By Karina Mikhli
I attended Publishers Launch: E-books for Everyone Else (presented by Publishers Launch Conferences and The Center for Publishing at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies) in the hopes of getting some answers to the questions I posed in my previous article, Migrating to Digital Publishing? The Six Key Questions to Ask. When I mentioned this to an industry friend at the event, his response “You have answers? I thought no one had any” was quite telling.
In addition to attending this event, I listened to a Digital Book World webcast on the same topic and spoke to several industry people who have first-hand experience on migrating content to digital.
And the truth is, there are very few “answers” everyone agrees to:
- Everyone agrees that with the constant developments in technology, it’s important to “future proof” your content as much as possible, and the current thinking is that an open-format, multiple-platform workflow, such as an XML workflow, is the way to go.
- More companies are using third-party suppliers to assist with this migration, both because they have the skill set to do so efficiently and to keep costs down. Whether you choose to use a third-party service or bring the skill set in-house, it’s still important to have people in-house with the understanding to intelligently interact, oversee, and assure the quality of the work from the third-party suppliers.
- Quality control is more important than ever. With multiple reading devices needing different outputs and tweaks, automation can only take it so far. Someone knowledgeable needs to review the files for formatting and other errors before they are released to the public.
- Metadata is more important than ever in the world of digital.
Below are some highlights from my interviews.
Michael Weinstein (most recently VP, Global Content and Media Production at Cengage Learning, and prior to that held VP positions at Oxford University Press, Pearson, Prentice Hall, and several others)
- If conversions can be automated, outsource them.
- Since don’t know what’s coming, be generic and build workflows/tagging that’s updatable: it doesn’t pay to build proprietary.
Andrea Colvin (Director, Publishing Operations at Open Road Media)
- Don’t skimp on any quality control, which most publishers do right in the print world.
- Learn the types of errors introduced by OCR and educate your proofreaders on these, creating guidelines and checklists to facilitate this.
- Have as many sets of eyes as possible looking something over to ensure that nothing has been missed, and review things at different stages for different things.
- Strive for “graceful degradation” of content: since EPUB is HTML-based it can gracefully degrade.
- “Reading is an immersive experience” and the publisher has to decide when to interrupt it and when this adds value.
- Test out different conversion partners to determine their strengths and weaknesses so you can choose the best partners for your projects. Also look for developers and different types of expertise depending on the type of the book.
- Important to have someone in-house with technical skills to go in and correct files plus have an editorial point of view.
- “Don’t split the branch of time” until it’s concluded: so print and e-files should be on same path until one goes to printer and the other to conversion house; this also allows everyone to learn best practices and makes edits easy to both parallel streams.
Pauline Ireland (Former Production and Design Director, Cambridge University Press)
- Best archive: keep a print copy of everything — you can always scan it; keep typesetting files, but be aware that proprietary typesetting systems have a limited shelf life.
- Small publishers should have robust relationships with service providers who can help them; many will be offshore, requiring time and effort upfront to get them to understand your workflows and to get it right. Go visit them and if possible; have staff on the ground at the suppliers (even for a limited period) since it’s a worthwhile investment.
- XML-preserving today’s content for an unknown future. XML allows you to do what you like and when you like with files; unless files are open-format, they won’t be usable in 10 years.
- Use conversion and content suppliers, but do have staff on-site who understand quality assurance (QA), workflows and managing suppliers; ideally they should have a background in publishing, not only technology.
- If scanning a hard copy for POD, you might as well use it for online/digital as well.
- Make the workflow for third-party rights a priority.
Cathy Felgar (Current Production Director, Academic and Professional, Cambridge University Press)
- Work on simultaneous e- and p-books. Challenges include third-party rights and non-XML workflows (e.g., LaTex files). Come to grips with third-party e-rights from contract stage, if possible.
- Use a CMS (CAMS) with XML parsing capabilities, which could be used for e-book conversions, too. Problem is, if standards change, conversion routines will have to be reconfigured.
- Future-proof content with XML or other well-structured file type so your files remain format agnostic.
- Decide what skills you want to keep in-house, which depends on size of organization: small companies should outsource; large companies can hire in-house talent.
- Taxonomy is important, and publishers need people with SEO knowledge, especially since indexing may disappear as keyword search becomes more dominant.
Overall, although every new “answer” — and new development — brings more questions with it, publishers and industry people are more aware of the viable options and the pros and cons for each choice made, as the Publishers Launch speakers demonstrated. Like much else in life, there is no one right answer for everyone, so just stay aware, keep asking questions, and if you don’t succeed at first, try another option.
Karina Mikhli is a publishing executive with a Master’s in Publishing and over ten years of experience in different sectors of the industry. Her expertise is in managing editorial, production operations, and process management. She has worked with Kensington Publishing, The Princeton Review, and Oxford University Press among others.