What is the best way to "Publish" a book on a CD-ROM?
February 27, 2008 1:57 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to "Publish" a book on a CD-ROM?

The company I work for produce annual specialist books for their target audience.

Traditionally, a HTML version of each publication on a CD-ROM has always been made available to those who preferred a more digital read. This year, however, the idea has been floated to do something more complex than that (I suspect that someone high up may have discovered the concept of e-Mags).

So anyone have any good suggestions/ideas as to possible solutions for delivering a rather hefty publication via the medium of CD-ROM, preferably in a way that is slightly more reliable/pretty/accessable than the traditional HTML method?
posted by garius to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't find a PDF file to be friendlier than a web interface. In fact a web interface is a lot more accessible; you can't assume that your target audience is going to have an easy time with the PDF (think accessibility issues - screen readers, alternate input methods, etc). There's nothing that stops HTML from being what you want, except maybe the urge to control every aspect of the design (which you should resist, of course - web isn't print, and trying to make it be print just pisses off the end users).

The only thing I can think of that might be a good compromise is to deliver both an HTML option and a PDF one. While some people are fine with the PDF others will prefer HTML for various reasons. I'm sure that both would easily fit on a CD-ROM. It might be a bit more work, but could be doable.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:44 AM on February 27, 2008

Take a look at HTML Executable which may be a good solution. It allows you to create e-books from HTML pages and also to 'lock them down' so people can read a chapter or two before having to get a license. I use it to license e-learning courses for our clients here and it works pretty well and is inexpensive.
posted by worker_bee at 7:16 AM on February 27, 2008

Go for a PDF. You can pretty much control how the book looks no matter the reader, computer, or operating system, plus still embed things like hyperlinks to other pages or outside websites. Almost everyone has a pdf reader installed already. Also that means you can use software like InDesign to lay the book out and make it look great.

Caution Live Frogs mentioned above that web isn't print, which is true, but I don't agree that that really matters right now as your question isn't about anything web related. There is no problem controlling the design when it can be done rather easily and not at the expense of your users(which I believe PDF's can do). As you said this is being delivered via CD to a targeted audience.

PDF's can be authored with accessibility in mind if that is a concern.
posted by travis08 at 7:36 AM on February 27, 2008

Aye - my focus as a tech guy here is very much web orientated - which means that personally i think the HTML option is the most usable and best way to communicate this particular type of information.

Sadly I've tried to fight that battle and lost - this is one of those times when style and senior management desires trump actual need.

Should also have mentioned that PDF (in its standard form) is also out - because its something that is already offered and isn't, for want of another word, "wizzy" enough.
posted by garius at 9:15 AM on February 27, 2008

There are also flash options that allow for fancy animated page-turning effects, togerther with sound.
posted by londongeezer at 9:17 AM on February 27, 2008

Oh god please no fancy animated page turning. How unbelievably irritating would that be to use?

Your senior management is approaching this from the wrong direction entirely. The goal shouldn't be "What cool fancy technology can we use to deliver our ebook?" but "What features would make our ebook easier to read / more compelling / more interesting / more flexible / [etc]?" Then from that feature list you can decide on a technology.

Any standalone ebook application is likely to be platform-specific, therefore less accessible than a website-on-a-disc approach. (They're also often designed with the intention of making it difficult for users to copy text, which managers love but users hate; I'm hoping that won't be on your priority list.)

If this were me, I'd continue to push for html on disc -- using the "let's determine our feature requirements first" strategy to distract management from putting the choice of technology cart before the usability horse.

Perhaps you'll end up including a standalone webserver on the disc to allow searchability, user annotations, highlighting, etc (the usual assortment of ebook bells and whistles.) Or you'll maintain a live server which the site-on-a-disc talks to, to do the same thing.

Or just use better html than you're already using: hire someone who's good at web typography to make the layout appealing, include more modern clientside code to allow the user to vary the font size, select alternate layouts, easily extract chunks of text, that sort of thing. A few fancy in-browser visual effects will likely be sufficient to satisfy the managers who just want it to be "cooler" but who haven't thought through what that means (but try not to have them interfere with usability just for the sake of looking whizzy.)

You might also consider including both a PDF version, and a simple, unformatted plaintext version of the text, on the disc as well, to give your users as many options as possible.
posted by ook at 1:25 PM on February 27, 2008

Incidentally: I've done a few ebook projects for a client who was forward-thinking enough to actually do some decent user research -- it showed that priority one for users, by a vast margin, was searchability, followed by the ability to easily extract excerpts of text to paste into reviews, papers, blog posts, etc. Easy portability of the text to a mobile device would probably be another good thing to focus on, these days (the research we did was a number of years back, before mobiles were really usable for long texts.)
posted by ook at 1:37 PM on February 27, 2008

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