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February 09 2012

O'Reilly ebooks now optimized for Kindle Fire

Earlier this week, we at O'Reilly regenerated all of our ebook-bundle Mobi files, upgrading them to meet the specifications for Amazon's latest ebook format, KF8.

These files are now available for download in your account on If your ebook bundle includes a Mobi file (and more than 90% of bundles do), you can download the updated, KF8-compliant file now. (Note: All O'Reilly Media files are now available in KF8. Partner publishers will come soon.)

As always, our ebook bundles are DRM-free. See this page for instructions on loading O'Reilly Mobi files to your Kindle.

We've optimized our Mobi files for Kindle Fire by taking advantage of KF8's support of @media queries. While @media queries have been commonplace on the web for some time, they are just now making their way to ebook ecosystems. KF8's support of @media queries allows you to create an ebook that looks and potentially behaves differently based on your reading device.

For an example of @media queries in action, see the image below, which shows how the same Mobi file appears on a traditional Kindle (left) versus the new Kindle Fire (right):

Comparison of a Mobi file on a traditional Kindle and the Kindle fire
Click to enlarge.

Amazon's support for @media queries makes this possible, and O'Reilly is among the first publishers to employ this feature across all of its Kindle content. Here are some of the new features that you can expect to see on your Kindle Fire (enhancements vary by book):

  • Color images
  • Syntax-highlighted code
  • Improved layout and design with CSS3
  • Embedded code font for better legibility and glyph support

Here are some screenshots from our newly optimized Mobis:

Optimized Mobi file from Make Electronics
Click to enlarge.

Optimized Mobi file from JavaScript: The Definitive Guide
Click to enlarge.

Starting this week, our books will begin to be available in KF8 format through Amazon's Kindle Store. However, an unfortunate limitation of buying from Amazon is that they don't normally provide customers with publisher updates. By contrast, buying direct from O'Reilly gives you access to lifetime, DRM-free updates in all standard ebook formats.


April 28 2011

What's new? Alerting readers to ebook revisions

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)

Ebooks, in theory, should be easy to change. After all, a huge print book drawback — stale text sitting on a shelf — no longer constrains digital editions of textbooks, fast-moving tech topics, or a biography of Charlie Sheen.

But between theory and reality stand two big challenges:

  • Getting the changes to readers who've already downloaded an ebook file
  • Spotlighting what's changed, so folks don't have to hunt for the meaningful fresh bits

The bottleneck blame lies with those who control the e-reading systems: Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc. None of them make it easy for publishers to push out updates to ebook buyers. (Amazon does have a primitive change-notification system, but it seems mainly geared toward correcting errors. In the three years I've been buying lots of Kindle books, I've never received an update notice.) It's not that the technology doesn't exist: Apple's got a great system for alerting app owners that changes are available and even gives developers a great way to list important changes.

The Updates section on an iPad makes it easy to see what's changed in each app.

Why can't we have something similar for ebooks?

I think it's a huge problem waiting to be solved. Plenty of publishers, including mine, have taken the first step by offering free downloads each time an author makes a big change to an ebook file. But what's missing is a convenient, reader-friendly system that lets everyone know what's new. Currently, you have to grab and install the revised edition and then figure out where the changes are. What a hassle.

Computer book publisher The Pragmatic Programmers has a solution that points in the right direction: “release notes” at the beginning of each revision they release. (No surprise, given that programmers for decades have had to figure out ways of alerting customers what's changed in their software.) It's an improvement, but the Pragmatic's system seems particularly geared toward their “Beta Books” program, in which authors release drafts as they write; the release notes consequently read like a long list of items the author is knocking off his “to do” list as he works toward the finish line. And you still have to deal with downloading the new file and importing it into whatever e-reading system you use. No fun.

Sports blog SB Nation takes a similar approach, but sidesteps the distribution hassle since they publish on the web. Their StoryStream system treats each article as a kind of continuously updated blog post, complete with header labels for “Original Story,” “Major Updates,” and then a big collection of all the posts with minor updates — all listed in a long-page scroll. Changes can be viewed either by visiting the website or signing up for an RSS feed. Here's one example.

But I think what's needed is something that's more tightly integrated into the book reading experience. Something that puts a nicer polish on the change tracking and offers the equivalent of bumping into an author on the street and asking: “So, Herman, what's new in your book?”

Below, I've sketched up one design idea that combines three features: a simple bullet list highlighting key updates; a video message from the author, giving him or her a chance to talk about what's most important; and a combo treemap-style/heat map that offers a quick look at where big changes were made.

What's New
A design sketch for a system that would let readers know what's changed in an ebook.

I'd love to hear thoughts from others about how they'd like to see this problem solved. My contact info is here. I'm in the early planning stages for my next book and I'm eager to incorporate any reader-friendly solutions — especially ones that can be implemented in ePub (vs. an app or a web-based book).


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