Buyer's Guide: Ebook Conversion Strategies Buoyed by Vendor Partnerships
In the early days of the digital revolution, vendors were often the only ones who knew how to do that work. As they struggled to make the transition from print to digital, publishers had to rely on that. It worked then and it still does. It's how the vast majority of digital publications are made. The problem is that when publishers just threw their content over the wall and let a vendor get them their ebooks or XML, publishers lost control of important parts of the process. Along with outsourcing the things that still make sense to outsource, they inadvertently outsourced some things they might have been better off keeping in-house.
The publishers did usually get what they had contracted for. These vendors would not be in business if they didn't reliably deliver what they promise to. But too often, the publisher's lack of involvement in the process resulted in disappointment.
I work with a lot of publishers, and a lot of different types of publishers. Let me share with you some deliberately unattributed quotations of things I've heard over the years.
- "We've been getting XML from our vendors for the past ten years. I have a drawer full of CDs. Every book we've published. We've just discovered that we have a mess on our hands because the XML is totally inconsistent. We're going to have to start over."
- "We sent our top 5,000 books out to get them converted to EPUBs. We thought we could use the XML—EPUB is XML, right?—for archiving and repurposing. Turns out it's useless for that. We're going to have to start over."
- "We've been careful to make sure our EPUBs work in every possible device. So we've pared down the specs so there's nothing in them that doesn't work in the most brain-dead ereader. The problem is that they are terrible. Our customers hate them. We're going to have to start over."
Those are all true stories. Did their vendors cheat them? Absolutely not. All of those publishers got exactly what they contracted for. So what was the problem? The problem was that they treated the vendor like a sausage machine. They probably bid the work out to a bunch of vendors with few if any specs and picked the cheapest one. They just dumped their content on the poor vendor and said "give me XML," or "give me EPUBs," or "give me EPUBs and make sure they work everywhere." What did they get? Sausage.