Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Need Your Help. Hey, Put Your Wallet Away. I'm Not Talking About That Kinda Help.

A couple of posts back I announced that Table for Two - The Cookbook for Couples would soon be produced in e-book format.

That sounded like good news to me.

Until I saw a few cookbooks in e-book format.

Now I'm not so sure.

You see, I'm somewhat proud of the book's cover and interior design. Not that I can take any credit for it. You've already seen my extraordinary graphic arts talent in a previous post.

No, the book looks good due to the efforts of Ms. Rebecca Russo (cover) and the good folks at Principle Creative (interior). However, I am still proud of the results and am thrilled that these folks pulled down some awards for their work. I may not know a Quark from an Adobe, but I do have a sense for good design. And that's why I'm having second thoughts about this e-book version.

E-books work great for novels and other books that contain basic running text. This is because e-books are made to display standard block paragraphs with minimal formatting. Oh, and they don't have pages and page numbers because e-book readers come in various sizes: from an iPhone to a Kindle to your desktop computer screen. You won't see the same screen view on a Blackberry as you would on a Nook or a laptop computer.

If it's a novel or non-fiction narrative it really doesn't matter; you just keep scrolling through as you read. Cookbooks, on the other hand, are laid out differently. One recipe per page (at least in mine), lots of indents, bullet points, lists, and columns...you get my drift. E-books do not play well with these. In fact, if the publishing world was a sandlot baseball game, the e-book would be "steady catcher". It can't pitch, slide, field, bat or even scratch its own privates. It's pretty much good at one thing: reading novels and articles on the go.

Oh, and then there's the index. A good index in a cookbook is a necessity as far as I'm concerned. But since e-books cannot have page numbers, an index is pretty much useless. I've even seen e-books that contain the index from the print version but had to include this caveat:

Note: Entries in this index, carried over verbatim from the print edition of this title, are unlikely to correspond to the pagination of any given ebook reader.

Of course my response to reading that in an e-book I just purchased would be Where's The Fries?!

Bottom line: in the few e-book cookbooks I've seen, I was most unimpressed with the layout (recipes running from page to page with nary a break between them, no columns, lists hard to read) and I certainly missed a usable index. Oh, and then there's the fact that they are not margarita proof.

So here are my questions:

What do you think?

Have you seen or used a cookbook on an e-reader?

What was your impression or experience?

If you have one, would you buy another?

Thanks for your input!

Oh, and since I see you still have that wallet out, could you spot me a couple of bucks for a drink? I left my wallet in the car...


  1. Just about a month ago Adobe made version 5.5 which focus on e -publications. This is the link from YouTube which describe ideas how it works:) http://youtu.be/5bBNrMoKz0Q.
    I'm creative director and believe it can be helpful

  2. @Eve from Spice&Food. Thanks for this heads up. I had heard rumors about 5.5 but since 4 was so horrible I didn't give it much thought. However, it certainly looks like a huge improvement over their previous and other's conversion apps, particularly the 'article' feature (for each recipe) and 'link' feature (in lieu of a traditional index). I will see if any of the firms the publisher uses will be using this. It seems like the best option so far!

  3. I read a paper (not electronic) copy of an old Nigella cookbook the other day. I think it was 'How to Eat' and the problem I had with this book was that there are were no photos. Now, isn't that the case with e-books, you can't have photos...??? I'm sorry I just can't read a cookbook without photos. Maybe I just lack the imagination, but I NEED to know what it's supposed to look like. No photos, no likey...

    Yes, I can shout you a drink.. Harvey's red wine ? It'll give you the headache from hell. :o)

  4. er.. actually I take that back .. in the interests of research I just looked at 'easy vegan meals' a free e-book for the i-pod touch. There ARE photos, but most of them are cropped, or cut off half way through, some do look ok though..also there are so few words on the tiny screen that I got finger-ache moving to the next page to read the next three words - very frustrating. Conclusion ? It's paper for me !!!
    D'you need a refill ??

  5. @Kooky Girl. Oh yeah! This is exactly the type of response I was hoping for. Someone who had seen e-book cookbooks and was willing to share their thoughts. (Anyone else? Anyone?)

    And yes, I would like a refill; in the interests of research, of course. (And please don't concern yourself with possible headaches. That's why God created aspirin...) :-D

  6. Wow -- I don't think it's possible for me to disagree with this more. Where to begin?

    First, you're not putting out an e-book for folks like you guys who don't like e-books. You're creating them for e-book lovers, like me. So stop thinking like you and start thinking outside the dead tree.

    Second, you don't "scroll" in an e-book. You turn the page, whether it's by a simple click in a Kindle (easier than turning a page in a dead-tree book -- not that that's difficult) or by flipping the page with your finger in an iPad.

