Learn About eBooks

Standalone eBook Applications

Standalone eBook applications (apps) are increasingly common in the eBook space, but many people do not know the difference between these apps and actual eBook files. While applications like Toy Story and The Cat in the Hat are very interactive and have a lot of additional features that you cannot add to an eBook, their creation, delivery, and marketing are completely different than children’s eBooks.

Please note: This page does not discuss children’s eBooks, it is only intended to give you an overview of eBook applications, how they work, and the issues that come with developing such applications. eBook Architects does not normally suggest creating standalone eBook applications unless there is a clear need for one due to functionality that is not available in standard children’s eBook files.

Creating applications like these is usually a very expensive endeavor, and there are many pitfalls you need to know how to avoid along the way. Before you begin, you need to decide what you want your eBook to look and function like. Once you have that goal in your head, research apps and eBooks and compare them to each other on a point-by-point basis and see what will work best to meet your vision for the end product.


eBooks and apps are typically created with different code and using different tools. While some children’s book apps are build using HTML and CSS like an eBooks, they also have to include other code and functionality to replicate the interaction of the eBook software itself (e.g., page turn animations, bookmarks, etc.). As a result, there are some companies that create “eBook apps” that really do not offer you anything more than you can get in standard eBook files. If the app company you are talking with says you can have narration overlays, some clickable areas, and a game at the end of the book, then you might want to compare those features to the comparable features in a children’e eBook.

To have an app built, you will need to find a developer or a company that creates iOS and/or Android apps (more on that below) and work with them to develop the perfect app for your book. The cost of a good, highly-functional eBook app can be as much as $25,000, so it is not usually a path for many childrens book authors.

Delivery and Marketing

Amazon Appstore categoriesWhile eBook files are designed to be sold through the eBook retailers (e.g., Amazon, Apple, and B&N), apps are designed to be sold through app stores (e.g., iTunes, Google Play, and the Amazon Appstore). This means that your app will be competing against games like Angry Birds for attention in the stores, and you will probably need to rely on the app developer to get the apps they create up for sale, as those uploading processes are typically created with developers in mind, not publishers or authors.

In addition, most app stores do not have very good categorization breakdowns. Unfortunately, your app will probably be stuck in a single category with hundreds or even thousands of other apps and books, including the actual eBook reading apps like Kindle for Android, iBooks, etc. This makes marketing your eBook difficult, as does the confusion about where the book is available for purchase.

Making the Right Choice for Your Project

The best advice we have for clients desiring to build an eBook app is:

  1. Find a developer in your own area, or someone who has experience making eBook apps already, so that you can have more control over the design and functionality of the app (you can sometimes find developers in your own town through websites like Craigslist).
  2. Have ideas when you go into the process of what you want, but prioritize them so that you know what to cut as the expenses rise
  3. Be willing to be flexible on development ideas depending on the capabilities of your developer
  4. Be aware that Apple requires all eBook apps to do more than is possible in a fixed layout ePub file in iBooks, so go in with some ideas for making your app more interactive than the eBook files you create.

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Is it a good idea to put my Table of contents at the end of my eBook?

Some people do this to increase the size of the free samples automatically generated by the eBook retailers. However, the Kindle and other devices will re-set the “last read location” to the end of the book if you have your Table of Contents there, so we normally recommend against that practice.

What is the difference between HTML5 and XHTML5?

HTML5 is the latest version of the HTML standard used on the Web and in eBooks. XHTML5 is a stricter and cleaner version of HTML5, with rules from XML imposed on the code. For example, when a tag is opened it has to be closed, and all of the tags have to be properly nested. XHTML5 allows the code to be more easily interpreted by the display engine, and it keeps the code more consistent and easier to edit.

I have heard you can’t use color in eBooks. Is that correct?

No, that is absolutely incorrect. eBooks look great with color, and we highly recommend using color images and even colored text (within reason) in your eBook files. Some devices have grayscale eInk screens, so the color will not show up on those devices. However, the color will be in the file, and it will work on all of the color devices. We do recommend you test colored text on a device with an eInk screen and ensure that the text will not be too light to read.

Do you need to have a separate ISBN for each version of the eBook for different companies?

Technically, yes. See an extended answer on our ISBNs page.

What is KindleGen?

KindleGen is Amazon’s eBook creation/compiling program. It is used on the KDP website to auto-convert files uploaded into the Kindle store, and it is also integrated into the Kindle Previewer program to handle the conversion of non-Kindle files loaded in that program. You can download KindleGen and get access to other Kindle creation information at amazon.com/kindlepublishing.

What is a fixed layout eBook?

Fixed Layout eBooks are HTML-based eBook files that are usually designed to match the layout of a print book. The key difference between fixed layout files and reflowable files is that reflowable eBooks allow the reader to have more control over the reading experience, such as changing the font size, background color, etc. For more information, please see our Fixed Layout Children’s and Non-Fiction pages.

Does Amazon sell HTML files or only Kindle?

Amazon only sells eBooks in the Kindle format, but that format, just like ePub, is built using HTML and CSS files.

How is fixed layout different from a pdf of the book?

Fixed layout eBooks are built using HTML, so they have more functionality than PDF files. For example, the narration overlay functionality used in many children’s eBooks is not possible in PDF files. In addition, none of the eBook retailers sell PDFs, so fixed layout eBook files offer the best sales opportunities.

A university librarian told me they are not acquiring any Kindle books but only HTML5/ePub. Have you found that to be common with other libraries? I know our local public library does buy Kindle books.

Libraries acquire their eBooks from services like 3M and Overdrive. These services sometimes offer an option for Kindle checkouts, but typically they are limited to ePub files because of the more common use of the Adobe DRM.

Has the Kindle format gotten any more sophisticated in how it handles tables or floating images?

Yes, Amazon’s Kindle Format 8 has support for many great design features, including floating images, tables, color text, embedded fonts, and more.

How are page numbers handled in an eBook?

Print book page numbers are included in the HTML code of both the Kindle and ePub formats as anchors. They are also listed in the PageList section of the NCX or Navigation file. The PageList is used by some reading systems (like the Kindle and iBooks) to show the reader the print page numbers of the book as they read.

How are page headers created in eBook files?

The different reading systems control what shows up in the header of your eBook. Most will display the title of the book, and some will also display the author name. That text cannot currently be set to display the chapter name or other information about where the reader is currently reading in the text.

How do eBooks handle hyphenation of long words?

Some eBook reading systems will apply hyphenation to longer words to make the text better fit on the screen. This is typically controlled by the reading system, and will change depending on the font size and other settings the reader has set on their device.

What about protecting the file?

eBook file protection is called Digital Rights Management (DRM). Please see our DRM page for information on how it works and suggestions on how to use it.

Can I sell my eBooks on my own website?

Yes! You are certainly able to sell your eBooks on your own website. For more information, please see this page.