InDesign PDF Export Preset for Digital Publishing

A million years ago, I cooked up an InDesign PDF Export Preset to handle exporting PDFs that worked well on the then-brand-new iPad while maintaining relatively small file sizes.

I still use that preset basically every day, having published dozens of books with it. You can download it here.

Adobe has instructions for loading PDF presets.

A few notes:

  • This preset turns all the Layers in your InDesign document into Acrobat layers; so users can hide backgrounds, art boxes, etc. (depending on how you use Layers in InDesign, of course.) You can untick this if you don’t want layered documents.
  • “Embed Page Thumbnails” is disabled because the thumbnails that InDesign creates are lower quality than the ones than Acrobat creates on the fly the first time it loads a PDF.
  • You can safely change the PPI and Image Quality in the Compression tab.
  • If your document includes spot colors, you probably should go to Output -> Ink Manager and tick “All Spots to Process.” (I almost never use spots, so this advice may be inadequate for your needs.)
  • There are no security settings set, because I want my customers to be able to hack the documents they buy, and PDF security is trivially cracked.

If you have any comments or questions, drop me a line!

“Fairness,” book prices, electronic book prices

(This was originally a Tumblr post, but my blog is a better long-term archive for it. Minor edits since I first posted it to Tumblr.)

People often say that electronic versions of books should cost less than the print versions due to production costs being lower.

This is a simplistic statement that is flawed on several levels:

#1: Not all books are published in both print and electronic format now, so electronic-only format books have to bear the entire burden of earning out, whereas a book published in print and electronically amortizes many of the expenses across two releases. Some books would not exist in electronic format at all (at their current quality level) if print versions did not help pay for the content. Electronic-only books need the ability to earn-out on all expenses.

#2: The production vs. content (writing, editing, art, graphic design, indexing, etc.) costs of books vary wildly, depending on the type of book, the publisher, the printing method and quantity, etc. Unless you have inside information or reliable experience, you can't look at a book and tell how much it cost to make and where that money was spent. Even if you can make that estimation, you almost certainly have no idea how back-end contracts are structured and how people are being paid. Some publishers and authors are more transparent about this than others, but information learned in one field may be completely useless in another.

Furthermore, some say that authors and creators shouldn't earn more on electronic copies than they would selling a print copy. So, for example, if it cost $2 to print/ship/etc a book that sold for $10, and the author also makes $2 on each sale (all of these numbers are completely made up for the purposes of a simple example), then the ebook version should sell for $8 and the author should continue to make $2. All the savings should be passed to the customer; no profits for the creator should be added.

The issue with the above is there is nothing that has defined the author's $2 as a "fair" royalty beyond what the business has dictated in the past. The publishing business is changing, authors have more control, and often more responsibilities: if you can afford the $10 book to begin with, a situation that pays the author more is not going to hurt you. And it may well benefit you, because if the author is making twice as much on that book, they can probably afford to spend more time writing and have a higher quality of life, which is going to lead to better and more consistent work.

Beyond that: the argument that "ebooks aren't as good as print" is rooted in emotion and history, but as time passes it's becoming more and more obvious that in some cases, and especially in some genres and book styles, electronic books offer more utility and convenience to the reader. Should the creators not be rewarded for that?

The counter argument to that is that some of the features of electronic books — searching, bookmarks, etc. — are "inherent to the format" and thus the creators shouldn't be benefit. The same people will also extoll the virtues of print books that are also inherent to the format, and the authors and creators end up benefitting from that! So it's a wash; all formats have inherent flaws and bonuses.

Pricing for Niche Electronic Titles

A disclaimer: I wrote most of this post before Adamant Entertainment announced they were re-pricing all of their PDFs at $1, or what Gareth dubbed the "app-pricing" model. I think the approach is interesting, but this post is not a "response" to his decision ... although I am incredibly curious as to how it turns out, of course!

If you are publishing a niche RPG—material not compatible with Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder—you should maximize your profits by not underpricing your exclusive electronic releases. An "exclusive electronic release" is material not available in print (not including true Print on Demand, but including short run printing) or that don't have costs subsidized in a substantial way.

So, by way of example:

A PDF or other electronic title sold on OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG/RPGNow) gives the publisher 70% of sale price (65% if the publisher is not an exclusive vendor). This means a five dollar title leaves the publisher with $3.50; a two dollar title $1.40.

I think that Eclipse Phase has proved that low price points on electronic core rulebooks can lead to a raise in the number of sales—enough to make up for the difference in per-unit profit. Customers are interested in saving 10 bucks (typical RPG electronic core rulebooks are 20-25 or even more, while Eclipse Phase is 15) and much more willing to try a new game if it's inexpensive—but supplements are most often sold to existing customers, people who already like your game. They already perceive themselves as invested* (time, money, emotion) in your game, and so a difference of a few dollars is less likely to make a negative impact in your sales. However, it can make a big difference in how much money you have to invest in the projects ... And the amount of profit you end up making.

An Eclipse Phase PDF project like Continuity has a total budget of $800. It breaks down like this:

Writing: 200 (5000 words at four cents a word)
Editing: 200 (this covers a copy-edit and dev-edit pass from Rob Boyle. He deserves a raise on this.)
Layout: 100 (I do all the layout and maps in-house.)
Art: 300 (2 to 3 pieces, playing the same as we pay for artwork destined for print.)

There is no budget for "other stuff" yet ... so for example, in Continuity, the audio files we included came out of the art budget.

This means that we need to sell 229 copies of a $5 exclusive electronic release to break even. Priced at $2, we would have to sell 572 copies just to break even. What if we sold 572 copies at 5 bucks? Profit of $2002—enough to fund two and a half more releases. Now, our exclusive electronic releases aren't making huge profits yet, but we are breaking even relatively quickly—and we have a formula for, at the least, supplying the fanbase with a steady flow of material!

* I try not to use the words "invest" or "invested" when talking about my hobbies. I feel that it's too loaded. But that's a personal thing.