"The book is not what you think it is."
- The Artist's Muse, in a Zen moment
Making a real book is fraught with many difficulties, most of them due to the problems of working in a physical medium. Even after you've found a publisher (or decided to self-publish), the book must be laid out, printed, bound, and then distributed. with all sorts of problems to be solved along the way. Hopefully, you'll get everything right. If you make a mistake, there will be many copies of your errors, all nicely bound.
In publishing an electronic version of an art book, you're faced with a completely different set of problems. One of the most interesting is deciding which document format to use. Most electronic book formats are tied to some sort of reader software, used to display the book on your computer or mobile device.
Before looking at the available file formats for ebooks, let's divide the world of books in general into two broad categories.
Unformatted - Mostly text -- novels, biographies, etc. May contain some illustrations, but their layout isn't particularly important. Text can be flowed from page to page, to fit the available screen, choice of font size, etc.
Formatted - Any book that requires a page layout program to produce. It could be an art book, or a college text book or a cookbook, or a book on architecture or garden design. In general, one page of the print version will be one page of the electronic version, with exactly the same layout.
If the format is an "open" one, it can be viewed on more than one different hardware platform, and there may be several different readers available for that format. Proprietary electronic book formats fall into two categories -- a format that can be read on only one ebook reader (such as the Kindle), or the book is actually packaged as an application that includes the reader (iPad and iPhone app books).
In most cases, it's better to choose an open format for your art book, as this will give you a wider audience and more options for viewing your work. There are three popular open formats for electronic books.
EPUB - This format is best suited for text-oriented books such as novels, where only basic formatting is required. The EPUB file itself is basically a set of web pages and some descriptive info. It is an "open" standard that is designed and shared by a committee that may or may not agree on a standard so that the many different EPUB readers will try to comply with. It's equivalent to the web, back around 1996, with similar capabilities, with lots of different browsers (readers) vying for a share of the marketplace.
Flash - This format is well suited for animation and interactive multimedia. A number of art books have been implemented in Flash. Most of these are "flip books" featuring realistic page turning simulation. Unfortunately, people can grow tired of these special effects. Flash is the equivalent of a movie projector, TV, or video games. Flash has received some bad PR and has been banned from Mobile devices. But it's an essential technology for the web, and it's going to be around for a while. (Try building Farmville in HTML5.) But it's just not suited for Ebooks.
App Books - This is a new one, designed for a mobile device such as a phone or tablet. Each book has its own reader built in, so there may be some variation as to how these books work. This is, in general, the only way to present a formatted book on a mobile device. It's also a recipe for disaster and a future maintenance headache.
PDF - I actually tried making several art books as a test, in all three formats, using a number of different tools. In the end, I decided on PDF as the best choice for producing art books.
If EPUB is the web browser, and Flash is the video game, PDF is the printing press. It's what you want if you're really serious about making an art book in electronic form. So precise and controllable is this format, that it's the format that publishers of books and magazines use to send their stuff to the printer.
As an added bonus, you can make PDF books with interactive features. For instance, our art books will have a set of interactive controls set into a bar at the bottom of the screen. (We call this the "Bookbar.") Interactive PDF books can contain hyperlinks that make it easier to navigate the book. There will be buttons to take you to Full Screen mode, where you can view the book as a slideshow. And that's just the beginning.
You'll need a reader for your PDF books, and the chances are that you already have it on your computer. It's called Adobe Reader and it's free. There are some "lightweight" PDF readers around, but you should get the Adobe Reader if you want to see advanced PDF features at work. And considering the costů