Can Any Book Be An eBook? Redesigning Books as eBooks

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Can Any Book Be An eBook? Redesigning Books as eBooks

Can Any Book Be An eBook? Redesigning Books as eBooksForward thinking publishers release books in both print and eBook formats. But is this possible with every type of book? Certainly long form narrative books are easiest but highly designed books often need to be redesigned before being converted to an eBook. 

The challenging elements I see most often in books involve large non-text elements like images or tables. Here are a few things I consider when designing an eBook:

  • Is image detail critical to the subject matter? Certainly diagrams need to be more legible than a portrait photograph.
  • Can the tables be reformatted as text, or do they need to be converted to images? Some eReading software can display tables the way they were intended while others will render them unintelligible. I always design for the widest range of eReaders.
  • What is the overall size of the non-text element? If you were to view the image on an iPhone screen (probably the smallest size), would it make any sense?

I have two recent projects to illustrate these points. One is from Coaching Youth Baseball, an instruction book about teaching hitting fundamentals to young children. In the example here you see a page from the book that shows the information in print form.

Coaching Youth Baseball-Print book page

In the example below you can see I redesigned it into a single column of information: explanatory text, the graphic, numbering and abbreviations keys. Now the reader can page through the information without double-tapping to enlarge what would have been a highly detailed image so they can “pinch and zoom” to follow along. 

Coaching Youth Baseball-eBook page design

But sometimes the design effort is more involved. In these cases you have two choices: invest the time and money to re-imagine what you are communicating or ignore the lack of readability and move forward. The latter can result in poor sales and/or poor reviews. The former is always an option but the final result may be a completely different book from the original. 

One of my clients recently brought us a book that had these design challenges. In the image below you see a double-page spread from Rings of Supersonic Steel, a book about Cold War-era Nike sites (no, not the shoe company. Here's a Wikipedia article about them).

Rings of Supersonic Steel: An Introduction & Site Guide Air Defenses of the United States Army 1950-1979  

As you can see the diagram (I added the circle) contains detailed information that is not as easily broken up as we did in the baseball book. Even if we could redesign this one it probably wouldn't be as effective as a small graphic. The bigger challenge is that there were many more elements like this in the book not to mention numerous pages of 9″ wide tables that would need to be reduced. 


When faced with situations like this the publisher and eBook designer have three choices.

  1. Redesign the visual element.
  2. Ignore reader satisfaction.
  3. Create a PDF version of the element and make it available to download from a website, for sale or free. (The subject of a future post.)

But I think there is another, even better alternative. Why not create an entirely different eBook with the information that does work well in eBook form? Of course it would need to have a different title and be marketed differently. But this new book would be less costly to produce and could serve as a marketing tool to create interest in the larger, more richly designed title. I'm actually working on a project like this and will have an update in a future post.

Have you read any eBooks that didn't look as good as the print equivalent? Share your thoughts below.

photo credit: G A R N E T via photopin cc

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