Why Does My Ebook Look Bad in Desktop E-reading Software?

This article is for authors and publishers, however it may also be of some help to a frustrated reader.

For Readers of Ebooks
Readers should contact the publisher when an ebook is not functioning as expected. Sometimes it's not possible to develop for all possible apps and devices that can open ebooks, but the publisher of the book should be interested in your experience and feedback.

For Authors and Publishers
If you're asking this question, it may be that you've had a poor experience with an inexperienced ebook conversion house that has not done a good job. If that is the case, please send us your files and we will do Ebook Quality Assurance for you. There are a few other possibilities, some of which I will cover briefly below.

Step one, however, is to ask your ebook designer or conversion house about the problem. Send the ebook developer screenshots so they can understand what you are doing when you test your files, that is presenting what you perceive to be a problem.

Question one is are you testing the files appropriately? Ebooks need to be developed for the platform they are intended to be distributed on. There is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to ebook conversion.

The default of most ebook developers is to develop epub files for major platforms like Apple, Kobo and GooglePlay; and mobi files for Amazon. While it is possible to load epub files (and many other file types) to Amazon, their meat-grinder will rarely do a good job of the conversion. No ebook meat-grinder does, as the materials fed into it are often set-up by a designer with print in mind. Ebook meat-grinders often lack the quality control of an experienced human graphic designer, i.e. if you are doing it yourself.

Here are some possible problems you may be experiencing when you test your ebook files prior to publication:

  1. Diagrams are not readable (blurry) in my ebook
  2. Images are chopped off at the bottom/sides/top in my ebook
  3. My ebook has tiny images, that look like little stamps
  4. My dropcaps, dinkuses, icons, fonts, non-English characters or symbols are not displaying properly in my ebook
  5. My ebook contains tables that are squashed up and hyphenated and difficult to read
  6. My ebook has large fonts or characters strewn down the page in a big mess

These are screen shots on my Apple iPhone of an ebook that is up for sale on Amazon Kindle right now. It was loaded in PDF form, and as you can see, does not function properly.

Here are some possible explanations for the problems.

  1. Your ebook conversion person (developer) may have done something wrong when generating the screen-resolution versions of your images. Ask them.

    Or, you may have supplied original images files at an inappropriate size, resolution and/or compression to your conversion house or meat-grinder. They can only work with what you give them, so if at all possible go back to the originals and you may have to pay a little bit extra for your graphic designer or conversion house to re-create appropriate graphics for your ebook.

  2. This should not happen on ebook devices, as they generally will resize images in proportion to fit within the bounds of the screen. So if you're asking this question, it probably applies to desktop ebook software. If not, your designer/converter has done something wrong with the images.

    Desktop e-reading software are notoriously suboptimal at displaying large images, diagrams, graphs and tables. Adobe Digital Editions and all its derivatives (including Bluefire Reader) cannot display images perfectly on all different computer screens. Desktop computer monitors can be set with a large variety of resolutions and sizes, and as the e-reader software does not force images or tables to fit inside the frame, they often get chopped off in this software.

    Thankfully, desktop ebook software are largely irrelevant because the most popular ways of actually selling and viewing ebooks involve devices. In other words we develop for Apple iPads and Android phones etc. not for computer screens. Who wants to sit and read an ebook on their desktop computer? This particular use is not as common.

    For complex ebooks with tables and diagrams, if you expect readers to be using a computer to view your ebook, you may be better off using an interactive PDF rather than epub and mobi.

    The reason why somebody might want to develop an epub for Adobe Digital Editions is to do with distribution—supplying ebooks direct to readers via an Adobe Content Server-based website for example. We find this with digital content for some larger organisations and government departments. Please see our FAQ articles:
  3. How do I sell ebooks on my website?
    Can we obtain the contact details of people who buy our ebooks?
    Can I allow multi-seat licenses for organisations to purchase my ebook?

    This is a complex question, and requires the advice of a professional who will also need to analyse your book and the files you have for the developer to use. Please contact us about Publishing Consultation worldwide.

  4. Images can display in ebooks very tiny when the screen resolution of the device you're viewing the ebook on is much larger than the developer expected. Ebook developers should usually make images larger so they will function as expected on devices with the largest/best screen resolution. Those that have smaller screen size and resolution will usually scale down images anyway (except for desktop e-readers, see point 2 above). You can see how it gets messy trying to develop for devices AND for desktop ebook readers. It is a balancing act because the larger the images, the larger the file size, which may impact on your royalty earnings (on Amazon, for example), so having the smallest file size is a benefit.

  5. If dropcaps, dinkuses, icons, fonts, non-English characters or symbols are not displaying properly in your ebook, it's probably because of the lack of an experienced ebook developer. It may also be because different software and devices sometimes will not cooperate, especially when it comes to fonts. For example, the Amazon Kindle app struggles to install fonts on Apple devices, probably because Apple will not allow it to. As a result, a mobi file that works perfectly on Amazon devices, may not look as good on Apple devices.

  6. If your ebook contains tables that are squashed up, hyphenated and/or difficult to read, it is probably because you are looking at the ebook on a small device such as a mobile phone. Apple iBooks allows readers to double-tap on tables to render them like an image that can be zoomed. You may find this sufficient.

    If not, there are several options, which we are experienced dealing with for our customers here at Australian eBook Publisher.

    • Get the author or editor to re-arrange the tables so they are not as wide. We tend to find that tables with more than 4 columns don't look very good on devices, especially those smaller than an iPad.

    • Get the developer to insert the table as an image. Why do we not do this for all tables, you may be wondering? Text is not supposed to be embedded in images, if at all possible. This is because it will then not be 'live text' which is searchable and can be hyperlinked etc. Apple adheres to the ePub standard, and therefore tends to reject epubs with text-based content embedded in images.

    • There may be other options. We really need to see your particluar book or ebook to be able to advise you. Please contact us about Publishing Consultation.

  7. Text, characters, images or other design elements used in a printed book design, may go haywire on a reflowable ebook if you have used a meat-grinder to convert your ebook. This happens when using Smashwords or the Amazon meat-grinder (loading a PDF or ePub directly in to Amazon Kindle Direct, for example). The key is to test before letting your ebook go out for sale. And keep on developing till you get it right.

    A book designed for print is not one button press from conversion to good-looking ebook files. That's why a business like Australian eBook Publisher exists. There's more to it than spending 5 minutes shoving your print PDF through a meat-grinder (ebook conversion software).

If you work with us on your ebook project, we will supply training materials on what your project involves. For example, what a reflowing ebook is. The difference between raster and vector graphics. Fixed layout VS reflowing ebooks etc. Whatever is relevant to you, we can explain it, and/or simply manage it all for you.

If you are an author or publisher who is getting frustrated with the quality of your ebook, send some screen shots of the pages you're not happy with to your developer, or to us. It may be that you're doing something with the ebook files that is not relevant for selling of ebooks. i.e. when sold through Apple and Amazon, the vast majority of people will be reading the ebook on a device like an iPad or mobile phone. They are forced to open the ebook in the app in question, eg. Apple iBooks, Amazon Kindle app etc. So it only makes sense for you to test it on those platforms, not in Calibre or Adobe Digital Editions, which are desktop software, for example.

Authors and publishers, for more on why your ebook is not working properly, please contact us about Publishing Consultation.

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