eBooks from start to finish
Ebooks are still in their infancy and the quality of the product varies greatly. The publishing industry is changing and is being dragged (with some kicking and screaming) into a new era.
In a new green world, environmental concerns are at the forefront of discussion.
Electronic books are a natural progression, no trees are cut down to make paper, no trucks carrying books around the country, clogging our roads. No wastage and risk significantly reduced. Yes there is still the same process of filtering the slush, there is still the same editing and proofing.
There are different problems associated with eBooks. Many publishers have embraced the future but many smaller publishers are apprehensive about the technology and some are still in denial that the tidal wave of change is upon us.
Many of the large digital library providers are struggling with the overload, it takes months to set up and get a book online, particularly for small publishers who may not even be able to secure a contract with leading retailers, due to the number of books available in its portfolio.
Back Catalogues can be made available online, breathing new life into timeless classics and firm favourites, to a worldwide audience including those on Amazon’s Kindle device in America.
Books that are considered a high risk to be printed can be put online, massively reducing any initial financial outlay.
The timescale for publishing a book is vastly reduced using the electronic format. From receipt of a completed electronic file in PDF and Quark or InDesign, an ebook (or skoobe as we fondly know them as) can be made available for sale worldwide within 48 hours.
Many more books will be published that may have been rejected in the past, the challenge is to maintain quality.
There is an abundance of out of copyright material being made available online free through the Gutenberg Project and Google. The vast amount of this content is poorly typeset and reads like a toilet paper spiralling ceaselessly from its roll, without interactivity such as bookmarking or chapter selection.
Despite this Gutenberg reports that 3 million ebooks per month are downloaded from their site. Google could see this increase to many hundreds of millions.
The pursuit of quality is more important than providing a vast quantity of books online.
Not all books are suitable presently to be read on an eReader as illustrations are converted to greyscale.
There is a different strategy in publishing a book online. The way forward is to embrace the change and commit to publishing new titles online prior to a traditional release, making content available worldwide at a vastly reduced cost.
Amazon versus Sony
For those virgins of the Ebook world, this really equates to Kindle versus EPUB.
The Kindle being Amazons own ereader device that is only available in the United States at present. The Sony Ereader is the leading brand of devices that read the new EPUB file format which is also being championed by ADOBE and their Digital Rights Management system.
There are several other readers on the market such as the Cool-er, Bebook, Sony reader, Cybook, Elonex,iRex Liad, Asus, Kindle2, iPhones, PDA’s and other smart phones. and new ones being launched on a regular basis bringing the price tumbling down to levels which will surely fuel the market even further.
There is no doubt with the sales of these readers that there is a revolution taking place.
The main question for publishers is “Do we care whether someone is going to buy a sony reader or an amazon kindle”.
There are side issues yes but we are here to sell ebooks. Amazon.com in the US accepts pdf files for conversion and an ebook can be online in a matter of hours. Amazon do not offer ebooks in other formats and do not sell beyond or outside the US.
The EPUB format is the predominant file format in the rest of the world. It is not as easy to get your files converted as with Amazon. I will touch on conversion later.
The question over what reader a user buys is not in my opinion an important one as long as our books are available to that reader.
If Sony or Amazon buy up rights to ebooks and then restrict their distribution to a single format then this is not in the authors best interests and I would say not in yours either.
Amazon allow almost anything to be sold online by anyone and this means that quality is being compromised. With the EPUB market online retailers such as Waterstones and Borders use library content providers who by their very nature only accept material from established publishers. This maintains quality.
In the meantime let the boxing match continue as it can only be good for the market. Competition reduces prices and gets the message out to more people and the more readers that are sold the more users there are to buy our books.
Single-function readers vs. smart phones like the iPhone and PDA’s, PDA's and smart phones.
There are applications that enable ebooks to be read on the various smart phones, iphones and pda’s. the more devices available to read ebooks the better. The limitation to sales at the present time is the number of reading devices out there and whilst a phone is not particularly good for reading ebooks utilizing a backlit screen if it encourages more people to buy ebooks it can only be good.
