A Picture’s Worth Ten or a Hundred Thousand Words

According to the age-old adage, “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” That may be true in terms of how much writing it would take to describe what is shown in a picture.

Bear Words

However, when it comes to file size, this equation doesn’t hold true. Instead, a single picture may equate to tens or hundreds of thousands of words.

Each letter in a word uses one byte of memory. A small, simple JPEG picture that measures about 200 pixels by 200 pixels might have a file size of about 10 to 20 kb, where each kilobyte (kb) is 1000 bytes. A simple JPEG picture that measures 1200 x 1600 pixels might have a file size of hundreds of kb. Higher resolution images or rich formatting may easily drive the file size into megabytes, where each megabyte (Mb) equals 1000 kb or 1,000,000 bytes. (Note: k = kilo = thousand, M = mega = million. You wouldn’t mind earning a M$ from your royalties, for example.)

If a word is about 5 letters long, on average, this means that a simple 200 x 200 JPEG picture takes as much memory as about a few thousand words, a 1200 x 1600 JPEG picture equates to about a hundred thousand words, and higher-resolution or richly formatted pictures are worth nearly a million words.

Why does this matter? This affects both publishers (including self-published authors) and readers of eBooks. First, there is a maximum size on the content file of an eBook – for Kindle, it is 50 Mb, and for Nook, it is 20 Mb. An eBook that features many large, high-resolution, richly formatted pictures is in danger of exceeding this limit.

Secondly, the content file size may affect the list price and royalty. For example, with Amazon’s Kindle, an eBook can only have a list price of 99 cents if the content file size is below 3 Mb and a list price of $1.99 if the content file size is below 10 Mb; otherwise, the minimum list price is $2.99. If you want to sell a Kindle eBook for less than $2.99, you must keep the file size below these thresholds.

Also, Amazon deducts 15 cents per Mb from the list price before applying the royalty percentage for Kindle eBooks on the 70% royalty option. For example, suppose that you have a 10 Mb eBook that you want to sell for $4.99 on the Kindle. The file size deduction is $0.15 x 10 = $1.50, which means that the royalty is ($4.99 – $1.50) x 0.70 = $3.49 x 0.70 = $2.44. If the file size could be reduced to 5 Mb, the royalty would be increased to $2.97. In this example, saving 5 Mb of file size adds 50 cents to the royalty. For every 1000 books sold, this amounts to $500.

The effect of pictures on file size affects both customers and publishers. Customers appreciate pictures, especially if they have a color eReader like the Kindle Fire or Nook Color. They also like the pictures to have high enough resolution to see the image clearly on any device (from a tiny iPhone to an iPad) and to be formatted well. However, including more pictures also affects the price of the eBook, and – another important consideration – the delivery time of the download (the delay is even longer for older eReaders).

There is a trade-off between the benefits of including many high-resolution pictures and the disadvantages this has in terms of list price eligibility, royalty, and delivery time. The publisher is faced with a difficult challenge to balance this properly.

However, there are a few ways to decrease the size of the content file for the eBook. Keep in mind that you don’t want to sacrifice image quality in the content file for a paperback book, so you need to have two separate content files for your book – one for the eBook and another for the paperback.

In Microsoft Word, right-click on any picture in your content file, choose the Format tab at the bottom of the page, select Format Pictures, uncheck the Apply Only To This Picture box, and select a Target Output (if you have an older edition of Word, like 2003, the instructions are a bit different). E-mail resolution (96 ppi – pixels per inch) will give you the minimum possible file size, and is generally suitable for eReaders. I suggest saving your file with different names before and after trying this so that you still have the original.

Paperback books have the opposite problem. If you submit content and cover files to CreateSpace, for example, a common error is that a picture has a DPI (dots per inch) of less than 200. You want high resolution images on your paperback book, where there is a generous maximum content file size of 400 Mb.

Note the distinction between resolution and DPI. The resolution of a picture is based on how many pixels it measures across and high (like 600 x 800, which is common for full-screen images on eReaders), whereas DPI measures how many dots there are per inch on the printed page. The size of the picture in addition to the resolution affect how many pixels will span one inch.

Coincidentally, there are about 930 words in this blog article. So this blog is equivalent to a single picture – or about a tenth or hundredth of one in modern terms. Picture that!

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming in mid-April)

E-readers: A Love/Hate Relationship

She unties the ribbon, peels the wrapping paper off, and opens the box.  What is it?  A Kindle Fire!  That’s awesome!

She turns it around to find the power button.  It doesn’t come on.  Hmm.  Oh yeah, it needs to be charged.  She finds the charger and plugs it in.

A while later, the Kindle is charged and turns on.  Service?  What?  It doesn’t come with free service?  It needs wireless service!  Let’s see.  There is free wireless at the coffee shop, but a router must be installed in order to access the internet from home.

After a trip to the electronics store, she has a router.  It should be easy to install, right?  Where is the modem?  She crawls under her desk, bending her body so that she can connect cables to the back of her CPU, modem, and telephone.  So dirty!  Electronic devices are dust magnets!

