Why We Don't Publish LensWork for Kindle eInk Readers
In the world of digital publishing, there is a preliminary division in technology that is almost never talked about. The most fundamental question is: Who controls the layout? To understand this more clearly, think of the average paper book publication. When you pick up the book, all the decisions about layout are in the hands of the publisher and you have essentially no control over any of the visual aspects of the book — typeface, margins, text size, page size — all are determined by the publisher before the book goes to press. In fact, the exact same content — think the stream of words — can have two completely different layouts when published by two different publishers. In this case, publishers are entirely in control of the way the book and its content looks.
When it comes to digital publications, this fundamental issue gets dicey. In the typical e-book reader like the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook, the publisher encodes the book-length sequence of words with a few fundamental stylistic tags — essentially the same kind of thing that happens in webpage design: Header1, Header2, Paragraph, etc. How those different paragraph definitions are actually made visible is a function of the device and a limited number of reader preferences. Readers can change fonts, text size, margins, paragraph justification, and even the space between lines. In some readers and in some e-book formats, readers can even change the background "paper" colors and textures. The device simply reflows the string of text to fit the new parameters of text size, typeface choice, etc.
As an aside, this is why the entire concept of "page count" quickly evaporates in the e-book world. Pages are a physical measure that only makes sense in a static design and, for that matter, only in a given book. Two different publishers' renditions of Tale of Two Cities will very likely have totally different content on "page 210" depending on their layout choices for typeface, font size, and spacing of the text.
The above description of structure of an "e-book" applies specifically to two major competing formats — the Amazon Kindle format (a variation of the Mobi format that predates Kindle) — and the format the rest of the world has adopted known as EPUB. Both of these formats have these design interpretation flexibilities built in.
This is all well and good for novels and other book-length text documents. This flexibility does not, however, provide the design-intensive publication a comfortable environment. Perhaps the classic example would be that marvelous series by Nick Bantock of which Griffin & Sabine is the first volume. In this series of books, Bantock's extensive design is and incredibly important part of the unfolding story. Drawings, hand written text, unfolding pages, tipped-in envelopes with enclosed letters, unique paper backgrounds on almost every page, and extensive use of handwritten and calligraphic flourishes are an incredibly important part of this publication — none of which would be reproducible in Kindle version or EPUB book. Well, it may be possible, but it would be clunky to say the least.
Where the publisher needs to maintain control of the design and layout as an important part of the publication, the Kindle and EPUB formats are simply inadequate. For digital publications of this nature, the PDF document is still the best way for a publisher to maintain control of the visual aspects of a design-intensive book. With the PDF format, the look of the page is locked in the code of the digital document. Even typefaces that are not resident in the device can be reproduced with integrity in a properly coded PDF document. Color rendition, page graphics and dynamics, the page aspect ratio and the entire text dynamics are all under the complete control of the designer/publisher.
Which is better? It's a matter of balancing the trade-offs. Is it more important that the reader be presented with design integrity, or have the ability to select their preferred typeface? Are page graphics and layout an important part of the content, or is it more important that the reader be able to adjust the font size for reading comfort? Is the relevance and power of the content a function of the layout, or is the relevance and power merely a function of the language in the text? For me, this is a decision that is easy once I know the nature of the content: text-only is ideal for Kindle or EPUB, graphics and design-intensive content is best for PDF.
Clearly, LensWork and LensWork Extended, because of their design-intensive presentation of graphics, are best suited to the PDF format. Long-form text only (or primarily text) books like On Being a Photographer or my own Letting Go of the Camera are perfectly suited to the Kindle or EPUB format.
So, if you are thinking about digital publishing of your work, this is the first thing to consider — who needs be in control of the look of your content? Because we are artists making art-oriented publications — at least I assume most of us are — clearly the PDF format is the one we are more likely than not to need for our photographic ePublications. On the other hand, if your book is mostly text with only a few photos used as illustrations, you might be able to publish for the Kindle or EPUB without too much difficulty.