We need more readers to be bought to fuel the market of ebooks. When the prices of the readers come down to an acceptable level ebooks will overtake paperbacks.
Selling the rights
Check your contracts to make sure you have electronic rights. Go thru your back catalogue and don’t worry if you don’t have the electronic files for some of your older books. They can be scanned and converted and re typeset relatively easily.
Costs do vary greatly. There is text recognition software that can read a scanned page but a word of warning, proof read it thoroughly as it is certainly not foolproof.
The question of whether you sell these rights or exploit them is an individual one.
If you choose to sell the rights then there are few options available at the present time but I am sure that this will change soon.
Sony and Amazon are one option but as stated earlier my opinion is that this is not a good option because the book may not realize its true potential if its market is restricted.
We, M P Publishing have acquired over 400 titles in the last 10 months.
In the future authors and agents will be negotiating harder for the sale of these rights and they will not automatically fall to the publisher. However for those authors listening it is extremely important that the final electronic file prepared by the publisher is acquired with the rights to use it, otherwise the editing and typesetting remains with the publisher and cannot be used in the preparation of the ebook.
I have come across a few cases where electronic rights have been withheld by the author but they cannot acquire the completed files from the publisher which has resulted in the book being considerably held up being published online.
Licensing the rights
Let some else do it for you. If you are a small publisher you may not have the resources to convert the files, organise the distribution and sort out the various contracts with the online retailers and library content providers.
By licensing the rights for a fee and retaining a percentage of the profits you can win on both fronts.
This approach gives a smaller return on sales but gives money in the form of an advance up front and avoids all the hassle with setting up distribution contracts and conversion of the books.
In view of the difficulties with setting up contracts with the already overloaded library sites and online retailers this is a good option for a small publisher with limited human resources in a difficult economic climate.
By partnering you can get the best of both worlds, you can license your content and have it converted and distributed at no cost to you.
Or Do it yourself.
This has its restrictions; it takes time to set up the contracts because distributors and library sites have big backlogs.
How many books do you have, do they want your content, do you have enough books yourself.
Some library sites have content requirements and restrictions such as recognised authors, or good sales records and a minimum quantity of books.
Once the contracts are in place you have to organise the conversion of the books.
Distributing your books thru Amazon is relatively simple, if you are in the United States, for UK Publishers Amazon require American tax and bank details. You send them a PDF with the various data; which is similar to that required when distributing thru other online retailers.
When supplying other online retailers and content libraries it is not as easy. They require that you supply the converted file and as with Amazon they require metadata sheets or data schedules which are your responsibility to provide and you will need tags, synopsis data, author details etc.much of the information required will already be available as part of your existing requirements.
You will need to allocate separate ISBN numbers for your ebooks. But their only needs to be one ISBN to cover all the formats.
Time is the big factor as you will need to dedicate someone to doing the task and it will take a lot of time.
How do you get your books into the correct electronic format.
You can outsource the conversion work with a company like Aptara. If you do outsource the work make sure you get a pdf as well as an epub file.
There are obviously costs associated with outsourcing which are calculated usually on a cost per page basis or lump sum based on a number of pages per book. There are some outsourcing consultants who charge per book irrespective of the size or number of pages. Typically you will be charged for pictures in addition to the pence per page.
Typically costs are in the region of 22p per page and an additional 10p per photograph. This obviously depends on volume and there are discounts to be had. Eventually ADOBE Indesign CS4 will churn out an acceptable EPUB but alas not yet.
When this happens we might not need to outsource our conversion work.
DO IT YOURSELF
The Do it yourself approach is a little more difficult. There a number of applications that can convert files into the EPUB format. However they are not all compatible with the ADOBE Digital Rights Management system. ADOBE’s own software Indesign CS4 does convert files into the EPUB format but there are many bugs in the system. Typically the converted file needs to be post edited by an xml programmer.
