Learn About eBooks

Enhanced eBooks

Publishers and authors use the term “enhanced” to describe eBooks that include interesting features like embedded media, interactivity, narration, and more.

Because of inconsistent progress in eBook device features over the last few years, some eBook enhancements are limited to specific eBook devices and apps.

Here is what we will cover below:

What Is NOT An Enhancement

Before we dive in, it might be helpful to clear up some misconceptions about enhanced eBooks. Some other eBook companies and publishers might define an “enhancement” differently than we do. For example, we have heard many times that end notes that link both directions or linked subject indexes are enhancements to eBooks. At eBook Architects, we do not consider those to be “enhancements” because we see them as integral to the very concept of an eBook. Embedded fonts are also not enhancements. While they are not always necessary, embedding specific fonts into an eBook assists with the overall design of an eBook and ensures a good reading experience on complex titles.

eBooks should not just be flat digital versions of print books. Basic features like linking within an eBook, linking to outside resources, and implementing good design are foundational elements of every eBook. We believe that those elements should be included in every file, and that is what we do.

Enhancements are extras that make an eBook more interesting, informative, or interactive. They are also a way to add new content or functionality that would not be possible in the print book.

Audio and Video

Embedded audio and video is probably the most common eBook enhancement being used today. If you have media content that is connected to the content of your book, it may be possible to embed it in your eBook files for readers to access. However, you should be aware that embedded media is currently not supported in every reading system. Let’s look at each system independently.

Apple, Kobo, and Google have the best support for embedded media. Whether you are creating a reflowable EPUB or fixed layout EPUB these reading systems will allow the media file to be embedded into the EPUB for easy access by the reader. Here is an example of how video and audio look in a standard reflowable eBook in the iBooks platform:

Barnes & Noble’s support for embedded media is limited to the NOOK tablet apps and is also limited to publishers who have a direct relationship with B&N or who are using a distributor. The NOOK Press system does not currently support embedded media.

Amazon’s support for embedded media is very limited. It only works when embedded in the old Mobipocket 7 format, not in the new Kindle Format 8, and it is only supported in the Kindle iOS App and in 2nd Generation or later Kindle Fire devices. It does not currently work in the 1st Generation Kindle Fire or the E Ink Kindle devices. As with B&N, you need to have a publisher account with Amazon or go through a distributor who can handle the uploading of enhanced files. The lack of support for KF8 formatting will limit how nice your eBook will look.

Our recommendations: When you are thinking about embedding audio or video, we recommend you consider how that content will impact the overall message of the eBook. The limitations on where you can sell eBooks with embedded media, as well as the limitations on which devices support them, may mean fewer sales than an eBook without embedded media. Also, the file size of your final eBook with embedded media will typically be very large, which may cause issues for some readers who do not want to download a large eBook file. We often recommend placing the media files on your website instead of inside the eBook itself. In addition to removing the sales limitations placed on enhanced eBooks, links to the media within your eBook allow anyone with a tablet or computer to access the media in their web browser. This option will also give you extra opportunities to connect with your readers when they visit your website.

When you create links within your eBook file to your own website it is usually a good idea to make those links fairly short so that a reader who needs to type the link into their computer does not have to type in a long URL. There are a lot of ways to do that, but one way is to use a URL shortening service like bit.ly or tinyurl.com. These services work well in many cases, but there are some limitations to their use. You can also create your own short URL service on your own website, which gives you the option to adjust the destination of those shortened links in the future if something on your website changes. This is also a good option for other links in your eBook, like links to resources or other websites that you may go down from time to time. See this tutorial on Lifehacker for information about setting up a URL shortening service on your own server.

Audio Narration

If you have audio narration available for a children’s eBook, that narration can be added as a media overlay both in the EPUB 3 and NOOK Kids formats, allowing readers to have the eBook read to them as they follow along. In the EPUB 3 format, a marker is placed in the code around every word in the book and that marker is tied to start and end time stamps, allowing the reading system to play the specific portion of the audio file while highlighting or changing the font color of the word for the reader. Here is a screenshot from iBooks showing the word being read by the narrator colored red, with the Read Aloud controls visible.

Animations and Interactivity

Animations are currently supported by Apple, Kobo, and Google (with some limitations). Animations are typically only used in children’s eBooks, though it is technically possible to do them in other types of eBooks, as well. Most children’s eBook animations are created with CSS, which allows images and text to move around on the screen along predetermined paths. Apple also has some proprietary functionality that allows a developer to add interactive elements and other functionality via JavaScript. To learn about those proprietary functions, read the iBooks Asset Guide.

Animation in eBooks can be tricky to create. These are not the kinds of animations you would expect to see in a TV show (3D CGI type or stop motion); those types of animations are intended for video production, not eBooks. eBook animations are 2D cutout-style animations.

The artwork in a children’s eBook needs to be created with the animations in mind. Each element on the page needs to be drawn in its own layer so that it can be manipulated and moved without affecting the design of the page. Let’s take for example this animation from Saving Energy with Lil’G.

This image has three layers: the background, Sam (the boy on the skateboard), and the text bubble. Sam and the text bubble are created on transparent backgrounds, indicated by the gray checkerbox pattern in the image below, so that they can be moved on the screen without affecting the background image:

If you drew this scene on one layer and tried to cut Sam and the text bubble out of the image to make them move, you would end up with a background like this:

Simple animations that only involve one action of move, tilt, or rotate are less difficult and more quickly implemented in eBooks, whereas animations that involve more than one movement (like the one with Sam on his skateboard) will require precise syncing of events and will take longer to create. Note that animations cannot span multiple pages and they cannot be synced to audio narration without the use of JavaScript.

We recommend that you take a look at Saving Energy with Lil’G and EggMania, two eBooks that show off some of the simple and more complex types of eBook animations and interactivity.

iBooks Author Widgets

One of the main features of the iBooks Author platform is the ability to create custom interactive widgets that add new functionality to your eBook files. The iBooks Author program comes with a few simple widgets built in, including a photo gallery and a quiz-taking widget. These are useful in a variety of book types, and automatically add more functionality than you get with standard fixed layout eBooks.

These widgets are developed in Dashcode, a programming tool that allows you to create widgets and even web apps for Apple products. The code is typically a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but there is a lot that goes into how a widget is built.

Reading System Support

To more easily to understand which reading systems support which features, please see the following chart:

  Apple Amazon B&N Kobo Google
Format EPUB 3 KF8 EPUB 3 EPUB 3 EPUB 3
Narration Text Highlighting          
Region/Text Magnification          
Embedded Audio/Video    *  *    
Background Music          
Interactive Elements          

Page last updated: 3/30/2018

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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.