Red Plenty Book Event – the eBook!

by John Holbo on July 11, 2012

Back around Christmas I had a come-to-Jesus moment, ebooks-wise. I posted some iPad optimized ebooks of Dickens and Spenser, trying to make the illustrations look good. I joked that PDF was the future! Then Santa gave me an iPhone for X-Mas and I discovered that I actually like reading books on a phone, which seemed a priori impossible before that.

So, when I volunteered to make our Red Plenty PDF ebook – here it is – I also decided to try to make my first Mobi format ebook (5 megs) (that’s what you need for your Kindle); and an EPUB version (1 meg). No, I don’t know why the Kindle version is so much bigger, thanks for asking. Both versions have some humorous bugs I’ve not yet worked out, and I gotta catch a plane. So I’m just going to post them and let other people kick the tires.

WARNING: We have a reliable report that the EPUB version crashes Nooks. Very sorry about that. I really need to get back on this, and clean out the bugs. Haven’t had time.

Here’s the cover:



david 07.11.12 at 3:46 am

Pages between authors are completely blank. Is that intentional?

Equation display for Shalizi’s contribution is less than ideal. Page 19 has “_technically_” instead of “technically“.

Occasional quirks like missing spaces after periods and commas.

The e-book is not kind to those who write in the style best suited for blogs, with numerous short paragraphs and line-breaks and (above all) the use of hypertext links for context, humor, etc. Shalizi’s is the most obvious victim here.


Andrew Smith 07.11.12 at 5:43 am

I think it reads great. Blog posts don’t turn into books well (see Yglesias’s The Rent is Too Damn High if you have doubts about that), but this works nicely.


Salient 07.11.12 at 5:44 am

No, I don’t know why the Kindle version is so much bigger, thanks for asking.

I can’t tell if you’re asking us or asking us not to (so what follows might be OT), but it’s basically because mobi stores a complete HTMLification of the book, and it’s not a terribly efficient or lean HTMLification either (anyone who has dared to save a Word file as html only to discover it’s obscenely oversized, and then opened the html file only to discover it’s shot through with ten thousand bewildering and seemingly superfluous lines of code, can probably relate).

As if that’s not bad enough, the mobi file can actually contain several copies of the work, depending on your choice of mobification software and/or on what you had for breakfast the day before, and possibly on moon phases. E.g. if you used Kindlegen it embeds a complete copy of the original epub for basically no coherent reason whatsoever, which is as close as you can get to a tacit admission that their conversion process just mangles the hell out of everything it touches. And even with a kinder program than Kindlegen, getting a mobi file to incorporate any images whatsoever without inflating their size past your pain threshold is deep magic.


Katherine 07.11.12 at 7:27 am

Forgive my ignorance, but will the Kindle version be good for reading on my Kobo (different brand of e-book)?


Slex 07.11.12 at 8:27 am

The epub file is basically a container of html files in zip format. You can change the extension from epub to zip and you will be able to open it with your archiver. So, the reason for the smaller size is that it uses the zip compression.

Mobi files are usually bigger than epubs, but by no more than 50%. If you convert your Red Plenty epub into mobi with Calibre, you will actually get a file of ~ 500 Kb. In this case the mobi version, converted from the epub, is actually smaller, because during the conversion to mobi images are optimized, whereas the epub in this case contains png files, which have not been optimised.

I have uploaded the converted mobi here – for those of you who don’t have Calibre.


Slex 07.11.12 at 8:29 am

@ Katherine

Kobo sells their books in epub format. I don’t know if it is capable of supporting mobi. Epubs usually look better, anyway, so get the epub.


Slex 07.11.12 at 8:37 am

@ Salient

Both major formats – mobi and epub have their text in some form of html and xhtml. The difference in size comes from the better compression used in epub. Of course, some programs might not do the conversion properly, but in principle this is the explanation for the difference in the size.


Belle Waring 07.11.12 at 8:40 am

John worked long and hard on this book, I saw it with mine own eyen. All these years he thought he didn’t want an iPhone–in the end it took a semi-mythical demi-god to learn him different.


