Monday, March 16, 2009

Kindle Content Design

Jakob Nielsen's take on Kindle 2 content ...

"Writing for Kindle is like writing for print, the Web, and mobile devices combined; optimal usability means optimizing content for each platform's special characteristics.

Adapting content for the Kindle e-book reader requires that you follow an unholy mix of usability guidelines for other environments:

* Print guidelines for body text
* Web guidelines for headlines and summaries
* Mobile device guidelines for page design and interaction design

Body Text: Linear Flow
As I discussed in my review of Kindle 2's usability, the device is best for reading long linear material, such as novels and some non-fiction. Kindle's best user interface feature is turning the page; the reading experience you design should require no other interactions.

Writing linear books simply requires a skill that all good authors already possess: the ability to keep readers immersed in the plot.

Kindle also works well for the long, narrative articles common in certain literary magazines and Sunday newspaper supplements. No surprise that The New Yorker is currently the best-selling magazine for the device.

Kindle works poorly for non-fiction books that have many illustrations or that require users to frequently refer back and forth between sections. Even if Kindle had a color screen, heavily illustrated books would still be better in print because moving around in Kindle is awkward. My own books fall into this category, so even though I'd like to sell more books, I can't really recommend that you buy them for Kindle. My latest book is available in Kindle format, so you can download a free chapter and try for yourself (and then buy it in print :-)

Letting customers read a book's initial pages for free is a great Kindle innovation and makes good use of the digital medium's ability to dissolve the print requirement to bundle chapters. (Thus, this is a better-than-reality feature.) The innovation will no doubt sell more books — particularly for fiction, where people will want to see what happens next once they're gripped by a story. In fact, for mystery novels, Amazon could probably give away the first 90% for free and charge the entire fee just for the last chapter.

Free previews will also change book writing: you'll have to ensure that your best material is in the first chapter, because that's what will sell the book.

Sadly, this is not how I like to write books. My latest book starts with chapters on our research strategies, how we rate and prioritize usability problems, and how our new findings differ from my first book on Web usability, written 10 years ago. I want a book to be a total experience, where I set the stage for readers to experience a rich understanding of the later chapters (rather than launch straight into the payoff material, such as how to present product pages, which doesn't come until chapter 9). To me, the ability to inspire deep thinking is why non-fiction books still have value compared with websites, which are better for quick hits and controversial writing.

So, in my books, I might resist the tug to deliver quick-hit first chapters — but if you want to sell Kindle downloads, don't follow my example."    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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