Is Amazon Too Big for Kindle?

Just received an email from the Amazon DTP, the place you publish books in Kindle format.  In order to practice and learn how this is done last spring, I experimented with one of my earlier books.  Amazon owns the entire process of conversion to Kindle format. It won’t accept PDF format for conversion, instead you must supply either Word or HTML.  This book had been done in Word so I uploaded and experienced no end of problems.  It looked like crap: strange paragraph breaks in the middle of words.  I converted the Word format to HTML and tried that, and got a host of other problems.  I remember I spent hours on it, but the images always looked terrible.  So eventually I relented and published it as it was.  Today I got this message from Amazon:

Thank you for your submission of “BPM in Practice…” to the Kindle Store through Amazon DTP. One or more of your readers contacted us to let us know that the images are not clear when viewed on a Kindle device.

I’ve analyzed the images in your content, and I found that the part of the image which had the textual content, had a transparent background.

Now, during the online conversion for Kindle, the transparent space is identified as an empty space and is substituted with the black rectangle, which encompasses the textual content as well. This is the reason as to why the actual picture inside each image file appears properly, but the textual content with the transparent background converts incorrectly.

Please re-work on the images, such that the part of the image, which has the textual content, is given a white background. Please do so for all the images in the content, save the file, upload it again on DTP, and verify the conversion on the online DTP Previewer.

Please make necessary corrections to the title and republish it within 7 calendar days. Please note, if the book is not republished within 7 calendar days, after making the necessary corrections, the title will be unpublished from the web site.

Did I read that right?  Transparent space in an image is converted to a black rectangle?!?!  When viewed in Word, the transparent space is white, as if (follow the logic here) it was transparent to the white paper behind it.  When viewed on the HTML page, the transparent part appears as white as the background as well.  Apparently someone at Amazon through that “transparent space” means replace it with a black rectangle.  This might make sense if the background of the kindle was black, but actually the Kindle normally appears to have a white background, like paper.

I should mention that the pictures do NOT appear normal.  Most of them appear simply as a big black square, and occasionally some elements of the graphic are visible.  The images in this book were created in PowerPoint, and pasted into Word, so there is a mixture of graphic and text in a screen-shaped rectangle.

A lot of people might call this a “bug” in the conversion software.  Some might even have the audacity to demand that the conversion software be changed to convert transparent bits to white values.  I would think 7 days would be enough time to fix this bug, especially given that they know exactly what the problem is.  Why don’t they fix it?

The truth is, you have no other channel to sell Kindle books through.  Amazon has complete monopolistic control of the content of Kindle.  The deal is set completely by Amazon: the author, the editor, and everyone else involved in producing the book get 35% of the purchase price, while Amazon takes 65% of the price of the book just for allowing people to download it from their servers.

I asked a couple of other authors whether they though this was a fair deal.  The response I got from many experienced writers was that the author gets a tiny fraction of the book anyway, so 35% looks pretty good.  However, with a physical book there is a lot of overhead of shipping and storing the book, as well as investment in stock, which simply does not happen for a Kindle book.  The amount of resources taken to host and allow download is so close to zero that normally it is not charged for.  To be fair to Amazon, they do make it very convenient for readers to access the books, and such convenience takes effort.  It works well enough that Amazon now sells more Kindle books than it does hardcover books.  But still, a $20 physical book might justify $13 for the warehousing, shipping, handling, handling returns, etc leaving the publisher/author with $7.  An electronic version should give the author the same amount ($7) but since distribution is massively less expensive, should be smaller, maybe $1 or $2, leaving the electronic book at a price of around $9.  Thus the 65%/35% ratio does not make sense in ebook publishing, especially when the cost of the book is expected to be lower.  I am not just griping about my non-existent share, but I am saying there is a huge disruptive opportunity for a start-up to deliver Kindle books for far less.

Inability to properly convert graphics led me to put all of the figures for Mastering the Unpredictable on SlideShare which actually handles transparent bits as if they were (believe it or not) the color of the white background.  I may do the same for “BPM In Practice”.  Or I may look for a different way to convert the book to the right format.  Or, more likely, we will see the book disappear from Amazon in about 7 days.  Better stock up while supplies last!

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2 Responses to Is Amazon Too Big for Kindle?

  1. Pingback: Two Books Self-Publishers MUST Buy « Mike Cane's xBlog

  2. I had purchased the kindle version of Mastering the Unpredictable. In the first version, many of the figures were displayed as grey rectangles, other were distorted. Later this was fixed, but now some figures are so small that you cannot read the text, and you cannot zoom in. Therefore I am very happy that you put the figures on slideshare!

    The Kindle (I am using the Kindle software on Windows and Android) provided my worst e-book experience ever.

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