Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Digital books: Will form affect content?

In last month’s post I sought to summarize many of the issues authors and illustrators face when putting their work into digital form. One goal for many of us is to bring new life to our out-of-print (OP) titles. It’s a costly and logistically-complex undertaking to have a book reprinted (cardboard boxes filling the garage comes to mind.) But an ebook? Seems much more feasible. Choosing which format and ebookstore to focus on is harder than it might seem at first. As a picture book creator, the need for full-bleed images eliminates some contenders such as the Amazon Kindle.
 Let’s start with the easiest format, Adobe PDF. The good news is the original picture book can be made into a PDF that looks basically the same, even including double-page spreads. To the left is a screen shot of test PDF I made the other day of The Shocking Truth about Energy (which is in print, just to clarify.) The front jacket and an “about the author page” were added to the beginning. My understanding is that Follett Library Services is selling PDFs of trade children’s books…more info about that plus how the PDF was made is here.

The bad news is that PDFs like this must be viewed on a fairly big screen on a desktop computer or the reader would have to do a lot of scrolling and zooming. It would be better if each page could be viewed singly, but as you can see with the lightning bolt image, the spreads in this book are often continuous and won’t work as single pages. This issue affects most of my books, where some images fit on single pages and some run across both. Who knew this would ever be an issue?

And what if people want to buy the ebook for a tablet ereader such as the iPad or NOOKcolor?

You could fit two pages in this rectangle, but they would have to be tall and narrow, which is not the shape of most picture book pages. Getting back to one of my OP titles, here is a photo of the printed version of Tracks in the Sand, which tells the life-cycle story of sea turtles:
The spreads are a lot wider than the tablet screen. One solution is to letterbox the artwork:
If desired, the text could be placed in the non-image area (which doesn't have to be black.) You could try zooming in and trimming the long ends off:
I like this much better, but it would have to work for all the spreads in the book because the page size should stay the same throughout the digital version. One reason this book is more adaptable to a tablet-size ebook is that it has a fairly simple layout without a lot of text. Many of my other books have artwork that couldn’t be cropped at all and/or have text all over the page, such as There’s a Frog in My Throat.

So, should I give up double-page spreads? And busy layouts? It’s something to think about, anyway. The term of art for this general idea is to “future-proof” your content.

Last but not least, if anyone would like to hear an interview with me
on the weekly children’s literature podcast Brain Burps about Books about a variety of related issues, please check out Eeeek! Ebooks! You can listen right on this page, or there’s a link to download the podcast.


Leanne Franson said...

Do you really think it is possible to "future proof" the content? Do you have a lot of control over book shape, size and layout? I sometimes have control over layout, but usually shape and size (and amount of text per # of pages) is dictated by the client...

Interesting issues to think of when deciding on formats for upcoming books...

Unknown said...

I suspect it’s pretty difficult(!)

One example would be that even though today's tablets need a fairly low resolution image (so the file sizes don't get too large) in the future tablets will probably be able to display larger images. So, when preparing artwork, you can work in a higher resolution, then downsample as the last step. For future editions, you won't downsample as much.

Re book size control, I propose a size/shape, but it may have to be altered for various reasons. The idea of making the page size adaptable to print AND digital is something publishers should be interested in because it benefits them, too.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Loreen - A thoughtful and necessary post. I'm glad to see authors/artists thinking about this! Leanne, I do suspect that soon, publishers WILL retrofit picture book designs to be compatible with tablets. We already are used to organizing a book according to the constraints of a picture book (i.e. keep important stuff out of the gutter, etc.), so this is a logical extension. Content, prose, and art are the holy trinity; form, for me, anyway, is less so, so I don't feel it will be compromising (or blaspheming) to design a print book with dimensions that will transfer well to digital.