Mike Shatzkin’s latest blog entry looks at the quandary posed by converting “illustrated” books, which one estimate puts at 25% of print books sold, into e-books. The major problem is that usually the books have to be specifically formatted so that the pictures are in the right place—and when you come to different screen-sized devices, such as the 10” iPad, the 7” Kindle, Nook, or Kobo tablets, or the 3.5” iPhone and iPod Touch, that means one size definitely does not fit all.

Although tools exist that make it relatively quick and easy for a designer to see the page on the right screen size and move things around a bit, that doesn’t really solve the problem. An illustrated book publisher would really have to design and lay out each book at least twice (for the 10-inch and 7-inch screens) and possibly three times (to get the iPhone screen too.) Then those would be three different files, so you couldn’t actually move across your devices and have them auto-synch the way Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple enable you to do now for straight text.

Would you get the files for all three sizes when you made the purchase?

That reminds me of the Nobilis 3rd edition e-book, which was heavily illustrated and did bundle several versions together in the same package, for use on iPads, e-ink readers, Kindles, and so on. But that probably wouldn’t be a solution for most illustrated books—particularly the ones that are delivered direct-to-e-reader, such as Kindle or Nook downloads.

There haven’t been very many illustrated e-books (as opposed to multimedia “enhanced” e-books) so far. It makes sense; many illustrated books would benefit considerably from multimedia enhancement to expand their presentation of their subject matter, so they go that route instead. However, reportedly conversion houses in India have been working overtime to get more illustrated books ready for the coming crop of color tablets, so we may soon see an expansion in the number of illustrated books to be read.

I do have to nitpick one point in Shatzkin’s post, though. He seems to be assuming that “illustrated” books will necessarily have to be presented in color. However, I’ve seen plenty of fiction books that were illustrated with black and white line drawings, and those would work perfectly well on the screen of the Kindle or any other e-ink reader. Assuming the formatting issues could be solved, of course.


  1. Chris,

    Good post. At Vook, we’re building a platform that allows you to do exactly what you’re describing — place, arrange, format and style ebooks for the various common ebook file types. You can work with the images in a builder window that shows you what what style you’re creating and implementing in your book. We’ve also built a style tool that allows you to adjust the look of the text and the appearance of the images — this is still a vexed process, as ebooks come in so many shapes and sizes (and so do devices!) — but I do think — beyond Vook — technology will appear in 2012 that will help creators address this issue.



  2. For all but the most heavily illustrated books, I suppose a temporary solution would be to avoide embedding the primary illustrations within the text and instead provide them their own seperate page. This would work just fine for chapter-headings.

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