eBooks are making a big dent in the publishing industry. There’s no doubt about that. They’re convenient, and can be downloaded on an increasing variety of mobile devices.
In order to “strike while the iron is hot”, many organizations are rushing to get their existing content converted to eBook formats (there’s more than one). But doing so is oftentimes more complicated — and expensive — than many imagine. It’s easy to make costly mistakes — errors that can impact the usability (and sales) of digital publications.
Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) recently announced an online service designed to make the move to be eBooks easier and error-free. It’s called EPUB on Demand, a web-based, one-book-at-a-time conversion service that allows you to submit content to DCL for conversion into one of two eBook formats EPUB and .mobi. No, it’s not an “automagical” conversion service in which you load content in, click “convert” and out pops an eBook in one of two flavors or both. Instead, it’s a one-stop web portal for submitting content in need of conversion.
Once received, the conversion mavens at DCL treat the project as they would any other conversion job (they’ve converted hundreds of millions pages of content in their 30+ years in business). They assign a project manager, resources to handle the conversion, and contact you with any questions or concerns you might have.
According to the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) — the global trade and standards organization dedicated to the development and promotion of electronic publishing and content consumption — EPUB (not ePub, ePUB, EPub or ePub) is the “standard format for reflowable digital books and other digital publications that are interoperable between disparate reading devices and applications. It’s a distribution and interchange format standard for digital publications and documents that is based on web standards.
Because, despite what some software vendors — and conversion shops — would have you believe, it’s not as easy to create quality eBooks as you might expect. There are all sorts of issues to consider. Which standards to support? On which devices? In what languages? With images? Tables? Equations? Full bleeds? Color or black-and-white photos? What fonts? And that’s just the beginning.
When you don’t have an experienced team of digital publishing experts at the ready, you’ll likely run into all sorts of quality problems. Words may suddenly disappear or be mysteriously replaced by unrelated terms (“The reader is invited to examine the next Jew chapters…”). Sentences may be replaced with illogical strings of text (“arroz con polio”). Graphics disappear. Formatting shifts. Fonts rescale. Tables don’t work at all. Random typographical artifacts, unsightly indentation, hyphenated headers, hexadecimal notation, character codes, and other digital gibberish creep into the prose leaving readers wondering, “Did anyone even bother to edit this content?”
Consumers don’t like poor quality eBooks. They vent about it in online forums. They especially dislike being charged $9.99 and up for sloppily-produced digital books.
But publishers are starting to take note. In a recent DCL survey of publishing industry professionals, 70 percent of 411 respondents cited ‘quality’ as the most important consideration when publishing an eBook.
“Eighteen months ago, more publishers were concerned about getting their information onto an eBook platform and quality was not the overarching theme it is now,” said DCL President and CEO Mark Gross. “The survey demonstrates that the publishing industry realizes consumers will not tolerate typos and bad formatting in a $15 eBook,” predicted Gross.
“The survey confirms what we have been hearing from publishers, that while the initial push to digital was important, they are now seeing a need to go with the best partners and to improve their quality control and workflow,” said Bill Trippe, vice president and lead analyst at Outsell, an industry analyst firm. “Digital products are becoming the lifeblood for publishers, and consumers are expecting an optimal experience,” he added.
The DCL survey also discovered 43 percent of publishers realized the importance of compatibility with all eReaders, including iPad, MOBI (Kindle), Nook and custom formats. Within the publishers group, the iPad edged out Kindle at 44 percent as an eReader, versus 36 percent preferring a Kindle.
Of course, the DCL survey isn’t representative of all publishers. But, it’s a good indication that quality may be getting more than lip-service from eBook publishers.