Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
In the past few years we’ve seen the sales figures of tablets and phones begin to eclipse those of the e-ink e-reader, and in many developing countries access to mobile phones is often a reader’s best or only access to a digital device.
Many publishers and retailers have responded by creating apps for each platform, each requiring a dedicated team of developers to create and maintain. But there’s another option: the web browser.
Unlike operating system-specific apps that require discovering and downloading said app, the web is available to readers on just about every digital device—all they need is a URL. And every tablet, phone and desktop comes equipped with a web browser—almost all of which are more powerful than even the most sophisticated e-reader.
And we can’t talk about books in 2014 without mentioning the Amazon-Hachette standoff. Eyeing the distribution landscape, many publishers are working harder and faster than ever before to develop direct-to-consumer sales channels for their ebooks. But those efforts remain missed opportunities if they don’t coincide with serious attention to web-based e-reading.
Publishing, no less than selling, books on the web puts a little more power back into the hands of publishers; your readers are your readers when they read a book on your site. Many publishers already agree that investing the time and energy now into creating their own digital bookstores on the web can have potentially large long-term payoffs, but the fact that that’s as much a publishing challenge as a retail one can sometimes recede into the background of the conversation.
So Why the Web?
If your job is to manage the creation of ebook files, you might be asking why you should spend the extra time producing a web-based version of your ebook when there are already so many other outputs you need to consider. It’s a fair question, and one that should be weighed in terms of both its benefits and its risks.
Some benefits of putting your book on the web:
- Ubiquitous access
- SEO optimization
- Better design control
- Analytics and user acquisition
There are also some major hurdles that publishers will need to overcome to make the web a great place for attracting readers. These include but are not limited to:
- UX/UI considerations
- Technical considerations (offline use, bookmarking, etc.)
- Setting up an e-commerce system
- Attracting a reading audience
None of these challenges, though, are insurmountable. And many publishers have already put systems in place that can be developed further in order to meet them.
The Process: How to Move Your Ebooks to the Web
The next obvious question in producing books for the web: “Just how do I do it?” The easiest—as well as the most problematic—method would simply be to unzip an EPUB file and host those files on a web server. There are a number of reasons why that might not be the best option, either for publishers or for readers.
A few things that we’ll struggle with if we just put EPUB files on the web include:
- Design issues (no margins!)
- How to navigate between chapters
- The “Library”
- To CMS or not to CMS?
Instead, ebooks can take a number of cues from the trajectories that blogs and websites have taken. So rather than manually posting your ebook files to a server, publishers and readers will in most cases both be better served by ebook content managed in a content management system (CMS). Systems like PressBooks, O’Reilly’s new TK, Creatavist and others allow ebook publishers and developers to manage content in one place and generate multiple outputs from that content.
To learn more about the strategic upsides to browser-based ebook publishing and a close look at the technical skills required to do it, join me at 12pm EST on Tuesday, October 28 for a Digital Book World webcast, “Building Ebooks for Web Browsers—Tools for Developers, Strategies for Publishers.”