To then have the files pass the 3 checkers that the online retailers and content library’s use and the quality checks that are carried out is another obstacle course to be navigated.
Make sure there are no links to other retail sites in the EPUB files as they will not be accepted by the online retailers and content libraries.
The files must be split into less than 100k each.
Pictures must be in a low resolution.
The chapter selection must work correctly.
Check the spacing of the chapters as this is a common reason for failing.
Once you have your converted files you will need to distribute them.
This is not an easy task.
Do you need Digital Rights Management?
If so, they need to be distributed in EPUB and PDF formats only. These are the only formats backed by the ADOBE DRM system.
Kindle is completely separate and is controlled by the devices being connected to the wisper network in the US.
There are the 3 main content library’s, Overdrive, Ingram Digital and Ebooks.com.
Most online retailers are affiliated with one of the main content libraries. This does not mean you cannot approach them with your content separately. It could be to your benefit as the percentage return is typically higher than distributing your books thru the content libraries.
Sony’s retailing site ebookstore.sony.com is one example.
Digital Rights Management, do you need it?
Only you can answer this. But without it your content will be freely available online .
The discussion on DRM is a difficult one and with similarities to the music industry.
The DRM settings can however be controlled to your requirements such as limiting the number of devices that the ebook can be shared with or limiting the number of pages that can be printed.
As you can see from the DRM settings pages displayed there are many variations and decisions to be made when setting the parameters of your DRM which is why most publishers at the moment set all the restrictions quite high. There is I believe a happy medium which the public may accept where maybe up to 3 devices can be utilised and limited printing could be allowed particularly on educational material.
When a book is DRM’d a fee is paid to ADOBE of approximately 11pence per book. A license code then enables the user to access the book thru digital editions. A copy is saved on your computer and also on your reading device but it will only allow the book to be on one reading device at a time. This means when you have finished reading the ebook you can share it or pass it on in the same way you can with a printed book. It is not however possible to read it on more than one device at any time. Depending on the DRM settings chosen. It is You the publisher that set these.
Not all sites have DRM and you should check this thoroughly.
Outsourcing the distribution with companies like M P Publishing, or the content providers Ingram Digital and Overdrive ensure that DRM has been checked out properly with the sites that are supplied. There are other distributors such as Constellation who have a limited distribution network as far as we could ascertain. Sony and Amazon are not distributors they are retailers and therefore just licensing your books to these will restrict your market.
There are restrictions at the moment with the content libraries on whether they will take your content and while this varies it generally centres on quality of content and minimum quantities. They will not entertain a single author and minimum quantities vary from 10 upwards. There does not appear to be too many content and genre restrictions but I am sure with the massive backlog of books going thru the system they will pick and choose who and what they want first.
Setting up a contract is not a quick process either and can take months of chasing and then getting your books processed takes time and effort. It took over 6 months to get our books converted and thru the checking system and get the contracts in place then a long wait to see them appear in the online bookstores. Ingram I might add took a matter of weeks once the contracts were sorted.
You will need all the data to hand ISBN numbers synopsis author details and most importantly tags. These are words used for searching the ebook when online. Amazon for instance restricts these words to 20. Overdrive also have a limit of 20, ebooks.com ...... and Ingram.......
Pricing. You set the pricing but eBooks are expected by the public to be lower in price than a printed book. Some retailers discount ebooks which comes off their percentage of the profits. You will be paid on the retail price generally unless you have a different agreement with an individual online retailer. Marketing.
Get your authors to link their sites to your preferred online retailer this will not only give you a better return but it should improve the Google search results.
Other problems to look out for:
There 3 different types of checkers before your content can go online and the online retailers will check your files. Every time one fails there is a considerable time delay to get the files corrected and re uploaded.
Get them online now don’t wait.
Put your ebooks online before launching in hardback
Test the market.
Sales of Ebooks are still very small compared to paper books but if someone has a reader, be it a phone or a kindle, they won't want to buy the hardback anyway.
Publishing will one day start with an eBook version and then if successful, printed.