Books on the Web, Part 1: What’s So Great About the Web?

  • Sumo

Recently I led a webinar for Digital Book World on producing Books on the Web. It’s gotten a decent enough response that I thought it would be beneficial to publish some excerpts of it here as well. You can find the whole webinar archived on DBW here. Parts two and three are now available.

Even though this site is called EPUBSecrets, the truth is we love any book in a digital format—be it an EPUB, a .mobi, or an iBooks Author file. One area we often overlook is publishing books via the web. It’s not the most common place to produce a book, but it has many interesting benefits that are often overlooked. Here’s just a couple reasons why you might consider publishing your book to the web.

A Browser on Every Device

One of the great things about the rise of smartphones and tablets is that they all have one app in common: a web browser. Even Kindle’s e-ink devices ship with a web browser (and it even supports interactivity with javascript). This creates an ecosystem where the lowest friction option to getting someone a digital book might not be an EPUB delivered through a retailer, but might actually be as simple as providing an URL.


Creating books for the visually impaired is slowly becoming a standard amongst professional ebook developers. But many devices lag behind in supporting these features. Accessibility standards have grown out of the web, and in fact web browsers often support things like read-aloud and semantic tagging far better and with much less effort than current ebook platforms. Leveraging already tried and tested components of the open web can save ebook developers a huge amount of time and reduce QA time.

The Open Web and Better Web Standards for All

Tired of struggling with why one reader supports one standard and another supports a different or older one? The competition amongst web browsers has created a race to support the latest and greatest features as quickly as possible. And unlike the closed ecosystems of ereaders, the features available for web browsers is well documented in many places (and the bugs just as much so). This leads to an environment where making books is much easier and bugs with certain browsers easier to work around.

Searchable, Indexable

Imagine people being able to discover your book by typing one of the book’s sentences into Google. A book published to a web page leverages all the SEO and indexing benefits of other content published to the web. It’s not going to make your book an overnight success just by optimizing some of your content for search engines, but it does mean that users can find it—and discovery is an increasingly difficult thing to pull off in stores like Amazon where they control the search engine criteria (If you’re noticing a trend here, I’m not denying it :). ) This is especially important if you produce non-fiction content—all of the sudden your recipe book can compete against free recipes online, or your how-to content can show up among DIY blog posts.

Control your Design

Every time I work with a designer new to ebooks, inevitably I am given a design that features a full page image that bleeds to the edges of the page. It’s a common design feature, and yet it’s largely unavailable in reflowable EPUBs. You can debate the merits of it being an option or not, but it’s safe to say that reflowable EPUBs don’t offer the best options for beautifully designed ebooks. On the web, however, if you can make it with CSS in a web browser you can provide it to your readers. This means more beautiful books and less struggling to shoehorn pretty print books into e formats. Beyond visual control the web has far better support for interactive content. If you produce slideshows or videos to include in your ebooks, you could do a lot worse than publishing your title to the web (like publishing it to Kindle, for example).


This strikes me as one of the largest opportunities that book publishers have yet to jump on. We consistently hear that publishers want more reading data from companies like Amazon who hoard a lot of the data for their own corporate gain. Publishing a book on the web means you can use systems like Google Analytics or ChartBeat to learn a huge amount about how your readers read and what your books do or do not offer readers. Data is increasingly important in the digital world and digital publisher would be wise to consider how best to get it.

Surely It’s Not All Great Though?

In the next part of this series, we’ll look at some particular hurdles that come with publishing a book on the web. Never one to oversell you on a format, let’s discuss why it might still not be ready for prime time.

4 Responses to “Books on the Web, Part 1: What’s So Great About the Web?”

  1. […] it here as well. The first part of the series—on the benefits of books on the web—can be found here. You can find the whole webinar archived on […]

  2. David says:

    Good stuff! Thanks for sharing. Browser is the platform for ebooks.

  3. […] part 1 of this series we looked at the benefits of putting books on the web. In part 2 we discussed some of the things […]

  4. skreutzer says:

    In my opinion, there’s no difference between a web document and an e-book except the latter is optimized for offline reading. Web documents (if valid XHTML and ideally semantic ones) can easily be packed to EPUB, and an EPUB (also hopefully a valid one) can easily be published as a web document. If browser developers would be more affected by the lack of connectivity, they would soon implement native EPUB support into the browser, so EPUB as a separate file format would almost disappear behind the scenes. In an interconnected world, one cannot “publish” isolated units underlying physical scarcity just as it was in the paper days.