Ebook Conversion: 10 Tips for Finding Your Ebook Conversion Vendor
Now that Amazon has announced that it's selling more books in digital form than in print, it's only logical that even the smallest of independent publishing houses are racing to make their entire backlist available as ebooks. Book Business solicited a wide range of advice about the ebook conversion process from digital publishing pros. Here's what they had to say:
Publisher Relations Manager, Bowker
Kick The Tires: According to Bowker's Ralph Coviello, one of the most important steps in any publisher's journey to find the right conversion house "is to really drill down with the [vendor] in terms of how far they go with their services." That includes distribution, but is perhaps even more important in terms of access to metadata. Make sure they can provide it to all of your print partners, and find out if it'll be provided for sales reporting to bestseller lists. But whatever you do, he says, "don't jump blindly into a relationship with a conversion house, regardless of what they promise you. Because they promise a lot of things."
Solutions Architect, Aptara
Know Your Project Intimately: Don't bother asking questions of potential vendors, Kaplansky recommends, until you've decided exactly what it is you want your own project to be capable of. What is the project's ultimate business objective, for instance? What's the budget? Who are the stakeholders? "Knowing where to start," she adds, "is a matter of the organization fully understanding [its] own business objectives, at minimum."
Stay Organized: If you're planning on researching and interviewing multiple vendors, Kaplansky stresses that organization will be a key to your eventual success. She recommends creating a spreadsheet for categorizing vendors "by size, capacity, location and specialty services, such as enhanced EPUB creation, or mobile app development. "Ideally," she says, "your spreadsheet will also contain criteria specific to your conversion project, enabling you to narrow the list of vendor candidates down to two or three who provide service offerings that most closely match your project requirements."
Pay Attention to Communication: When you start interviewing potential vendors, Kaplansky says, you should "pay close attention to how the vendor representatives communicate. Generally speaking, the means, quality and quantity of communication in initial conversations are usually a good indicator of the kind of communication a publisher can expect from that vendor going forward."
Executive Director, International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)
Future-Proof Your Content: "We're already seeing companies that are reconverting ebooks," McCoy says. Companies "have ebooks they've created two years ago, and they're going back and republishing them to get a higher quality level and to get to new channels."
The key point is this: "Your content is your main asset—your intellectual property. And in my opinion, you shouldn't think about ebook conversion as a one-time thing, where you do it once, and now your book is in the iBook store and the Kindle store and the Nook store, and you're done for all time."
McCoy says publishers working on their first backlist or frontlist conversions are likely going to be focused on the distribution channels in which they're most interested. "And yet at the same time," he adds, "I think [publishers] should be thinking about creating digital content assets that are ready to be used in new ways that may not exist now."
By this time next year, he says, you may also need to use some of the features of EPUB3 and HTML5 just to stay competitive—with other publishing companies you're in direct competition with, of course, but also with other forms of competition for your readers' time, like websites and television.
Do Some Soul Searching: Finding the right conversion partner ultimately depends on what your needs are, says Brian Felsen, president of BookBaby. "Do you need, for example, a large distribution network? What kind of document are you starting with? How much multimedia or interactivity do you need? Are you more concerned with compatibility, or with having all the whiz-bang features? And how much support do you need?"
The process of beginning a relationship with a vendor, in other words, should probably always start with a series of internal questions.
Executive Director, Digital Publishing, Workman Publishing
Look Near and Far: Workman's operational practices are probably a bit unique in the industry, says Andrea Fleck-Nisbet, who runs the house's digital publishing division, because the company consists of seven different imprints, some with their own production and editorial departments. When it came time to convert the company's massive backlist, Workman went with an offshore conversion house.
"From a high-level perspective," Fleck-Nisbet says, "that seems like a great solution, [especially] for managing multiple divisions that are uploading multiple files at multiple times. But I will say it was not as easy as it initially sounded. When you're doing offshore conversions," she adds, "you're always going to run into challenges with the scaling, and with the quality of the content you're getting back."
Her advice? "If you're doing a large batch of content at one time, working with an offshore conversion company is really the way to do it, in terms of scalability and cost. But you absolutely need to have someone on the ground."
And what of Workman's future digital conversion goals? "For any publisher," Fleck-Nesbet suggests, "I would recommend that the goal is always to get to a place where you're handling the conversions in-house. Even if you outsource the print process," she says, "you want to have [the ebook conversion process linked] as closely to the print production process as possible."
Vice President, Solutions Architect, SPi Global
Focus on Value: SPi Global's John Prabhu, a member of the IDPF's EPUB Standards Maintenance Group, says he often sees publishers gravitate toward vendors who offer especially low rates, but who don't bother educating their clients about the conversion process. But the smart publishers, he says, are less concerned about price than they are with the value a conversion partner can create for them.
Prabhu suggests asking vendors to explain what they can do to maximize the revenue of a particular title. And because technology is an ever-changing beast, a good vendor, he says, should also be able to explain the steps a publisher can take to avoid having to worry about his product being obsolete in six months' time.
"The bottom line," Prabhu adds, "is schema, structure, data. And the [conversion] process has to be flexible enough that you're able to accommodate changes fast," even when the next platform, or the next technological innovation, chooses to reveal itself. BB
Dan Eldridge is the editor of NAPCO's TeleRead.com.
Dan Eldridge is a journalist and guidebook author based in Philadelphia's historic Old City district, where he and his partner own and operate Kaya Aerial Yoga, the city's only aerial yoga studio. A longtime cultural reporter, Eldridge also writes about small business and entrepreneurship, travel, and the publishing industry. Follow him on Twitter at @YoungPioneers.