William Timberman 07.11.12 at 9:30 am

Reading books on an iPhone, especially in landscape mode, is not only easy, but surprisingly satisfying. Given the speed of page-turning, the difference between a page at a time and a paragraph at a time is not as jarring as you might think, especially since you can do the paging one-handed. At one flick per paragraph, though, it does tend to wear out your thumb.

Now if somebody could come up with a way to reduce the outrageous prices of academic books in the humanities without bankrupting anybody, and figure out how to manage consistent citations, we might finally have the best of all possible worlds at our fingertips.


e 07.11.12 at 10:07 am

Slex: “The epub file is basically a container of html files in zip format. You can change the extension from epub to zip and you will be able to open it with your archiver. So, the reason for the smaller size is that it uses the zip compression.”

That is not the explanation in the case at hand. The red plenty epub is 988KB and 1,27MB unzipped. There is still a 3,5MB size difference.

The main size difference maker is the 4,85MB (unzipped) folder “fonts” in the mobi. The file HelveticaNeue.dfont therein is 3.4MB in size.

The .epub seemed a bit oversized too so I poked around. The culprit is redplentycoverfinal600-01.png , a 679KB sized 3606 * 5676 pixel image. For reference my desktop computer screen displays 1920 * 1080 pixels so the cover image is oversized. Removing the cover and rezipping (normal compression in 7zip) gives a 372KB sized epub. But the cover is brilliant so including a lower resolution version of it would be better.


bianca steele 07.11.12 at 2:09 pm

I say keep the hi-res cover. Without it our extracted Red Plenty Event wall posters will look pretty lame.


bianca steele 07.11.12 at 2:13 pm

This is a nice chart showing which readers support which file formats.


Katherine 07.11.12 at 3:45 pm

Thanks Slex. Thanks bianca steele. Since I haven’t yet actually bought my Kobo I now find myself in a lather of indecision.


PJW 07.11.12 at 4:30 pm

Love the cover, especially the spirals. Nicely done. Looks mighty fine.


Tim Walters 07.11.12 at 8:34 pm

The Dickens PDFs are no longer available (“MobileMe is closed”). I’d like to check them out if there’s a convenient way for you to republish them.


Nick 07.12.12 at 12:15 am

I find that saving a word file as a .doc then opening it in OpenOffice and saving it as a complete html page produces a relatively format efficient and consistent content file which converts to kindle without many complaints. OpenOffice seems to cope with html more naturally than word.


John Holbo 07.12.12 at 12:29 am

Commenting from an airport lounge:

I’ll repost the Dickens and Spenser stuff somewhere. Inconvenient that MobileMe went black in favor of less useful in many ways iCloud.

The blank pages in the PDF are due to me formatting it first for print. So chapters start on the right facing page. Then I converted into single-up but didn’t change the pagination. Maybe I’ll do a pod version and will want the page numbers consistent?

More to follow …when I’m not traveling.


William Timberman 07.12.12 at 12:54 am

I’d like to second PJW @ 14. A poignant invocation of Tatlin and Malevich, as I’m sure it was meant to be, and very much in keeping with the revolution-with-a-mortal-wound which Spufford so eloquently captures in the book.


John Holbo 07.12.12 at 2:32 pm

I like that Yglesias posted some old Soviet info graph matter just a day ago..

Just last week I was seeking and failing to find that very stuff. Had I done so I might just have ripped it off rather than rolling my own. Glad some folks like the design. I do like Malevich a lot so I’ll take that as a high compliment. Cover is a bit too busy. Always a sign that the designer has no faith in the essence of the design, so it can’t decide whether to try to hide behind itself. But of course that could also be ingenious allegory of the revolution. Above all I wanted to communicate the important message that a dozen folks who chat about the failed revolution are the REAL heroes of the revolution. In all modesty I think my design gets that across.


Cahokia 07.12.12 at 7:12 pm

I want the three-hole punch version for my Trapper Keeper.

p.s. thanks for making this. post popped just as i was wanting to read the series.
i’m guessing the comment section will be a yearbook supplemental.


Cian 07.12.12 at 8:12 pm

Katherine, you can convert mobis using calibre, so long as they don’t have DRM


John Holbo 07.12.12 at 10:54 pm

I’m still working on a Trapper Keeper edition. The thing is: I need to finish my ballpoint pen drawing of Trogdor burninating the kulaks for the cover. These things take time.

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