Books on the Web, Part 2: What Still Needs Improvement on 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. The first part of the series—on the benefits of books on the web—can be found here. Part three, focusing on the tools you can used today, is here. You can find the whole webinar archived on DBW here.

In the first part of our books on the web series, we looked at some of the positives to publishing books to the web. While there are a lot of great reasons to begin testing the web browser waters, it’s still early in the development of books on the web. Today we’ll look at some things you should think about before getting into web publishing.

Sell Your Book…on the Web?

When I discuss putting books on the web, inevitably someone says to me “But I don’t want to give away my book for free!” Unfortunately, there’s still a moderate expectation that readers don’t want to pay for things on the web. That seems to be changing slowly, but it’s still a major consideration.

Many authors may, of course, decide to give their books away for free to promote other activities of theirs. But let’s say you do want to sell your book, how should you sell it? Should you sell each title individually, should you bundle multiple titles together, or should you offer a subscription to your site to read anything and everything? And on top of that, what payment service will you accept—PayPal, Stripe, a full ecommerce suite? And lastly, how do you connect the two to validate a user. Maybe you can see why some people just choose to release their titles for free.

Lack of Built-In Features

It’s easy enough to unzip an EPUB file and put the html files on a web server to share with the world. But every major e-reading system has an additional set of features that digital readers have come to expect when reading a digital book. Thio implement many of these features on your own you’d need to be a great developer or hire a professional to build them for you.

Table of Contents View

As I mentioned above, if you just dump your EPUB files onto an http server you’ll get an approximation of a digital reading experience on the web. And if you made a toc.html you’ll even have a TOC. But readers have come to expect the ability to access the TOC within other chapters—to integrate these two would require some reconfiguring. It’s not the biggest hurdle here, but it’s possibly the most important thing to get right.

Highlighting and Bookmarking

There are entire companies devoted to bookmarking and highlighting/comment systems on the web, so this is no small undertaking to integrate these features into your book reading experience.

Offline Reading

Almost no one will be reading a novel in a single sitting, and in many instances will want to read them in locations where internet won’t be available. I’ll be honest, this is one I’ve yet to see anyone solve in an elegant manner—it’s a serious hurdle to make the book reading experience on the web a great one.


Along with pricing considerations, readers have come to expect the ability to read an excerpt of the book. How do you make this available to readers, and how do you then convert them to a paying user?

How Do Readers Find You?

Going it on your own means you’ll also need to find your own sources of traffic. And as I outlined in a previous post, having your book on the open web will give you access to search engines’ built-in desire to help match readers to your content. But you should not expect that to bring you thousands or readers over night. Just like marketing a book that drives traffic to Amazon, you’ll need to figure out how to drive traffic to your site and convert that click to a reader.


If this scares you, it probably should. I would highly recommend not building your own native web reading experience unless you have a large amount of capital, development experience, or time. The good news is that some systems already exist to help implement these features. We’ll look at it in part three.


In the final part of this series, we’ll look at some of the pre-existing tools available to publishers to publish their books to the web. Check back soon.

3 Responses to “Books on the Web, Part 2: What Still Needs Improvement on the Web”

  1. Debralea says:

    Eagerly awaiting part 3!

  2. […] some excerpts of it here as well. You can find the whole webinar archived on DBW here. Parts two and three are now […]

  3. skreutzer says:

    Sell Your Book…on the Web? Of course that’s hard. It’s hard to sell digital copies in general, because copies are so easy and cheap to make, that’s what digital technology was invented for. Therefore, as a “copy of the website/e-book” isn’t the product any more, one can come up with more realistic business models, such as subscription, crowdfunding, providing services etc.

    Features: that’s because most developers build such features and license the resulting software restrictively, therefore other developers have to start from scratch again and again. Instead of competing about technology, let’s compete about the better content and build a common, freely licensed technical foundation for digital reading, writing and publishing.

    Offline Reading for e-books on the web is solved, the solution is called “EPUB”.

    If somebody is interested in building such systems, I am too. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.