Kindle Conniptions: How I Published My First E-Book

This is the 80th edition of World Wide Wade since this weekly column on technology trends began in April 2008. Since we have so much material piling up in the archive, we at Xconomy decided to do something a bit different: We’re collecting all of the columns in the form of an e-book. It’s called Pixel Nation: 80 Weeks of World Wide Wade. Not only does the e-book bring all of the columns together in one easy-to-read place, but it includes a new introduction and updates on many of the early columns, which, frankly can benefit from some updating in the fast-moving world of high-tech. We’re offering both a free PDF version that you can read on your PC, and a $4.99 Kindle version that you can read on your Amazon Kindle or your iPhone.

Pixel Nation, Kindle Edition

I really hope you’ll check out Pixel Nation, because it took me a boatload of work to assemble it. I’m not complaining—I learned a ton, and I took on the project mainly for the experience. But what an experience it’s been! I’ve discovered that it’s damnably difficult to publish your own e-book, at least if you want to get it onto Amazon’s Kindle, the dominant digital book platform (for the moment). The whole ordeal has given me some new empathy for authors who have been complaining about the Kindle for years.

It all came as a bit of a surprise, considering that we’re more than a decade into the era of electronic book publishing, and new e-reading devices are popping up left and right. Did you ever hear the phrase “write once, run anywhere?” It’s the slogan Sun invented to describe the idea behind Java, a computer language that’s supposed to work on any device or operating system. I had figured that by now, publishers too would be in a “write once, read everywhere” world. Books and articles obviously start out in all sorts of formats (Word documents, Web pages, etc.), but you’d think that there would be some easy-to-use software capable of reformatting this material for any e-book device, right?

No such luck. Instead, there’s still a welter of incompatible e-publishing formats, each championed by different factions of the publishing world with conflicting business interests, and you have to customize your book for each one by hand. If you had to compare the current situation with e-books to the historical evolution of the Web, it’s as if we were stuck in 1996 or so, back when Netscape and Internet Explorer displayed Web pages differently, and you couldn’t publish a website without learning HTML and learning how to tweak the code to make sure your pages looked the same in both browsers.

If this is what the future looks like, I can understand why the big New York publishing houses aren’t dancing with joy about the e-book revolution. In addition to all the traditional design and typesetting work that goes into creating the print versions of their books, publishers who want to distribute their books digitally must now … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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