    Kindle books DO have page numbers, so there goes that argument (this is a feature that was added last year). They are also searchable, so you don't need an index in the same way that you need one in a regular cookbook (I NEVER use indices in my Kindle books -- I am all about searching). I can search on "pear" and my Kindle will quickly display every recipe that contains that word -- and not just recipes with "pear" in the title. It's actually much more complete than a traditional index.

    I've read tons of dead-tree cookbooks that aren't laid out one recipe per page. I've never seen that as an issue and it's not an issue in an e-book. I'm perfectly capable of clicking on the button that will turn the page.

    I don't know what cookbook you were looking at, but the one I'm looking at right now on my Kindle is laid out exactly as I would imagine it is in a dead-tree version. The ingredients are indented, there are certainly spaces and paragraphs, recipes are even set off with a fading series of boxes (just a little graphic touch). Just because you saw a badly done e-book doesn't mean they're all that way.

    By far the best reason to have a cookbook in an e-book format is that when you go to the grocery store you have thousands of recipes with you (assuming you have multiple cookbooks on your e-reader). I have my Kindle with me all the time and I have often used it while grocery shopping. And I can prop it up in my kitchen and the pages won't flip while I'm cooking.

    Of course you can have pictures in an e-cookbook. Many e-readers are black and white, but the nook and the iPad have great graphics. I have to say, though, that probably ninety percent of my cookbooks don't have pictures; this is not a deal breaker for me.

    The bottom line: if you don't like e-cookbooks, don't buy 'em. That's fine. But they are certainly as user friendly as dead-tree books (and I maintain that they're MORE user friendly for the reasons I've listed).

  7. @Sharon. And yes, we have another! These are all good points. Perhaps the versions that I saw (national publishers no less) did not invest in clean e-book versions. And I understand the 'scroll' thing, the point I wanted to make is that the different screen sizes determine what is on the screen (at least that is according to those who I contacted about formatting). Of course, I am sure that, like anything, just about everything can be done. But if a book had to be hand-coded, line by line to insure the proper indents and spacing, it may not be cost effective to produce an e-book that works. I don't know, I'm just asking. We're getting bids now but I'm looking for more input before we take the plunge...

  8. It's not screen size that determines what is on the screen -- it's font size. And that is adjusted by the reader (thank God for this feature -- I love it more than words can say when I'm tired at night and can just make the words BIGGER). And my legally blind friend, thanks to a Kindle and its adjustable font, has been able to read a book for the first time in over a decade.

    So you cannot ensure that one recipe fits on one screen -- that's not how it'll work. But folks with an e-reader already know that. If we bought a book and COULDN'T adjust the font size we would be upset.

    I don't know why something would have to be "hand-coded" to get indents and spacing -- what's different about a spaced recipe over a spaced paragraph? I know nothing about this part, but why would it be that much harder to do than a blog entry or a Word doc? (Maybe it is, I don't know, but that would not be my first assumption.)

  9. @Sharon. One has to submit a Word document for e-book conversion (no pdfs) and that document cannot have any tabs, extra paragraph returns between paragraphs to create blank lines, indents made with bar spaces or tabs, text in columns or tables, multiple text or paragraph styles, or automatic footnotes. This goes for all submissions, not just recipes. Now, if one knew they were going to submit their text for e-book conversion (as I am with book two, which is mainly narrative) I will avoid these formatting methods from the outset. However, my original Word doc for Table for Two has most of the above no-no's. That is why it would have to be reformatted page by page and line by line to remove all the tabs, columns, space bar indents, etc. (Not to mention that nearly all of the edits were made after the text was submitted to the publisher and laid out in a different program - InDesign - which means we would have to go back into Word to make all the edits as well.) However, the InDesign 5.5 which Eve mentions above looks very promising as it can work off an existing InDesign format. I would like to speak with a designer who has actually used 5.5 and perhaps have them convert a couple of pages of Table for Two to see how it comes out. Anyone know of anyone? :-)

  10. Bummer, dude.

    Well, my opinion (which I am not shy about sharing, as you can see) is that book one will be a purely financial decision: will the reformatting cost too much to make an e-book worthwhile? That's something only you can decide, of course. In general, however, I don't see any problem with having a cookbook in e-book format. I would certainly buy one (I have bought them).

  11. I'm going to be the retro voice of dissent here, casting my vote in favor of paper cookbooks. Yes, I know there are (typically young) techies who want everything on an e-reader and they often consider "real" books - and the people who enjoy them - to be dinosaurs.

