Shifts in technology and reader preferences have led to much discussion about ebooks these days. Most book sales are still for traditional hardcover books but ebook purchases are rising. I don’t see these changes as a threat to old-fashioned books but rather as an opportunity to reach more people.
While my publisher, Ten Speed Press (Random House) and I remain focused on crafting unique, long-lasting printed works, we are also collaborating on ways to offer interesting and substantive digital cookbooks. In particular, we are exploring the world of enhanced ebooks – digital publications with extra multimedia content, namely video and audio. They’re not apps per se, but allow people to experience a cookbook in a different way.
First, a bit of history. Asian Dumplings was the first enhanced ebook that Ten Speed Press produced. Despite my detailed instructions, I knew that some people learn better with video assistance. That said, we created and embedded instructional videos on how to do the various shapes in the enhanced ebook.
Enhanced Asian Dumplings was released in 2011, about 1 1/2 years after the hardcover’s release. It’s been well received, even by my mother, who watched all the videos and then exclaimed that my dad needed to watch them too, "He needs to improve his skills!" He's part of her dumpling assembly line.
With Asian Tofu, we took a more aggressive approach and simultaneously released the book in three formats: hardcover, regular ebook, and enhanced ebook. This is a first for Ten Speed Press and it involved a monumental amount of effort. After we finalized and sent the hardcover to print in October, editor Melissa Moore, art director Betsy Stromberg, the Random House digital team and I began to plot and produce the ebooks. We hustled to match the February 28 release of the hardcover.
Making an ebook is not simply a matter of pushing a button to convert print book files into an ebook-ready format (often called an ePub). Like comic books and children's books, cookbooks are technically illustrated books. They are design intensive, filled with pictures, sidebars, tables and other graphic elements that can look wacky on different devices (Nook, iPad, Kindle, etc.).
Here’s a rundown on what we did for the Asian Tofu ebooks. We tweaked what we did previously to further expand the digital reading experience.
Standard vs. Fixed Layout eBooks
The digital editions of Asian Dumplings and Into the Vietnamese Kitchen were produced in a standardized format that allowed the text to automatically reflow and adjust for any device. While that offered great flexibility in terms of display (you can choose the font), the beautiful design of the original print book could be not preserved.
Along with the above sample page from digital dumplings, here's a sample page from the digitized Vietnamese book, which has been purchased by cooks in places like Dubai(!):
With Asian Tofu, the two types of ebooks may look different, depending on your device. Confused? You're not alone. The regular ebook is in a standard ebook format with reflowable text for most devices. Here's a screenshot from my iPad of what it looks like:
If you buy the enhanced Asian Tofu ebook for a Nook color or Kindle app for the iPad, it will also be presented in a standard reflowable text but with extra multimedia content. For reference, see the image from the enhanced edition of Asian Dumplings (with the video screen) near the top of the post.
Purchase the enhanced ebook through iBooks/iTunes for an iPad? The page will display in a fixed layout format to look just like the print book:
Making a fixed layout ebook is harder and costlier than a standard ebook because the process involves a lot of technical manipulation. It’s akin to typesetting a page on a device screen. You have to control the layout and make sure that images stay fixed. The result is a digital experience that comes closer to what you’d get with the hardcover. Photos are full-bleed (all the way to the rim of the page) and the page numbers are the same.
Photos and page numbers take a hit in standard (reflowable text) ebooks. Images are small or break in the middle of page. There are no permanent page numbers because the font size and display can vary; a 240-page book can turn into an 800-page ebook because fewer words can fit on an ebook reader screen.
The downside of a fixed layout ebook is that it can be slightly clunky with regard to navigation. There's no automatic placeholder for you to jump between pages. The solution: Use the bookmark icon to save your pages so you can "flip" back and forth. You also don't get to choose the font for display. In this case, you also have to have an iPad and buy the book through iBooks/iTunes.
Someone recently emailed about how the enhanced Asian Dumplings ebook didn't have the same lovely look as the printed work. With the enhanced edition of Asian Tofu, that may not be an issue. If you are a digital book lover who appreciates design, the fixed layout of enhanced tofu for the iPad is for you.
Instructional Videos and Travelogues
The Asian Tofu enhanced ebook -- regardless of device or app (Kindle for iPad, Nook color, or iPad) -- contains content not in the print book or regular ebook. The availability on various devices and their models is not a publisher’s issue but the device maker’s issue. Check to make sure that you are buying what you want and need.
The videos in the enhanced ebook aim to create a portable, e-learning experience. We highlighted key techniques and tips, such as how to buy tofu – which some people may find easier to understand through a short video tutorial than to read my text. Here's a sample of an instructional video that we produced:
Videos such the one above (posted earlier along with a dowloadable recipe sampler) and others like “Coagulate with Confidence” (page 33) help cooks navigate potentially troublesome situations. Throughout the book, there are little turquoise play buttons to indicate when there are videos to be found.
In addition to the practical video clips, we added content to each of the recipe chapter introductions to provide ebook readers a little extra context for the stories being told. For example, chapter 3’s travelogue video is called “Chinese Kitchen Close-Ups” and you'd access it by tapping the button.
The video, which includes Flipcam footage I took and a narrated slide show, takes you right into the home kitchens that my friends and I visited in Sichuan, China.
My goal with the travelogues is to bring you along with me on the tofu trail. There’s usually narration (like the book trailer) so you’re not left to just read photo captions.
How to Buy an Asian Tofu eBook
Now you know your digital tofu options: regular ebook or enhanced ebook. Marketing ebooks is still at its infancy right now. There are inconsistent names for things, and since we have 2 1/2 versions of digital Asian Tofu, it can get mightily confusing when you’re shopping online. Here's a recap that my editor provided:
- Regular reflowable ebook: works across most devices
- Regular fixed ebook: not available
- Enhanced reflowable ebook: works on Nook Color and iOS (Apple) devices
- Enhanced fixed ebook: for iOS (Apple) devices only
If you want the enhanced ebook, my suggestions are to:
- Look for the enhanced cover to make sure you get the version with video and audio. Otherwise, you're buying the regular ebook.
- The book description should include this text:
The enhanced ebook edition of Asian Tofu offers an enriched cookbook experience with 17 videos, including step-by-step guidance for making tofu at home plus coaching on other key techniques. Bonus travelogues explore tofu hotspots around the globe and immerse readers in the sights, sounds, and sources of this remarkable food. . . .
- The price is should be higher for the enhanced ebook ($17.99 in the U.S.) than the regular ebook ($15.99 in the U.S.).
If you’re interested in the Asian Tofu enhanced ebook you may be able to test drive a sample of it before you buy it. Look for the a sample button on the iTunes page (go through iBooks) and the BN (Nook Book) page.
Amazon does not have an enhanced ebook preview at this time. However, you can buy the enhanced ebook through the Kindle store to read via a Kindle app on an iPad. Look for the "Kindle Edition with Video/Audio." Random House is in discussion with Amazon about having its enhanced ebooks for Kindle Fire but we don't know when that will happen. It may be weeks or months. Keep checking Amazon or the Kindle store.
In summary, I’m building on the past while betting on the future of book publication. Printed books will endure as they’re tangible artifacts. However, ebooks are part of publishing’s future so why not explore their possibilities?
Back in 2006 when Into the Vietnamese Kitchen was published, I didn’t think that Viet food would be as in as it is now. Neither did I fathom that so many cooks would relish making Asian dumpling wrappers from scratch. Hopefully, lots of people will soon ponder the deliciousness of tofu, whether that’s by paging through a physical book or tapping on a screen.