eBook distribution woes

So in my previous post I noted that Lulu published my eBook immediately and it has been for sale right away, while Kobo and Google Books are still reviewing it (even as I write this!). Turns out that this is the only positive side with Lulu.

When I first added the book, I noted that they have the option to revise a project (book) so that you can update/change it later. I assumed that buyers would always get the latest revision when downloading, even though they bought it at an earlier date (which is the case for Amazon, nowadays) — turns out that is not the case. Luckily, only three people bought the book from Lulu so I was able to reach them and provide them with the updated ePub (and I’ll keep sending them the updated revisions).

But I have more to say about Lulu — their support sucks. First of all, most of the documentation for publisher they have on their website is a support forum, which means that unless somebody already asked about something similar, you can’t find it. When you send them an inquiry by email (with a website form of course, there’s no email address on the website, and finding a “Contact Us” page is not possible), they first send you a list of FAQs that have nothing to do with your inquiry — and if you don’t reply to that with “no this did not solve my issue, get me a real person”, they don’t even look into what you wrote! They even send you a survey asking how’s the support!

Now let me spend a few nice words for Amazon instead. First of all, even though they did a copyright check, publishing the book took less than half the week. Updates? Less than 24 hours! And they do let you download a new copy of the book with the updates. But that’s just the basic level. Somehow, searching Amazon.com (only the .com version) for either the title “Autotools Mythbuster” or for my name, does not show you my book at all — in the latter case, you actually find Bart’s book on Munin which I’m listed as a technical reviewer for. When I registered for the Author page it also didn’t show my book — it works fine on the UK page on the other hand.

When I contacted Amazon (which can be contacted via either email from the website, or livechat!), not only they gave me a very swift answer, but they followed up on it without feedback on my side, noting the problem is not fixed, and that they’ll escalate it to the technical department. I’ll be waiting for a solution — in the mean time the book is still available if you have a Kindle or a device compatible with the Kindle reading application (Android tablets are fine).

The situation now though, is that I lack a distributor for the clear, DRM-free ePub version — as I said I’m waiting for Kobo and Google Books, hoping that it’ll actually allow work in progress books to be published. I’ve been suggested to look into Leanpub but it does not allow me to provide an ePub already generated, it’s to write new content — and similarly for FastPencil which I had to register just to be able to find out what it does.

So if you have any suggestions, please let me know, as I’d like to be able to reach even the people who want to stay away from Amazon as much as they can.

The issue with the split HTML/XHTML serialization

Not everybody knows that HTML 5 has been released in two flavours: HTML 5 proper, which uses the old serialization, similarly to HTML 4, and what is often incorrectly called XHTML 5 which uses XML serialization, like XHTML and XHTML 1.1 did. The two serializations have different grades of strictness, and the browsers deal witht hem that way.

It so happens that the default output on DocBook for XHTML 1 is compatible with the HTML serialization, which means that even if the files have a .html extension, locally, they will load correctly in Chrome, for instance. The same can’t be said to XHTML 1.1 or XHTML5 output; one particularly nasty problem is that the generated code will output XML-style tags such as <a id="foo" /> which throw off the browsers entirely, unless properly loaded as XHTML … and on the other hand, IE still has trouble when served properly-typed XHTML (i.e. you have to serve it as application/xml rather than application/xhtml+xml).

So I have two choices: redirect all the .html requests to .xhtml, make it use XHTML 5 and work around the IE8 (and earlier) limitations, or I can forget about XHTML 5 at all. This starts to get tricky! So for the moment I decided to not go with XHTML 5, and at the same time I’m going to keep building ePub 2 books, and publish them as they are, instead of using ePub 3 (even though, as I said, O’Reilly got it working for their workflow).

Unfortunately even if I went through that on the server side to fix it, that wouldn’t even be enough alone! I would have to also change the CSS, since many things that were always <div> before, are now using proper semantic types, including <section> (with the exception of the table of contents on the first landing page, obviously (damn). This actually makes it easier in one way as it lets me drop the stupid nth-child CSS3 trick I used to set the style of the main div, compared to the header and footer. Hopefully this should let me fix the nasty IE 3 style beveled border that Chrome put around the Flattr button when using XHTML 5.

In the mean time I have a few general fixes to the style, now I just need to wait for the cover image to come from my designer friend, and then I can update both the website and the eBook versions all around the stores.

To close the post.. David you deserve a public apology: while you were listed as <editor> on the DocBook sources before, and the XSL was supposed to emit it on the homepage, for whatever reason, it fails to. I’ve upgrade you to <author> until I can find why the XSL is misbehaving so I can fix it properly.

In the mean time, tomorrow I’ll write a few more words about automake and then