Calling all coders: can you help free webzines make ebook versions?

Paul Raven @ 08-06-2010

K Tempest Bradford has identified a problem that many webzine editors have, but that most of them (myself included) have neither the time, money or 1337 code sk1llz0rz to solve alone: our readers would probably really appreciate downloadable ebook versions of our content, and an easy mechanism for delivery of such.

These are the core issues Tempest has identified thus far:

  1. Relatively easy eBook creation. Though programs like Calibre can create EPUB (and other eBook format) files, Tobias Buckell recently pointed out to me that this is not the optimal solution. He equated it to people using Microsoft Word to create web pages. Yes, the program can do it, but the code it generates is from hell. Not fit for anyone except really clueless newbies. We wouldn’t want that for these eBooks. So a primary aspect is to figure out who or what will generate clean code for EPUB.
  2. How many eBooks? Many online magazines do the monthly or semi-monthly thing, but for those that publish every week, do readers want an eBook for every story, or is one per month good?
  3. Free or Not Free? Many online magazines are free, which is a yay. Should their eBooks be free as well? I am personally in favor of charging a small amount for the files for the convenience of having the eBook format. The fiction will still be free on the website, of course. What are other people’s thoughts on this?
  4. Delivery System. Outfits like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony will deliver magazines to subscribers automatically, but only if you have a device that stays within their ecosystem. Like, if I subscribe to a magazine through B&N but use my Sony Reader to read it, it won’t show up each month on its own, I’d have to download then transfer it. Plus, I imagine that many online magazines would want to sell or make their eBook versions available through independent eBookstores or just from their site. I had an idea that I’d like to be able to embed and deliver eBooks with an RSS feed like you do with podcasts. That way, if you subscribe to the feed, you automatically get the file. It would be nice if this worked with paid eBook files as well. This is where the major coding work comes in. How do you set this kind of thing up? And would you need an accompanying program to then transfer the eBook to your eReader?
  5. Subscriptions or Individual Payments? Going along with the system I described above, will readers want to subscribe up front to many months worth of a magazine or would they be happier just paying per month?

If you’re involved in the clever coding side of things (professionally or otherwise), and/or you’re a regular reader of webzines who’d like to help them out, maybe you could drop a comment over at Tempest’s post so she can coordinate the expertise on offer?

As for here, I’d be interested to hear from the Futurismic regulars: would you be interested in a convenient monthly EPUB bundle of Futurismic content (say the fiction piece, all columns, and a selection of the more popular blog posts)? What device would you read it on? What channels do you use for getting content of this type already? Would you be willing to pay a small fee for that convenience and portability (not to mention a version of the site that would be ad-free)?