What eBooks Have Got Right and What Amazon Has Got Wrong

With Wines of France now published, I’ve been working on an electronic edition. With 350 pages of text discussing the wine regions of France, and 250 pages for profiles of individual producers, it’s really rather big for a single electronic book, but I think it may be useful as a series of seven guides to the individual regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Rhône, Loire, Alsace, Languedoc & Provence. Each guide will have the information about the region from the book plus the profiles of producers from the region, and maps to show where to find the producers for people who want to plan an itinerary.

It seems blindingly obvious that an electronic format is a good way to go for a guide, as it’s easy to include direct links, e.g. to producers’ web sites, maps of the region, or other information, and also can be updated quickly and easily. But surprisingly the eBook format is not very hospitable. The problem is that the content – like any guide – is heavily dependent on graphics – pictures of the region, maps to show appellations and vineyard locations, maps to show where to find producers, and so on – and these are difficult to handle in the electronic format. One problem is the small size of the screen; but more important is the difficulty of achieving a layout like a print book, where the big effort is always to get the graphics close to the text that relates to them.

It’s possible to do a reasonable job for the generic eBook format, although it will come off better on a tablet than an iPad. But you can see the maps in color, legends can be fixed neatly below or besides them, and text can be wrapped around them. You can’t see a two page spread, of course, but you can move around the text and maps in a pretty workmanlike way, and of course you can go off to ancillary links quite easily. For people who carry iPads or tablets around, I think this will be quite useful.

The big problem comes with the Kindle, which, after all, is more than half of the eBook market. The programming for Kindle is amazingly primitive: Amazon must have made an early decision that the main appeal would be for books which are essentially text only. (This reminds me of the disastrous decision IBM made when it introduced the personal computer, that there would be different formats for black and white screens (no graphics) compared to color screens. And it’s really difficult to see any justification for Kindle using a different format from all other eBooks.)

For the Kindle, this is not just an issue of color, although it’s certainly more difficult to use maps and so on in black and white: it’s really difficult to do any sort of layout for the Kindle, as the software essentially limits the material to flowing in strictly linear order. Many of the commands that work with the generic eBook format have been disabled for the Kindle. That’s why so many books have odd spaces and look weird. The situation is supposed to be better with the latest formats for Fire, closer to the generic eBook format, but that’s not yet a really significant part of the market. I appeal to Amazon to make it possible to integrate graphics with text for the basic Kindle, as this will open the whole market up to guide books and other books that extend beyond simple text.

My first eGuide will be New World Cabernet Sauvignon: The Wines and Guide to Top 100 Vineyards, in a few weeks. I have some tastings to complete so that it will be really up to date, then it will be ready for release. The seven guides to French regions will follow in the New Year. All the guides will be available for both iPads and other devices as well as for Kindle, but it would be great if Amazon improved the Kindle format.

Kindle8 copy


6 thoughts on “What eBooks Have Got Right and What Amazon Has Got Wrong

  1. I enjoy reading your books, articles & blogs. I always look forward to your writings. As you know Jancis Ribinson
    Wine Encyclopedia as an eBook has a very easy and wonderful way of presenting the maps. Perhaps your e-Book editor can take a look at her book. I think your book as an e-Book would be a very wonderful edition to any wine lover’s iPad !
    I look to see it as an E-Book
    Cheers 🍷

    • The Wine Encyclopedia is a wonderful book, but it isn’t so dependent on maps and pictures, and the individual entries are usually shorter than the sections in my book. That makes it a bit easier to transfer to electronic format. My series of Guides to French Wine will be available in all electronic formats, but I’d just like to be able to make the Kindle version as good as the iPad version.

  2. Dear Benjamin,

    I would be interested in Print Versions of the Guides. Is there the possibility to get a Print Version (Book on Demand or so ?)

    Best Regards
    Dieter Aue from Germany

      • I love your little books/guides. I was wondering if there was any place where we could see the maps in color. Your descriptions of the terroir and its connections to the wines are what draw me to your books, but the black and white images make it difficult to appreciate these terroir differences on the maps. The gradation of greys are not clear. is there any place where I can view/purchase these figures/maps in color? Thanks for all of your enlightening contributions!

      • Thanks for the nice words. I agree it’s much better in color and it’s very frustrating to have difficulties with this. I’m not sure whether you are reading the guides as ebooks on Kindle or as paperbacks. The economics make it impossible to do color in paperback – it would put the cost up about three times – so the paperbacks have to be in black and white. The files for Kindle are in color, however, so if you read the guides on a Kindle with a color screen, all of the maps, figures, labels etc should come out in color (although because of the limitations of Kindle, you may have to fiddle a bit to get the size right). The maps showing the producer locations are unique to the guides, but the maps of appellations etc and most of the pictures can be found in my books in those cases where the subject matter overlaps, e.g. if you look at Wines of France it has most of the graphics that are in the guides that cover regions of France, guides and they are all in color. Some of the stuff in the Guide to Napa Valley is in In Search of Pinot Noir or Claret & Cabs, and Wine Myths and Reality (second edition now in preparation) has information on Italy and Port. I wish I could do everything in color, but costs of color printing are much higher than black and white and unfortunately many kindles have black and white screens.

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