eBook Creation Service Aims To Make Publishing Quality eBooks Easier

Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

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.

Why get help converting content to eBook formats?eBook formatting errors are preventable. Problems can be detected and corrected in the source file.

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.

EPUB defines a means of representing, packaging and encoding structured and semantically enhanced web content — including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file format. EPUB allows publishers to produce and send a single digital publication file through distribution and offers consumers interoperability between software/hardware for unencrypted reflowable digital books and other publications.”Mobipocket (aka .mobi) is used to create Kindle eBooks. .mobi is actually a file format based on the Open eBook standard (now superseded by EPUB) using XHTML and can include JavaScript and frames.

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?”

Quality matters

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.

Learn more about DCL OnDemand.

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10 Responses to “eBook Creation Service Aims To Make Publishing Quality eBooks Easier”

  1. scottabel December 29, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Mark Gross of DCL is also talking about this topic. You can learn more about it here: http://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/data-conversion-laboratory-ceo-mark-gross-on-poor-ebook-quality/

  2. scottabel December 29, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Thanks to you early readers for NOT pointing out the typos in this post. LOL I really need to clone myself (or at least, hire an editor). — Scott

  3. R. Scot Johns, Author December 31, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    If the all-caps sidebar is any indication of the formatting capability of this service I’m not inclined to even ask them for a quote. The fact that you have to upload a file to even get a quote is a huge turnoff when there are literally hundreds of other conversion services out there naming their price upfront. Not interested.

    BY THE WAY, IS IT EPUB, EPUB, EPUB, OR EPUB???

    Learn to format a sidebar before you write an article on formatting for crying out loud.

    • scottabel December 31, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

      It’s EPUB. LOL

  4. scottabel December 31, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    I’m certain that this service offered by DCL (and the many others R. Scot Johns speaks of) will find new ways of meeting the needs of customers and prospects alike. They’ll have to. Gone are the days when writers and typewriters created manuscripts and then sent them off to publishers who edited, formatted, and paid to have them typeset and printed. The entire industry is being reinvented and will likely see additional changes as technology makes those things possible and a new generation of content creators takes the reigns from the old guard.

    To address R. Scot Johns comments, conversion services that tell you the price up-front do exist, as do far too many poorly converted digital products. Why are they poorly converted? Oh, the reasons are many. Authors are human and don’t use software tools consistently. They make (gasp!) mistakes and they decide to do things the way they want to be cause that’s how their Language Arts teacher taught them. Why? Because rules are important. Well, unless those rules involve creating content 100% consistently so a conversion service can convert a book perfectly, without errors. So, it helps to have human intervention for quality assurance, which most authors probably are in favor of.

    It’s not always authors that are to blame for conversion challenges. Software tools aren’t all they are cracked up to be and they make it easy to screw things up by allowing authors to deviate from the rules. eBook readers and standards throw new challenges in the way, as do eBook shopping malls (the new books stores, like Amazon.com, the iBookStore and iTunes). Oh, and then there are issues of culture, language, governance, location, laws, etc.

    Conversion is part art and part science. So is business. Firms like DCL that have been around for decades know this. They also likely know that they will not be the right solution for every author or publisher. And, that’s okay. Apple knows this. So does Amazon. Neither business model aims to serve the needs of every prospect. And, we see they are both successful at capturing huge audiences and stealing business (and huge revenues) away from old school publishing types.

    This is a time of great change, which will bring much discomfort (and pain) to many. It will also bring great joy and opportunity. After a while, conversion will no longer be needed because all content will be created to exist as a service and be provided to content consumers on the device of their choosing without any worry about all of the many issues we discuss today in the comments field on blogs like this one. Until then, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

  5. R. Scot Johns January 2, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    Saying “conversion will no longer be needed” is a bit like saying editors are no longer necessary. Conversion is part and parcel of the digital medium, and is likely to remain so. As much as authors and publishers would love to see a standard one-size-fits-all ebook format, that’s just never gonna happen, because the business interests of ebook retailers can overrule it via proprietary e-readers. Even EPUB based fixed layout ebooks are fractured into multiple formats, and that trend will continue for a good long while so long as Amazon and Apple hold the cards. Even B&N’s fixed layout for children’s books is proprietary.

    The high ideal of a single universal standard for all ebooks is unrealistic, if only because it is simply too constraining for the pace of today’s artistic exploration. By the time EPUB3 is fully integrated into the next generation e-readers, technical advances will have rendered it outdated. The pace of universal adoption is just too slow to keep up with individual discovery and invention. My prediction is that the ebook market will fragment even further as the power players move to consolidate their hold on their segment of the market.

    BTW, it’s generally customary for online services to provide a general price range for their packages on their webpage, even though there may be a number of variables or add-on options. If high quality, professional conversion experts like eBook Architects can offer a ballpark figure up front, so should any other service. Not doing so only tells me their prices are far from competitive, or that they’re hiding something. The internet is sketchy enough, so as a consumer I just shy away from anyone who’s not fully forthcoming about what they have to offer.

    • scottabel January 2, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

      R. Scot Johns. I hear you. And, I don’t disagree with everything you are saying. But in a world where everyone is a publisher (Taco Bell, American Medical Association, Visa, Home Depot, the government of Ohio, Weight Watcher’s, University of Oregon, NASA, real estate agencies –> all publishers) your ideas of what is needed and possible are limited to your perception of what the needs/possibilities are. Saying that something is or isn’t going to happen (that includes me as well) is not fact until it actually does or doesn’t. As many readers of The Content Wrangler know, in my work, I consult with firms that are indeed doing (and willing to pay for) the types of things people who hail from traditional publishing believe aren’t possible. Many of my readers are doing this as well inside the firms for which they work. Truth is, not all needs are the same. And, goals vary widely. What book publishers think is not going to happen is already happening inside the walls of many corporations, government agencies, and educational institutions, private and public. And, if they don’t get with the program, money (profit) will continue to leak from their walls (some say hemorrhage) as it has from the other industries that failed to meet the challenges of the digital age head-on. Just ask the music industry or telecommunications.

      These changes, of course, as good for writers of books, who will, I am guessing, begin to increasingly see the profits start to flow more freely to them, without the pesky traditional publishers in the way. :)

      I appreciate your feedback. And, I am appreciative of you sharing your thoughts and experience here. Please do so whenever you feel so inclined. Thanks!

  6. R. Scot Johns January 3, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    My pleasure. Keep the biased and controversial articles coming and I’ll keep adding my slanted and rambling opinions! :o)

    P.S. Just kidding about the biased part!

  7. Dane Skelton February 25, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    Scott & Scott,
    Thanks for the informative discussion. I’m an author just now trying to decipher the e Book biz. Your comments are very helpful.
    Dane

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