ebook conversion

Should I use DRM?

I received an email from O'Reilly Media (technical publishers) today. I was interested to read their statement about Digital Rights Management:

Having the ability to download files at your convenience, store them on all your devices, or share them with a friend or colleague as you would a print book or DVD is liberating, and is how it should be.

I have a lot of respect for O'Reilly Media – their technical books are excellent and good value – so I value their opinion about DRM. I've read differing opinions in the books, websites and blog posts I've read about publishing ebooks. Most of them say that DRM doesn't stop the real pirates but is an inconvenience to your genuine readers.

I do feel that if I've bought a digital book, I should be able to store it on any of the devices I can use to read it.

The clincher for  me is another experience I had yesterday. I decided to purchase Office 2013 for Home and Business. After buying it, I searched the internet to find out whether I should uninstall the previous version, and stumbled across posts about the licensing. Guess what, the 2013 version is licensed to the device you install it on, not to you, the user. So apparently, if my computer crashes and I have to buy a new one, I can't install this software on it, I have to buy another copy. Adobe and Microsoft are both doing their best to force users into the subscription model - soon we will forget that once upon a time purchasing software was like buying a printed book - it came with discs, a printed manual and a key, and if your computer died you installed it on the new one, using the same key. You owned it, and you could choose to stay with the same old version as long as it suited your needs.

It seems to me that digital rights management has a similar effect on customers. —Maren


Deciding which ebook formats to use and viewing your ebooks


yellow bird sitting on a rock If you are producing ebooks and wondering about the best format, whether to use fixed layout or not, and how you can view what you've created in different devices, you can download samples of books in ePub2, ePub3 and Mobi/KF8 formats from the BB eBooks website.

On a related website, Substance-B,  you can find tutorials for downloading and using ebook readers for different devices and platforms. For example, you can use Redium in Google Chrome to view ePub3 books which such as fixed-layout picture books and poetry books.

This will help you decide the best format for your book, and whether you should bother with creating an ePub3 version - as well as whether your conversions are successful or not.



Making ePubs from scratch

If you want to find out how to create an ePub by writing the code and compiling it yourself, here are a couple of useful references. The eBook Design and Development Guide, by Paul Salvette. Available on Kindle.

Also, the related website, BB ebooks.

Build a digital book with EPUB, by IBM.

And a wonderful tool, the ePub checker, from Pagina online.

Warning - it's a painful process and takes time. If you don't want to write code, this isn't for you! However, if you are comfortable with html and css, I recommend learning how to do it yourself. Once you have repeated the steps a few times and worked out your own templates and processes, you'll be rewarded with messages like these:

Kindlegen message: mobi file created successfully

epubcheck message: no errors detected  Amazon message: file upload successful - no spelling errors


Services and tools for formatting ebooks and print-on-demand


Create Space cover template for 5 x 8 inch book Some great free tools are available from Bookow. I've used their ISBN and cover generator for All the Safe Places, for the CreateSpace print-on-demand version.

They also have typesetting, formatting and conversion services for ebooks and print-on-demand books, at what looks like reasonable prices and good quality.

Best of all, they're Australian!

bookow: Resources.

Rescue and share old documents

We all have old documents that we'd like to rescue, archive, and share. Letters that we or our parents or grandparents wrote before computers came along, or in the early days of computers when we were using some ancient word processing software. Grandma's recipes with handwritten notes. Diaries and journals. What does it take to rescue these documents? Mostly time. You don't need to know a lot about computers.

Here are my notes about retrieving documents that are in old file formats, and scanning typewritten documents as text.

Recently I decided to dredge up some old letters I wrote to my mother when I was overseas for 10 years. In those days the filename had to be eight characters followed by a three-letter extension (which could be totally random so I used that to indicate a date). The first task was to locate the files. At least I'd had the foresight to keep moving from floppy disks to CDs to external drive, so I still have them. Next I opened them in WordPad, where I could see a lot of rubbish (scrambled characters) at the top of the file, interspersed with text. In some files the whole file was full of rubbish. I was able to copy and paste the text into a clean file and then save it as a Rich Text Format (RTF) file.

An RTF file can be read in most word processing software and will not become locked into a proprietary format - I don't want to have to extract plain text from a mess of scrambled characters again ten years from now.

My next task was to convert a set of typewritten articles (written in the late 80s and early 90s) into electronic format. For some reason my ancient scanner (Canon's Canoscan Lide 200) now refuses to perform the Optical Recognition (OCR) function. I think it's something to do with Windows 7. I used to be able to use this function, though the results were not satisfactory - in many cases it took longer to clean up and format the output than to retype the document.

First I tried scanning the articles and saving as a PDF, then uploading to free conversion software (http://www.free-ocr.com/). However, you have to use CAPTCHA to verify that you're not a spammer, and I find that after a few uses it becomes too difficult for me to identify the letters. I don't know how anyone recognises the letters in the audio version of CAPTCHA, I never can.

Fortunately, the authors kindly recommend an alternative - Abbyy FineReader OCR software. I downloaded the trial version and began using it. This software is amazing! It detected my scanner, and allowed me to scan directly to the desired output format (RTF, ePub, PDF and others). It also allowed me to convert the files I'd already scanned, from an image (the PDFs I had saved were actually images of the text) to any of these formats. In some cases I had a copy of the article from a newspaper or magazine, and I saved the image file as well.

The output is very clean, and the editing functions are efficient and easy to learn. I found the software very intuitive. Needless to say, once my trial period expires I'll be purchasing the software - the time it will save me easily justifies the cost.