What I learnt while digitising our list

Maybe you will think I am naive, or just hopefully optimistic, but when I took on the challenge of heading up the digital development of DBP I thought that we could have our entire monochrome backlist converted into ebooks and on sale within 6 months, and then we could start on our illustrated list. Now as we approach the end of the year (some 8 months after I began this adventure) I am about halfway through the list and this is what I learned....

The first, most important thing I learnt, was that as simple as ePublishing seems in your head it's really quite involved and always more complex than you or anyone else in your company thinks it will be.

To start with the logistics of publishing an ebook are not filled with the most efficient processes, there are different formats, each with their own limitations and eccentricities, there are lots of retailers out there with their own requirements for metadata and even bookdata have their own specifications on filling out a bibliographic entry, it really isn't enough to say it's an ebook in the format field.

Then there are the internal difficulties, someone needs to gather the files (making sure for backlist titles they are the most up-to-date version), then you need to assign isbns for each type of eBook, and then you need to check that any images you bought for the jacket have been cleared for digital editions (and create a new jacket if it hasn't) - all this before you even begin the conversion process.

When it comes to the actual conversion I honestly thought that if you sent someone the inDesign or PDF of the book then the eBook you got back would be relatively clean, but sadly that's rarely the case so you need internal resources to check the eBook thoroughly (if you want to produce good eBooks). You also need a good relationship with your conversion house to make sure that they understand the errors you want correcting and you understand the limitations of the eBook format.

So you add extra into your production budget for the checking of the files and a extra couple of weeks to the schedule but once you have the books it's all plain sailing right? Well then you have to upload your books to the retailers and each has there own special way of doing that, from submitting the files named a certain way and including an excel grid of their required metadata to filling in an online form and finding the file on your computer. This also sounds pretty easy but when you are uploading 30+ books in one go it can get a little frustrating.

Now I could use an aggregator to do a lot of this for me, and in hindsight I can see the benefits more than I did back when we were strategising our move to digital. But what stops me are the middle of the month reports that show me how all of this pulling together as a team at our offices (and the steep learning curve for me) have resulted in ever growing sales, and I haven't started my marketing campaign yet (I'll save that for another blog post).

So to all you other small independent publishers looking to go digital what I learnt is that to plan how to get your ebooks from print edition to eRetailer you have to consider every single aspect, that you need to spend a lot of time creating metadata (and there is lots of it if you want to sell off all the major retailer websites), and that you need one person to co-ordinate everything but the whole office on board to help you, because this seemingly simple job will always be more complicated than any of you imagine.


Me too

I feel for you Vicky. I also thought converting our backlist would be quicker and easier than it has been. I've had all the problems you've described and more. Our digital archive, such as it is, consists of print-optimised PDF files which are not the best format for conversion to e-book formats. Just don't mention ligatures to me...

As jpreynolds says we should be starting with a digital first approach, and we are changing the way we work to think digitally when we comission new works. In the 6 months since I started the project we're already publishing some new books in digital formats first, and indeed some titles in e-book formats only.

However that leaves 100's of titles in legacy formats. I was going to say that if I wanted to get there then I wouldn't start from here, but Finn beat me to it. There, I've said it anyway.

If there is any easy way to get from print PDF to MOBI and EPUB then I haven't found it (yet). For future titles an important lesson has been that's it would be much better to consider e-formats at the page layout stage, or even at the commissioning stage.

So it's not just you. However, it'll be worthwhile when we see the e-books figures for January, after Father Christmas leaves everyone a brand spanking new e-reader device in their stocking.
P.S. Great summary BTW, and good advice for other small publishers undertaking the same process.

eBook production

Nice post - succinctly describing the hurdles of ebook production. However, I'd throw another spanner in there as well: digital and author rights. Many legacy titles may not originally have been cleared for digital production, and indeed, may contain significant amounts of third party material, which will certainly need re-clearing prior to ebook development.

I take jpreynolds comment above as well, although recommending the digital first approach is a little like saying 'you don't want to be starting from here'. When you've got a considerable backlist that would generate significant revenue through digitising, you have to think about all the factors Vicky raises.



Start with first letter.......

jpreynolds7's picture

The lesson learned here is to start with a digital first approach to content creation.  XML, tags, meta data will all be in place as you move along once you've set up your system/process.  You can hire a KPO to help you.  You can also hire a KPO to convert to the formats you want, load them onto the retail and sales platforms you want them on, and take care of everything for you without costing you your first born.  Watching what they do will allow you to take over some of the tasks that have meaning in the future, but rudimentary tasks should remain outsourced as it will almost always be the least cost way.  Good Luck!

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