Major update: books 1-3 (of 4) of our Malay Mysteries series are now live on the Apple iBookstore. Check them out. As for Kindle Format 8? We’d love to evaluate it, but…read on.
We’ve posted here previously about our thoughts on digital publishing and the platforms available today. Our comment on the prevailing Kindle format was that it (and the e-ink-based Kindle devices) did not make for good reading experiences for our illustrated works, even for our black and white titles–it was just too kludgy (we do, however, love Kindle for our prose books–check out The Will of Venus when you get a chance). We released our second Malay Mystery, The Ghost of Silver Cliff, in Kindle format, responding to readers’ requests that we do so, but it just bugged us, so we eventually took it down, promising better options to come.
Then we saw that new Kindle devices from Amazon were coming, including one that is essentially a tablet.
So we were pretty thrilled at an announcement from Amazon on Oct. 20 that they were releasing a new format, “Kindle Format 8,” that would be suitable for, among other things, illustrated books, comics, and graphic novels.
(You can read it here, but be forewarned that it goes into some ebook geekery–the funniest bit is where there’s a tantalizing link that promises to tell you about the new format’s “capabilities”–that brings you to a laundry list of HTML tags that not even the biggest ebook maven would find exciting.) This new format replaces the aging .mobi format Amazon had been using that dates back to some time before the written word.
Now, this new format from Amazon isn’t a perfect scenario. Publishers and readers are still being tossed around by market forces. Instead of embracing the increasingly common ePub format used by Apple, among others, Amazon has created its own variation with some (most? all?) of the same ingredients, presumably to maintain some sort of control over the form in which it distributes digital books.
But still, a format from Amazon, made for their full-color device, suitable for illustrated works–yay!
We eagerly signed up for email notifications, noting that (according to Amazon) more information about Kindle Format 8 was to be released “soon.” Following this, 13 weeks of crickets. At about 10 weeks, after no emails or the slightest modification to the information page on Amazon, we started getting a bit impatient. How different would KF8 be from the ePub assets we’d created to get our graphic novels into Apple’s iBook store? Would we need to go through a whole conversion process anew to make sure our books worked on the new Kindle Fire?
And what’s this “Kindle Panel Vews” thing? We’d previously considered licensing comiXology’s iOs app, which is used for reading comics on iPads and iPhones and iPod Touches (via a nifty interface that lets you zoom in and out and navigate from one panel to another). But we didn’t like the idea of creating a Shoto app just for our books, and Apple extended its implementation of ePub so that graphic novels could be created and consumed faithfully, so we went with iBooks. Presumably Amazon was implementing something similar, but we couldn’t figure out how or what we’d need to do to set up our illustrated books that way, whether it would be a few clicks or a whole new effort that might take weeks.
Our eager emails to Amazon via their digital portal for small publishers got this form letter response:
If you’re interested in formatting your content using Kindle Format 8, new Kindle Publishing guidelines and Publisher Tools will be available soon. In the meantime, you can use our existing guidelines and tools to submit your content. To see our current guidelines, check out this page:
For a more detailed set of Kindle Publishing Guidelines, visit here:
To be notified when the updates become available, you can add your e-mail address to our notification list at www.amazon.com/kindleformat.
Thanks for using Amazon KDP.
…in other words, nothing other than what was already up on their not-too-informative (and not-yet-updated-since-it-appeared) information page.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing lots of titles coming out on Amazon from the major comics and graphic novel publishers (including some of our favorites like V for Vendetta and Sandman). Great! But when do small publishers get the spec on this new format so we can at least consider whether it’s worth the effort to convert our books?
Still crickets, alas. We’re not alone in our expectancy–small publishers are posting everywhere wondering what’s going on and whether they should even bother with the new format, as we’re left in the dust while all these big-name titles come out from the “majors” (as if to remind us what the comics industry was like before digital platforms made it possible for publishers like Shoto to actually get material out there to readers).
And Amazon, take note: readers are starting to gripe as well, wondering which devices the new format will work on (so far, the big seller titles coming out say they will only work on the Kindle Fire, though there are confusing implications elsewhere that all new Kindle devices will support KF8). Other questions abound. Will books in KF8 be readable on Amazon’s Kindle apps for tablets, smartphones, and PCs, or will the format only work on the Kindle Fire?
It’s one thing to yank small publishers around–we’re used to it–but when you get readers griping? Careful, there.
We’re watching the situation carefully and will come back with news on whether this new KF8 will be worth the aggravation. We hope so.
Update: an Amazon representative responded with a more detailed note after the form letter. Unfortunately, the response only raises more questions. The rep told us that Kindle Format 8 simply doesn’t exist yet, hence there’s no way to provide a specific timeframe (since it’s still being built).
This would make KF8 vaporware that Amazon has announced before it exists–a terrible practice.
Only problem: the Amazon rep’s claim is not true. As pointed out in our original post above, several titles are already up for purchase (like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and Watchmen), proudly trumpeting that they’re in the new format. If KF8 doesn’t exist yet (as a spec or as authoring tools), how were these books created?
Not good, Amazon. Your readers (and many small publishers who’ve been waiting for you to release a format suitable for books that aren’t pure prose) are hoping you’ll get this straightened out.