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.