Small Rant About Ebook Formatting

Third generation Amazon Kindle, showing text f...

If you have read many ebooks (no matter the format) you have probably run across a badly formated book, random spacing, blank pages, page number or titles in the middle of a page, missing pages, a footnote or endnote that accidentally is in the middle of a page, illegible images.  And the high rates of misspellings because of bad Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is just unacceptable.

At one point bad formatting might have been excused because it was a new technology.  But ebooks are no longer cutting edge.  Ebooks now sell more copies than hardcovers, not just at Amazon but total.  And not just more copies, but more total revenue as well.

It is time for publishers to make ebook formatting a higher priority.  I have formatted four books for people that I know.  Each case took me about 8 or so hours and I did it for free because I was trying to help someone out.  It is not rocket science, but it does take work.

Part of the problem is that the readers need to have better options for formatting.  I would love to see options for footnotes that show on the screen and automatically reflow to keep them on the bottom as a printed book would.  There needs to be better options for image handling.

However as much as new formatting options would be nice, many publishers are not doing well with the current options.    Publishers, this is a plea to actually pay attention and read the books before you release them.

Amazon has a role in this too.  They have made the books available.  Right now most people do not like reviewing the formatting.  I know I rarely comment about the formatting of a book.  Audible.com started separating the ratings into parts earlier this year.  Now you can review, the story, the performance and the overall book.  For Amazon having a review option for the formatting of ebooks would be a strong incentive to get better formatted ebooks.

The more complicated the books the more problems that formatting will be.  But also, with the addition of Apple’s new formatting system there are now three major streams of formatting, general ePub, Apple’s specialized ePub and Amazon’s mobi formats.

Most readers don’t care about formats or companies, they just want a book that is easy to read.

At the very least every ebooks needs four things, 1) clean format without extra space or blank pages.  2) a format from the original document (or if scanned, it needs to be cleaned of artifacts and bad OCR), 3) a working table of contents, a cover and copyright information, 4) chapter markers so you can see how long till the end of a chapter.

How prevalent a problem do you find ebook formatting?  Have you ever stopped reading or returned a book because of bad formatting?

2 Comments

I’ve noticed that a lot, too. I didn’t know if it was new technology or they were just cranking them out as fast as they could & didn’t care. It really annoyed me at first because it was EVERY book I read (and I read a lot). Now I just ignore it but I really do think they should fix it. If the book is free it’s not as bad but some of them I’ve paid for so I expect a quality product.

    I agree. I have noticed that some publisher are better than others. And I think it is mostly a lack of understanding of the ebook market and/or a lack of care for their products.

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