Kobo’s New Public-facing Documentation
As any EPUB creator knows, the minefield of retailer support and requirements is a harrowing one. Kindle expects images of one size, iBooks another, and Nook yet another still. To add to that confusion is the fact that many of these retailers either don’t explicitly spell these issues out for you, or have documentation that is obviously out of date (looking at you, B&N).
Kobo, up until this week, was guilty of being pretty quiet about their requirements. But in one fell swoop they have moved from being one of the most opaque retailers to one of the most transparent. The Kobo development team has created a great document and posted it to Github. This documentation includes not just requirements, but also support guides for many of their devices, and recommendations to generate files that work across all of their devices.
A couple of highlights:
- Kobo finally presents image guidelines for both covers and interiors.
- Kobo’s TOC, explained
- If you’re interested in Kobo’s support for future-leaning features like SVG or MathML, you’ll love their support grid and cross-device recommendations.
Hats off to the development team at Kobo for taking a huge leap forward in making EPUB file creation that much easier for us. Hopefully other device makers and retailers will take their lead and do the same.
Easier? No, just clearer what their requirements are. There is a difference.
I send my ebooks to Kobo and B&N through, Smashwords, so their requirements are not an issue with me. But knowing a retailer’s particular requirements (this week) still imposes on an author or publisher the hassle of meeting them. Fixing image size limits is laborious, especially if, like me, you include a picture with each chapter. TOC issues are far too technical for my tastes.
Even Smashwords, which takes care of those issues when it supplies ebooks to retailers, can be a nuisance. I was having trouble getting one ebook accepted by it and confused by the error message. Fortunately, someone at Smashwords took the time to explain what was happening. It turns out that, in generating an ePub, InDesign inserts an Apple-specific file. Smashwords was choking on that file. The fix wasn’t that hard. Just break open the ePub and delete that file. But I felt like screaming to Smashwords, if you know the problem is that one rogue file, why not just delete it with an informatory message to that effect?
That’s what these retailers should be doing. Until their ereaders become more robust and compliant to the specs, they should take on more of the responsibility of massaging what they get to fit their internal quirks. If their reader can’t meet the full ePub 3.0 spec, take a file that does and, as much as possible, make it work. For instance, I can see rejecting an image so lacking in resolution, it will look terrible. But when it exceeds their specs, it makes more sense for a retailer to alter it rather than dump that work back onto an author.
And yes, I know that won’t work all the time. To fit Amazon’s dreadful, and apparently no longer required 127K image spec, I sometimes have to compress the daylights out of complex, color images. A few I’ve even had to crop. But the retailer should at least fix what can be fix and, when that isn’t possible, generate an error message that isn’t obscure and jargon-ridden, one that explains what needs to be done.
I know in one case I spent an hour trying to ‘fix’ the store cover image I was sending Apple. Nothing I did made a difference. Finally, I contacted iBookstore support. It was excellent, but as I told the person at the other end, the real fault lay with the error message. It jabbering on about a particular cover image file being wrong. It didn’t explain that the file in error wasn’t the separately uploaded one for the store but one that gets buried inside the ePub. (Both are in the same iTunes Producer upload.) Those error messages, I told Apple, need to be written for authors not hackers.
I still recall there being similar issues with PDFs and print files many years ago, but somehow I don’t recall them being as common or irritating. Ebooks formatting standards do seem to be taking longer to sort out than they ought, perhaps because the largest retailer (‘he who cannot be named’) insists on using their own proprietary standards. The move to ePub compliance is being driven by second (or third) place Apple’s iBooks, which is excellent but only available for iOS and recent Macs.
Personally, I wish the times we live in would get less ‘interesting’ and more cut-and-dried.
–Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride
Some of these specs are really useful, but I wonder why I can’t just find them on Kobo’s website. Also the part about ePub 2 or 3 is very technical, and seems even a bit cryptic. I wonder, what if I make an ePub3 in Indesign, would Kobo support it or not?
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