Sunday, May 3, 2015

Math On Kindle

This is about a book I had not planned to write. It all started when I got a 3-star review on my latest technical book Feedback Control Systems Demystified. This book was originally written using iBooks Author because that program allowed me to write a highly interactive book filled with easy to format equations that I hoped would engage students and help them learn a difficult subject faster.

When I started the book, iBooks were only available for the iPad. I didn't own an iPad so I bought an iPad Mini for my writing project. My wife, who loves to read, fell in love with the Mini once she found out that it was better than her Kindle Touch which I had bought her a year before. So you guessed it, I bought her an iPad Mini also. Gee, it's hard to make money in this game of authoring technical books.

By the time I finished my controls book, Apple released a reader for the Mac with their new operating system. Yippee, I thought, Apple will soon release an iBooks reader for the PC market just like they did with QuickTime and iTunes. I waited and waited. With no PC-based iBooks reader in sight I began to think that iBooks might never compete with Amazon Kindle books in terms of market reach, so I decided to port the controls book to Kindle.

Amazon and MathType made it sound easy. All I had to do was port the text to MS Word and insert the MathType equations I had already created for iBooks Author and I was set to go. Oops, I couldn't port all my widgets developed with HTML5 Canvas and JavaScript, because Kindle doesn't support these. No problem, I just put the interactive elements on my website and placed links to them in the book. Now I was really set to go. I checked the final draft using the Kindle Previewer, uploaded my book and cover, checked all with the Kindle App for my iPad and and my wife's Kindle Touch. All looked good so I released the book for sale.

Sales were slow at first and then picked up. I even got a 5-star review so all was looking good. After about 8 months I got this 3-star review:
The material is meticulously presented but the process of turning a print volume into an e-book is badly broken. Every table, every figure, every formula is virtually unreadable, even on my Kindle with the largest display they come with. Text can be scaled, figures cannot. It really seems as if the e-publishing game is much more about quantity than quality.
Of course this book was never a print book, figures are bitmaps and can't be scaled, and I am the sole publisher/writer. So I ignored those comments. But I couldn't ignore the statement: Every table, every figure, every formula is virtually unreadable, even on my Kindle with the largest display they come with. Something was wrong and I had to fix it.

It took me at least three months to solve and correct the problems. I've put it all down in this book in hopes that it will help other authors using equations to avoid the pitfalls of Kindle Format 8 and MOBI formats. Here's a link to the book Math on Kindle if you want to read it now. I'll give a summary of the solutions I found found and put it in the book in the next episode of my blog. Here's a sneak preview of a major part of the problem:

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