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eBooks Best Practices

How to Produce and Sell eBooks: SPAN’s Tips and Best Practice

by Larkin Flora

At SPAN, independent publishers often ask us, “How do I produce and sell eBooks?” This article is designed to answer that question by providing a basic overview of eBook production and distribution, along with our ever-evolving list of eBook best practices.

eBook file types
Over the past couple of years, two main types of eBook files have emerged from the pack to become industry standards. The International Digital Publishing Forum adopted ePub, with its “open format,” in 2007. It is the most widely used format; many devices can read ePub books along with their own unique formats. Unlike ePub, Mobi (also called PRC) is a “closed format” and can only be used on the Amazon Kindle, MobiPocket Readers, and their respective apps. Some people are turned off by the idea of a closed format, although the Kindle remains the best selling reading device. Amazon just started a lending program, similar to the program Barnes & Noble uses for the nook, which allows consumers to “lend” an eBook to a friend one time, for up to two weeks.

Pbooks vs. eBooks
Converting your manuscript to an eBook is easiest when starting with one of two file types: a PDF of your formatted print book (Pbook) or a Microsoft Word doc. If you are using your print book file, remember that the formatting will change when it is converted into eBook format.
There is a general loss of design control with eBooks because, while the eBook files tell the eReader what to do with the different elements, the eReader controls what is done with those instructions. In an eBook, text is flowable, font size and style can be changed, and different readers have different fonts. Because of all this, page numbers are fluid. Images, charts, tables, or anything else that you want to stay the same size can be anchored, but unlike in print books, they cannot be surrounded by text.
This loss of design control doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and with a good designer you can use the differences between eBooks and print books to your advantage.

For example:

• You may want to include relevant audio or video clips (although not all devices have these functions at this time)

• You can hyperlink your table of contents & index, linking readers to specific “pages” of your book

• Since some eReaders have limited internet capabilities, and tablets can access the full internet, your eBooks can also link to outside websites

Digital Rights Management
Digital Rights Management (DRM) limits the use of digital content. For publishers of eBooks, it prevents duplication of the file, meaning that a DRM eBook file can only be read by the original owner (or lent out, depending on the ebookstore’s lending policy). DRM helps protect publishers from pirates who would share their content illegally. Some consumers prefer non-DRM because they feel like criminals without ever doing anything illegal, preferring the tacit show of trust provided by non-DRM files. Some publishers don’t mind if their books are shared, because the content is getting read. Amazon requires DRM files, while most other retailers prefer non-DRM files, often adding their own form of DRM before selling the eBook.

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
While there is still no official ruling on standards for ISBNs and eBooks, the International ISBN Agency is recommending that each uniquely modified file have a different ISBN. Basically, SPAN understands that this recommendation revolves around data tracking which can have an economical impact depending on a publisher’s business model (revenue tracking, discounts, royalties, etc.). At this time SPAN recognizes a best practice as being the purchase of a block of ISBNs (10 or more, depending on the publisher’s business plan - multiple titles, multiple formats, product extensions, etc.), and the assignment of a unique ISBN to the publisher’s different PBook formats (hardcover, soft cover, etc.) and at least a unique ISBN for the publisher’s base ePub and Mobi format. In addition, if you plan to sell PDF or enhanced ePDF versions of your eBook these will also need their own ISBN.
For more information, see the discussion ( about ISBNs and eBooks on

Your eBook should be priced based on your marketing plan and include consideration of competitive titles and standardization across different eBookstores. Your marketing tactics might include a discount or coupon code if you are selling direct from your website. A starting point should be a comparison of eBook prices at an eBook retailer. For more information about pricing and marketing plans, visit our SPANpro educational curriculum (

You can do business with individual eBook stores on the Internet. Each store's charges are a little different, and what you decide will depend your marketing plan. A few of the online bookstores include: Google eBooks, Apple, BooksOnBoard,, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Borders (powered by Kobo), Whitcoulls (New Zealand, powered by Kobo),,,,,, and others.
In addition, there are companies like Smashwords who sell direct from their site similar to an eBookstore plus distribute to other eBookstores, taking a percentage of each sale for the services offered.

Here is an article ( about the Apple iBookstore that that details what you need to know about Apple's business model and provides a good overview of the concept of eBook sales.

The world of eBooks evolves weekly. Stay tuned to SPANnet and stay up-to-date on industry changes.



You need to be a member of APSS - Association of Publishers for Special Sales to add comments!

Comment by Larkin Flora on January 28, 2011 at 11:58am
A great discussion has sprung up about DRM after this article was posted on theyahoo small publishing discussion group.

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