It’s time to try it out.  Not yet.  Need to wash those hands first.  What?  Still no service!  Of course.  The hardware is connected, but the software hasn’t been installed.

Where are those instructions?  Setup.  Three easy steps.  She follows the directions to install the software.  She tries using the Kindle again.  It still doesn’t show up.  So frustrating!  Ah, finally!  There it is.  Enter the password.  Ta-da!

Receiving a present sure can be a burden!  But well worth it.  Now it’s working.  Just look at the graphics.  What is that design?  Gears?  It looks incredible!

She wonders what to do first.  Let’s get a book!  Click ‘books.’  That was easy.  Sort by ‘title.’  Wait a minute!  There aren’t any books here.  Where are the books?  Okay, there aren’t any books on the ‘device.’  Better click ‘store.’

Best sellers, popular categories, daily deals.  So many choices.  It’s almost time to start preparing dinner.  How about a cookbook?  That might not be a popular category.  Where are the other categories?  Let’s hit ‘browse.’  Didn’t work.  What?  That’s not a button.  Maybe cookbooks will be a popular category.  She clicks ‘popular categories’ to find out.  Way down at the bottom, there is ‘all books.’

Wow!  This is really cool.  It’s like having a bookstore in the living room, on a bus, or in an airplane.

Huh?  All of the books are in order on a single list.  Where are the categories?  Oh, there is a ‘refine’ option.  Is it an ‘eBook’ or a ‘single’?  What is the difference?  Try ‘eBook.’  Finally!  There is a ‘cooking, food, & wine’ category; subcategory ‘meals.’  Where is dinner?  Ugh!

She puts her Kindle down and logs onto her desktop computer.  She visits Amazon, finds Kindle, and clicks on ‘Kindle eBooks.’  Oh, this is so much easier!  That’s the book.  Kindle for PC?  No, not for PC; for a real Kindle.  Hmm.   There is a ‘deliver to’ option.  What is a ‘cloud’?  This word ‘cloud’ was on the Kindle.  Let’s see…

All right!  There is finally a cookbook on her Kindle Fire.  Need to turn a page.  Oh, it works like a cell phone.  Small picture.  Is there a zoom button?  Where are all the buttons?  That’s power…  When she presses the screen, some touchscreen options come up at the bottom.  She increases the font size, but the pictures are still small.  These other buttons don’t zoom either.  She finds more touchscreen buttons at the top.  Still no zoom, but there is a ‘more’ button.  Must be under ‘display.’  Nope.  Where is the instruction booklet?  She checks the packaging for the instructions.  No instructions!  Which evil genius designed this infuriating gadget?

She touches the picture.  Nothing happens.  She touches it twice quickly.  The picture opens on its own page, larger than before.  What was that?  Double-click to zoom?  It’s not like there is a mouse…

After finding a suitable recipe, she begins following directions to prepare lasagna for dinner.  Why is the Kindle off?  It must have timed out…  She turns it back on and retypes the password.  Incorrect password!  Must have touched the wrong letter.  Try it again.  She continues cooking.

She returns to the Kindle to read the next step.  What is that on the screen?  A smear!  Already?  It’s brand new!  Need to get a screen protector… and a case.

What is that message on the screen?  Fifteen minutes of battery left.  No way!  Dinner won’t be ready for another thirty minutes.  Better find the charger…

During dinner, she reflects on her first experience with her new Kindle Fire.  There was a slight learning curve, but it wasn’t too bad.  She is getting the hang of it.  It’s really convenient.  The graphics are awesome.  It functions like a great big cell phone.  Not only can she buy any book and read it anywhere on a fairly big screen, she can even browse the internet anywhere that she has wireless access.  Very cool!

Later that night, with her Kindle fully charged, she begins reading a science fiction book that she found.  Which is more convenient ─ portrait or layout?  She settles on portrait mode.  Trying to scroll onto the next page, she accidentally turns back a page.  No biggie.  Another time, she holds her finger on the spot a little too long, and the word is highlighted.  A window pops up, showing the pronunciation key and definition.  A built-in dictionary.  That’s amazing!  She also sees ‘note’ and ‘highlight’ options.  Impressed, she tries to do this again with another word.  A display comes up instead.  No, not that.  She tries again, holding her finger in place longer.  Aha!  That’s it.

As she continues reading, she notices that some of the indents are longer than others.  That’s strange.  Why isn’t there a standard size for the tabs?  A while later, she finds a little square in the middle of a sentence.  What is that little box doing there?  How funny.  Several pages further, she discovers a hyphen-ated word in the middle of a line.  Aren’t hyphens used at the end of a line?  In the next chapter, she spots a misspelled word.  Really?  This is the age of technology.  The book is digital.  The author must have used a computer to type it.  Neither the author nor the editor used spellcheck?  How is this possible?

Attempting to scroll onto the next page, suddenly an internet browser opens.  What is going on?  She is reading a book, not going online.  When she closes the internet browser, she spots a hyperlink in the middle of the page.  Oh.  Must have clicked that by mistake.  This book is like a minefield.

The next day, a friend inquires, “So what do you think about your new Kindle Fire?”

She replies, “Oh, I absolutely love it!”

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers