A textbook case: Amazon’s Kindle Textbook Creator converts PDF files to ebooks

Amazon has released new Kindle Textbook Creator software which helps authors and publishers build and convert textbooks from the PDF format to, well, to the PDF format really, but a bit better for ebooks.

The company claims the downloadable software includes features that enhance learning, such as dictionary look-up, notebook, highlighting and flashcards.

Textbooks and other educational material such as course materials with complex content such as graphs, charts and equations can be created. The current software available is a beta version and Amazon says additional features will become available, hopefully including interactivity.

Chuck Kronbach, Director, Kindle Direct Publishing, says, “Kindle Textbook Creator makes it easy for anyone to take any PDF and create a richly featured and widely available eTextbook. We look forward to seeing how authors use the new tool and getting their feedback to guide us in adding more features to KDP EDU over time.”

Amazon says books created with Kindle Textbook Creator can offer features including:

  • Multi-Color Highlighting — highlight and categorize key concepts for easy reference.
  • Notebook — capture key passages, images and bookmarks and automatically add them to the notebook. Students can add their own notes and easily access them from one location.
  • Flashcards — create flashcards and study important terms, concepts, and definitions in each chapter with a simple, easy-to-use interface.
  • Dictionary — find definitions and Wikipedia information for difficult terms to improve retention.
  • Buy Once, Read Everywhere — read eTextbooks on the most popular devices students use, including Fire tablets, iPad, iPhone, Android tablets and smartphones, Mac, and PC.

Software downloads are available for Mac OS X 10.8 or later or Windows 7 or later. The package download for a Mac is 34Mb and requires around 84Mb of disk space to install.

You’ll need a PDF file if you’re importing a book or part of a book. You can import single pages, sections or whole books, so long as they are in PDF format.

The program delivers output in Amazon’s puzzling KPF format, which, I believe, stands for Kindle Print (or Page) Format, which makes a book accessible on e-readers together with a variety of useful features as mentioned above.

I tested the Textbook Creator by importing the 1914 PDF edition of that hallowed tome, Calculus Made Easy, which has a lot of complex calculations, which could be easily messed up in an ebook conversion.

The Kindle software loaded the 300-page book very quickly and displayed everything just how it should be, as shown in the screen shot above.

The Textbook Creator is not an editor. You can’t dig in to the text and change anything or move illustrations around, but you can delete pages or insert pages. It’s basically a viewer and converter.

You should prepare and/or edit your book in a word processor with good PDF output (both Microsoft Word and Open Office produce excellent PDFs) or use a more powerful desktop publishing program such as InDesign or Quark XPress.

Once you’ve set a book up the way you want it, you can preview the book within the Texbook Creator program. The preview function looks like it covers a good range of devices, but there only seem to be four available at present out of the dropdown list of nine devices. The full list is:

  • Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
  • Fire HDX
  • Fire Phone
  • Kindle Voyage
  • Kindle DX
  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Android phone
  • Android tablet

The four devices available for preview are the Fire HDX 8.9, Fire HDX, iPad and Android tablet. This makes sense as they’re the only devices on the list which would display fixed-layout ebooks to any reasonable standard.

The previews for the four supported devices are all remarkably similar.

Once you’re happy with the book, just click on the Package button to produce a KPF file.

You can’t email the KPF file to your own Kindle or iPad for viewing as it’s not directly supported, so you’ll need to upload the file to Kindle Direct Publishing.

At present, the Kindle Textbook Creator is rather limited in its scope, although nonetheless useful if you want to convert print books or other PDFs such as course materials to Kindle ebooks quickly and easily. It should become much more interesting if and when it gets interactive features added.

You can read more about Kindle Textbook Creator and download the software and the user guide at kdp.amazon.com/edu