINIMUM size requirements for lines of text contained in images (which is 6 pixels for a lowercase "a"), including the addition of a new example image:
The added text states that the image should be taller than the 6 pixel text itself, such that
the image should be at least 45 pixels in height so that it displays proportional to surrounding text content.
This assumes, of course, that the surrounding text content has not been modified by the user's font size and line height settings, but the intention is clear: make your text images big enough that they can be clearly seen, and leave some margin space around them so they preserve the line height and don't encroach upon surrounding text.

6 Audio and Video Guidelines

Several additions have been included to reiterate the fact that, no, audio and video is not supported on eInk devices, and KDP does not accept Kindle Editions with audio/video content included. Still.

This is simply a shortcoming of the slow refresh rates of eInk screens (and one of the primary reasons reflective color displays have not been adopted), although why audio is forbidden is beyond me. Probably for the same reason Amazon stopped bothering to include speakers, or even a headphone jack, on the eInk devices. Or perhaps because of it.

9 Kindle Best Practices

Here again some lines have been removed, and the terms "e Ink" and "tablet" inserted to more clearly differentiate between the two. There is also a revision of the formats supported for viewing on devices and in Previewer, via the removal of two lines.
The Kindle Fire device view displays the content in Kindle Format 8.
This applies to Previewer, and was probably removed due to the fact that it is no longer relevant, since virtually all Kindle devices now support KF8, and Previewer displays content as such.
You can test Mobi 7 content on a Kindle e Ink device and on Kindle applications for PC/Mac/Android.
This line was made more or less redundant by the fact that Mobi 7 content is now only sent to the oldest of the old Kindle devices, and is very likely soon to be eliminated. Moreover, there is no way to actually chose which version of the converted file is being tested, since the device reads whichever one it has support for. Again, virtually all Kindle devices now read KF8, so the distinction is no longer relevant.

The subsequent line that stated KF8 could only be tested on the Kindle Fire has also been appended to include the eInk devices, but interestingly not the apps. This implies that you can no longer use (or rely on using) the desktop and mobile apps for testing files, which is sound advice, since they are the least consistent in rendering content correctly, or supporting features. Best Practice is, and has always been, to test on an actual Kindle device, followed by Previewer, and only as a last resort to use a desktop or mobile app (although the Android app is better than the other apps by far, as far as feature support goes).

All in all, these updates pave the way for future moves away from the outdated Mobi 7 format and into feature-rich KF8 support across the board (more or less), and address some outstanding issues with the format itself in order to make the reading experience more consistent.