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).