35+ Tips for Quality and Streamlined E-Book Production
Regardless of format, platform or pricing model, e-books have secured a permanent place in the publishing landscape. The growth of other digital/mobile platforms, in which some see shortcomings of digital book apps, serves to highlight e-books' and e-reading devices' unique value proposition.
"We did a … bunch of apps 18 months ago or so, but have largely stopped," says the head of the publishing arm of a major information technology and software company. "App stores are still difficult places in which to locate things. The various resellers of e-books (and our own website) make it a … lot easier, so we see many more sales via those channels."
"One thing we particularly like about e-books," he continues, "is the ability to include color. For our time-sensitive publications, overseas print production is impractical, and on-shore [four-color] printing too expensive. With e-books, we can offer color to enhance our titles at almost no increase in cost."
Time and cost savings, sophisticated graphics, visibility and ease of distribution on a variety of platforms—all qualities that make e-books great products, but also a challenge to produce. The challenges are forcing publishers to rethink workflows and reallocate resources to handle creation, conversion and distribution.
"There's two pieces of this," says Ken Brooks, senior vice president of global production and manufacturing services at Cengage Learning. "One is the front list, and the other is the backlist. [For] the front list … we were getting requests at different times for different formats, and finding we were paying for the conversion to those formats multiple times. So we implemented a consolidated and pre-planned conversion program."
E-book conversion is a challenge that requires each publisher to map out a strategic plan, often in partnership with an outside vendor. For Cengage, this meant focusing on three "families" of formats: PDF-based, EPUB and XML. A DocBook-based XML schema, Brooks says, best accommodates the various complex elements that go into textbooks—charts, graphs, images that span pages and so forth. EPUB 3, also XML based, has the potential to work as well as DocBook for technical titles. "We are looking at taking some of our more complex titles with MathML embedded in it and turning it into EPUB 3 just to see what it looks like," Brooks says.