    That said, there is something magical about the tactile sensations one gets from handling a book or paper magazine. These formats give you the ability to rapidly scan and flip through pages, to allow the copy to fall open to a random spot while looking for inspiration, to view the glossy color photos of beautiful recipes.

    I think that e-books and hard-copy books can co-exist in peace -- and I pray that we are not seeing the demise of paper books and glossy magazines.

  12. OK here's my two cents. Because I rarely try new recipes, when I do, I ALWAYS splatter. Hence I do not want tomato, or pink or murky brown/green colors on my pretty hard cover cookbooks or new expensive iPad which I've just learned doesn't have flash capability! I print a copy of the recipe and put into plastic sleeve so after I splatter, I just wipe and dry. and add sleeve to my binder of tried-and-did-not-blow-up recipe cookbook.

    How's that for low-tech technique!And YES I do need photos! The bigger the better!

  13. I have never seen an ebook cookbook before. I like them for novels, but would be unsure about getting one for my ereader. There is just something about paging through and picking the recipes based on pictures, and bookmarking them. But if it gets your book out there for more people to see it, it can't be all bad can it?

  14. I'm a computer analyst and work in IT all day, so the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is to read a cookbook in electronic format. That said, here I am on a computer ! I use the internet all the time for looking up recipes, and printing them off, but that's more for speed. For relaxation I like a book - there I've said it, with photos, and a non-changing font. That said, when I go to my Labour of Love (in France) I don't take my cookbooks (too heavy and too many), and yet I would desperately love to have access to all of my cook books, and of course I don't have internet access at LofL, and of course I'm not at work all day when I'm there - There we go ! I have just found the perfect reason for needing the e-version of your book Warren - yippee ! Clinking the glass! :o)

    PS> Can't you just save that Word doc as a txt file..? No fancy formatting in Notepad :o)

  15. @Sharon. Bummer, indeed. But you're right, it will be financial. And the publisher wants it out so it will go to e-book. I was just concerned that it would not measure up to what they did for the interior design. But from what I hear from you (an regular e-book reader) folks who purchase e-books know what they are getting so it may be too much for me to expect that the e-book *should* look like the print edition. This is good news. Thanks for the input!

  16. @An Alaskan Cooks. And I concur. I love the tactile feel of both cookbooks and mags. But then again, I'm so retro I still lick self-adhesive postage stamps, lol. But I have to face reality: the world is moving forward and those of us who write or publish for a living have to adapt. But I echo your prayer, that e-books and print books will co-exist in peace.

  17. @Christine. If it's any comfort to you, I splatter even when I use old recipes, lol. Putting your recipe printouts in plastic sleeves? Why didn't I think of that? I'm serious. I print them out and proceed to muck 'em up the first time I use them. This convo was good if only for that little tip.

    And I'm sorry to hear about the iPad/Flash thing. but if you need to get rid of that new iPad, I got an Etch-A-Sketch that I'm sure you'll just love. :-D

  18. @Erin. Now you're thinking like a publisher. If it gets the book into more hands, why not? The hardest thing for us creative types (and yes, I place myself loosely in that category) is to assume that the way we look at the world is the way *every* person should look at the world. I don't think I'm painting with too broad a brush here (I *was* a director of an art institute for a couple of years.) Need proof? Just walk up to a painter, author or songwriter and tell them that their work sucks... :-D

  19. @Kooky Girl. Oh my, facing a computer screen all day long? How horrendous! How do you stand it? Why that would be just like a...a...a...writer. :-D So yes, this is what the likes of you and I do each and everyday. And I do love that time of the day when I leave my office (upstairs) and walk out onto the deck (downstairs) to flip through my latest copy of Cooks Illustrated in one hand, a glass of wine in the other. **clink**

    Now...about that e-book in France deal? I'll let you know as soon as T for 2 comes out, lol.

    PS. Yes, the Word doc can be saved as a text file, but then it would have to be placed back into Word and formatted for e-pub formatting. Sigh...

  20. I don't yet have an e-reader or an ipad, but it's on my list (I'm saving for it) and I'm only a few weeks from ordering it... Yay! I will be buying e-books and will get yours for sure!! :)

  21. @fatbottomedfriends. Thanks! I'll be sure to set one aside for you, :-)

  22. I have the Kindle e-reader from Amazon. The first book I downloaded was a free cookbook to test the system. I enjoyed having the electronic version so much, I have gone on to purchase a variety of e-cookbooks. Some of the books have pictures and some do not. I prefer pictures on a printed book but I don't need them on the e-book format. For me, the best part of e-cookbooks are their portability.

  23. @Eating Deliciously. Thanks for the input! The fact that you've purchased several e-cookbooks is very encouraging. I think we're moving forward on it!