SPD and Ebooks (FAQs)

In 2012 SPD recevied a generous grant from the Irvine foundation to explore our role in ebooks. We have since determined that SPD's best role at the moment is to market ebooks of our publishers and to act as an information clearinghouse for ebook conversion and distribution processes.  Note that at this time SPD is not directly providing conversion or distribution of ebooks; we are instead focused on promoting our print books, including mentioning when a print book has an ebook version available. Our pilot program to provide distribution and conversions services (partnering with Bookmobile) is no longer operating, but the knowledge we gathered has proved invaluable. Some of that knowlege can be found in the FAQs below, which we will be maintaining going forward. Input always welcome! 


1) What is an ebook?
An electronic book (also e-book, eBook, digital book) is a text and image-based publication in digital form produced on, published by, and readable on computers or other digital devices. The two underlying formats for ebook files are Mobi (which is Amazon's proprietary format) and ePub, which has become the standard in the world of ebooks outside of Amazon.

2) How are ebooks made?
There are two steps to making an ebook available. First, a digital file must be "converted" into a format appropriate for each of the devices, paying attention to how it will appear through the given device; then, it must be "distributed" through licensed channels where payment structures and other contract details have been worked out. There are currently a limited number of such licensed vendors able to distribute ebooks in all the major format.  

3) Can't I just use Amazon to convert and distribute my ebooks?

It is very common for publishers to use Amazon's free conversion tools (or other inexpensive conversion tools) to convert their print books to ebooks, then do their "distribution" strictly via Amazon.  Since Amazon accounts for a large percentage of the sales in the ebook market, this can work fine for many publishers.  For those who find Amazon's conversion tools inadequate, it is possible to pay to have the book converted but still use Amazon as your sole distribution solution.  People who read on Amazon products like Kindle will have no problem accessing the ebook.  People who use iPads can use an app to buy and read the ebook as well.  However, you may not be able to smoothly reach readers who use a Barnes & Noble NOOK, a Sony Reader, and other devices, and your ebook may not be able to be sold through Overdrive and other ebook vendors.

4) What is SPD's role in terms of ebooks?

SPD does not currently convert or distribute ebooks.  However, we are committed to marketing and promoting them.  The main way we do this is by adding the following line to the print book record: "This title is also available as an ebook. Buy it directly from your favorite ebook provider."  We are actively seeking new ways to promote the fact that one of our print books is available as an ebook.  SPD publishers, please let us know when one of your print books is available as an ebook.

5) I know you have partnered in the past with Bookmobile.  Do you recommend using Bookmobile to do conversion and distribution of ebooks?
SPD does recommend talking to Bookmobile about your ebook needs.  In our experience they do an excellent job with conversion, distribution, reporting, payment, etc.  However, there are hundreds of companies that offer conversion and/or distribution services for ebooks. 

6) Are there some books that are not suitable for eBook reader devices?

Poetry and other formats that favor fixed-width formats remain challenging to convert.  Publishers need to be aware of these challenges before entering into the ebook process.

The underlying structure of ebooks were originally developed and will probably continue to be developed without respect for something many publishers and writers have gotten used to over the centuries--namely, an author's precise control over the visual appearance of the work. This is because the entire approach is different.  This approach is consistent with recent e-commerce corporate approaches which give the consumer, not the vendor, as much control as possible.

This change may not be significant to many in the world of commercial publishers of fiction and nonfiction who are already primarily focused on the customer. However, SPD knows it can mean a great deal to some poetry publishers, fine arts publishers, and others.

Improvements to the conversion formats and tools may solve some of the problems soon, or they may not.

Currently, ebooks allow the readers to select what font the text will be in. Ebooks allow readers to choose size of text. In the near future, everything you can imagine readers being allowed to choose (color of font, whether images are displayed, background color, margins, etc.) will probably continue to be in their domain, not the domain of writers. Exactly how the user chooses this, and the results of those choices, may differ from device to device.

In SPD's experience, many publishers have been successfully converting poetry books and other visually-specific texts into ebooks. However, the poems that work best for this are usually justified left with NO strange spacing issues, with standard linebreaks and stanza breaks. Even then, authors and publishers must be ready to see the final result appear in a variety of ways according to the settings the reader gets to choose (font, font size, etc.). If you have ever tried to set a poem in html, the limitations are similar--there's no real precision to replicating certain appearences. For instance, while you can indent in ebooks, you can't precisely control the size of that indentation from device to device or user to user. Even stanza breaks can be tricky if they are not just one basic blank "line."

All these limitations might be acceptable if a converted ebook of poetry sold well.  However, in SPD's experience the small press poetry market is still primarily purchasing print books.

7) Do I need a different ISBN for my eBook?

8) Do I need a different ISBN for each type of eBook file (ePub, Kindle Mobi, etc.)?
Currently, no.

9) What is the difference between an ePub, Mobi, and a web-ready PDF?
The first two are reflowable documents, the latter is a basically a PDF with links. Many people use PDFs to sell digital books from their websites. The PDF can be downloaded to a Mac or PC, opened in Adobe Reader, and printed out. The photo quality depends on how large a file can be posted to your site. Control of who can and cannot download the file is handled on your end.

10) What does DRM mean?
DRM stands for "digital rights management"-if DRM is provided, restrictions are placed to limit copying, printing and sharing.

11) Will my eBooks be protected with DRM (digital rights management)?
Yes. Each vendor (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) ensures that. However, if you sell from your own website, you will need to do your own DRM.

12) How do I set the price of my eBook?
Ebooks are priced between $1.00 and the lowest-price printed edition. Common strategies include: 1) pricing the ebook at the same price as the lowest-price print edition, 2) pricing the ebook at about 80% of the lowest-price print edition. Note that, due to requirements originally set up by Apple, ebook prices MUST end in .99 ($9.99, $10.99, etc.).  Also, all "new release" paperbacks, because of rules Apple has, can't be more than $9.99 until they are 7 months old (at which point you can change the price to whatever you want, as long as it ends in .99).

If you have more questions about ebooks, or suggestions for this FAQ page, please contact:

David Isaacson
Operations Director
SPD/ Small Press Distribution, Inc.
1341 Seventh Street
Berkeley, CA 94710-1409

510.524.1668, 800.869.7553

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