Thursday, December 1, 2011

Children's Books Question -- from the e-mail

Question: You use to have lots of children's books on your site, including some that were animated. Now I have grandchildren and wanted to order some and can't find any. What happened to them? When will you have them for sale again?

Answer: Technology changes happened. Technology is changing all the time and have changed many times in the past ten years.

File submission requirements at the other sales sites are all different than they were ten years ago when we aquired the business from Connie Foster. Connie, a child psychologist, concentrated heavily on children's fare. And it worked well as long as all the reading devices would read .html language. HTML handled color and animation well and was readable by any computer, but not by most of the e-book reading devices. Some of those had two inch screens and were black on gray only. Many could not even be seen outside. The focus was muddy, at best.

Those reading devices had no color (not good for children's material) and many didn't have a graphics capability. As e-book devices became more popular, they had the lion's share of the e-book buyers. At that time, because of the reading device limitations, we dropped most of our children's titles because authors complained of lack of sales.

Today's newer devices, such as Kindle Fire, iPad, and Nook, have color, and will do animation. But preparing files for them is much more complicated than just putting together a file in HTML.

Because our authors have requested it, I am doing all I can to teach myself how to do illustrated books for young readers in all the newer electronic formats, but each device requires a different format, a different size and quality of image to be embedded in the file, and many require they be embedded in a different way, and so on.

LARGE companies, like Create-Space, owned by, could do such a book in both digital and paper for a reasonable fee, and put them on the market for authors in digital stores, because they have the software to convert any author's illustrated Word files automatically. For them, it's a matter of pushing a button. For us, it requires many hours of file prep.

So automated software is available, but it costs thousands of dollars. Needless to say we are a small company and don't plan to spend that kind of money on a program necessary for only a small percentage of books we might sell. Doing illustrated books manually is almost impossible for the small houses in the digital book business, despite the new devices that are set up to read them. This is changing, as technical requirements are changing, with the distributor stores becoming more aware that accepting small publisher's book files expands their inventory, but it is not yet a simple process.

I knew how to do color and animated files when we first started and.html was the only format. Now there are NINE different formats. Children's books take many more hours of work to lay out and sell less frequently than books for adults. At the time we opted out, except for contracts already made, most of the reading devices wouldn't do illustrations anyway. SOME still wont.

Yet, I have requests from authors to carry illustrated children's books every week. And I'm particularly grieved to say no to those with whom we have already established a good working relationship.

I'd like to teach myself to prepare these files adequately, so that the product would look good everywhere and we could expand your markets . Illustrated books are difficult to lay-out, but they sell much better with the advent of the color devices like iPad, Kindle Fire, and Nook, I'm convinced that illustrated e-books for children will make a big comeback and continue to sell well in the future.

What I need to do is find a format that I can program myself that will translate reliably and adequately to the color screens with clear sharp images. PDF will, of course. BUT by the time an 8.5 by 11 (Or even an 8x8) inch page gets reduced to a 4x6 screen, the pictures may become pixelated and the text becomes so tiny as to be almost illegible and PDF graphics do not presently fit the needs of all the sites and so may "disappear." So there are problems with that solution.

As an experiment, I have tried working with material supplied by another publisher who lives in my county and who asked for help. I did manage to lay out her paper book, ALL ABOUT ME, ROOTIE. Consequently, I am closer to being able to do e-formatting for this kind of book than I was six months ago. But chances are I will not get to experiment further until next year, as corporate taxes are due, year-end bookkeeping must be done, etc.

Based on experience, e-sales is where the market is and where the future market will be. Paper is easier to do, though much more complicated than laying out a novel. But sales of paper books for our company average about 1 in 18. Sometimes 1 in 25.

So this is something we'd like to do in the future. But right now, we can't. Nor can we say when, or even if, it will become possible.

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