By Bill Crawford
Joshua Tallent is a well-known ebook expert and teacher, and an acknowledged expert for Kindle and EPUB formats. Joshua is an active speaker and teacher on topics related to ebook design, conducting numerous online and in-person seminars for groups like Digital Book World, Tools of Change (now defunct), Book Expo America, BISG, and the Association of Canadian Publishers. eBook Architects is a member of the IDPF and the IBPA. His ebook development company, Ebook Architects, was acquired by Firebrand Technologies in February.
We spoke with Joshua about everything ebooks
How did you get into the ebook business?
I got my start in eBooks in 2002 as an eBook developer at WORDsearch, a Bible software company. Their proprietary software and ebook format gave me a solid understanding of the value of high-quality ebook files, and the need for hand-created ebooks. When the Kindle came out in 2007, I built my first Kindle eBook in 30 minutes, and I was hooked. I started offering my services to authors and publishers as a side business in early 2008, and by the end of that year I had decided to quit my job and start eBook Architects.
What was the first ebook platform you mastered?
Besides the WORDsearch platform, the first trade ebook format I mastered was the Kindle format. I studied it extensively, and spent many hours testing what worked and what didn’t. I tracked all of that, and in 2009 I published Kindle Formatting: The Complete Guide.
What ebook are you most proud of architecting?
We have worked on so many titles, I am not sure I can pick just one. However, I am very proud of the Inside the Script series we produced for Warner Brothers. Those titles look beautiful, are consistently designed across all of the ebook devices, and has won ebook design awards.
Have you gotten into the textbook market at all?
Yes, we have created some textbooks for our clients, and are able to develop files with the features that textbook publishers are looking for. We are continuing to expand our offerings in this area, and are looking for more opportunities to help clients with eTextbook development.
How will ebook technology affect the textbook market?
That is really hard to say. I think the technology needs to get better before it will replace the flexibility of print books and the study techniques students are used to using. There are some great things happening in this space, though, and it is exciting to see what is going to happen.
What common mistakes do publishers and authors make when they try to add media to ebooks?
I think the most common mistake is trying to add media to an eBook that really does not need it. There are plenty of good books out there that have no need for a video or music, especially when that media does not contribute to the content of the book in a meaningful way. If you want to have an enhanced ebook, make sure it is worth the reader’s time and device memory to download that enhanced file. Another common mistake is thinking that all of the devices out on the marketplace will be able to support media without any difficulties. There are still many ebook devices (even tablets) that do not have support for media in their ebook software, and there are also limitations on file sizes authors and publishers are able to sell through certain distribution channels. It is always best to get a professional’s view of the marketplace before you try to do things that are not going to be possible.
How do you compete with lower cost ebook conversion operations oversees?
While we we work with clients from all over the world, we do not worry about competing on price. We offer the best quality in ebook design and creation, as well as long-standing consistency and amazing customer service.
How does the US ebook market compare with ebook markets around the world?
Sales of ebooks are better in the US, but other markets are picking up steam. Devices in other countries are sometimes quite different (the Kindle is not available everywhere and some countries have popular devices that we do not see in the US).
What is the state of international ebook distribution?
All over the place. In countries where the major retailers are present it is not hard to get files up for sale there, but there are lots of other stores and channels that are not easy to get eBooks up for sale in.
Will there eventually be one channel for worldwide distribution?
I doubt it. There are lots of moving parts that would need to be pulled together, and the changing nature of the industry does not make that any easier.
You are a judge for ebook design contests, correct? So, what do you look for in an excellent ebook?
Yes, I was a judge for the Publishing Innovation Awards. With the large number of ebooks being released into the marketplace, it is imperative that ebooks be created with quality and functionality in mind. The PIAs are a good showcase of this ebook quality.
The first thing I look for is the quality of the code. While it is possible to have an eBook that looks great without having solid code, starting with high-quality code will ensure that an ebook file lasts longer in the ever-changing marketplace and functions better on ebook devices. High-quality code includes semantic HTML markup, clean and concise CSS, solid use of metadata, and consistent structural details. Excellent eBooks obviously also have beautiful design elements, and should be developed with the limitations and bugs of the eBook devices in mind.
What is the secret to great ebook design?
In order to design great ebooks, you have to 1) know how to get the most out of HTML and CSS, 2) have a solid understanding of how the eBook devices interpret that code, and 3) be able to adjust your plans and ideas based on what will work and what will sell. It is important that you not get sucked into idea that automated software will do all of the work for you. While some software does help, it is always best to look at your code and make sure you have the best formatting for each system.
The growth rate of the ebook sales has slowed significantly. Do you think that ebooks will continue to take market share from print books?
Yes, I do think we will continue to see ebooks take market share from print, especially in some genres. Over time, I suspect we will see a majority of book content sold in eBook formats, but I do not see print books ever going away.
Nook took a pretty big sales hit last year. Which ebook platform will eventually dominate the market?
I think that is up in the air. Amazon has a lot going for it, but I don’t think it will ever be back to the level of market control that it had originally. I hope that we continue to have a broad marketplace, because that spurs innovation.
You were recently acquired by Firebrand Technologies, a company that has been providing software, metadata distribution, and other services to publishers for more than 25 years. How will that affect your business?
We are very excited about the acquisition, and we are looking forward to integrating our services more with the rest of the Firebrand family. In the short term, nothing is changing; we are still offering, and will continue to offer the best eBook design and development in the industry. As we move forward, we are looking at ways of offering our services more to other Firebrand clients, and opening up new service options for our clients, as well.
Do you think that ebook production experts like yourself will build brands to distinguish their books from other ebooks?
I can see that as one option for production houses, but it could easily conflict with the desires and design intentions of publishers. It is best to make sure that the client’s design is implemented properly, and that is often a lot more difficult than you might imagine.
What is the biggest challenge facing your business today?
I think we have the hardest time convincing potential clients that they need our services. The siren call of free software conversions and cheap overseas conversions is difficult to combat. However, once our clients see the quality of our work and of our customer service and compare it to those other options, they invariably see that the additional cost of using a US-based company is completely worth it.