What defines a quality eBook?
A recent survey by the Data Conversion Laboratory and Bowker, industry-leaders in bibliographic information technology management, highlights key reasons for the understandable reticence on the part of book publishers about digitizing their printed books.
Given the breadth of solutions and various formats available, confusion and caution in the industry is understandable.
Supplier offerings are peppered with a huge number of software and service based “conversion solutions”, dealing with everything from simple reflowable novels to highly interactive ePub 3 or app-based approaches. The sheer range of options available is often met with trepidation by established figures in the book world, who quite understandably feel that, as a single standard has not yet been established, betting everything on one particular approach could lead to issues.
On top of this, finding impartial advice is often difficult. There’s no clear consensus amongst industry experts as of yet as to what’s best, so referring to secondary sources of information isn’t particularly helpful either. Editorializing about “the future” of this particular part of publishing is often accompanied by hyperbolic claims about certain formats and solutions being a universal panacea, which doesn’t help matters.
So we’ve got a wide range of options, no emergent, uniform standard and a limited amount of genuinely impartial material available, on top of this there’s the concern on the part of book publishers themselves about the potential production quality of all of these approaches. What’s the solution? Identify what exactly constitutes a “quality eBook”.
Naturally, these standards vary depending upon what sort of book you’re trying to get into a digital format.
Types of eBook
Let’s illustrate with a few examples. A simple, textual novel sans illustrations has a more limited range of solutions than, say, an interactive textbook, but even here there are certain standards that need to be met, here’s an outline of what we mean:
- If it’s reflowable: does it have intuitive anchor links that correspond to a cohesive table of contents?
- Do the chapter headings automatically align to the top of the page?
- Is the service provider or software you’re using to convert the content covering all possible e-Reading platforms?
- Is there a fixed page solution available for tablet devices that don’t necessarily support reflowable content (with tablets effacing dedicated e-readers according to some analysts, this is going to become increasingly important)?
All of these are pertinent questions that can establish, to some degree, the production quality of a converted novel.
Returning to textbooks (and digital textbooks are already big business), the range of options here becomes broader:
If a publisher wishes to publish a series of textbooks, as part of an overall strategy that aims to digitize a good portion of their content, then they need to make clear choices about what they handle in-house and what they handle through a vendor. The best example of this is interactive content. Does the publisher in question have a web development team capable of producing interactive content? If so, it’s best to leverage this as opposed to relying upon a vendor.
Secondly, what sort of delivery method does the publisher want to employ? Broadly speaking there are two approaches:
- Individual conversion of each textbook, either through iBooks Author, XML-based content or ePub 3.
- Alternatively, an app-based approach, where all the books sit in the same store.
The advantage of the former is that they’re truly bespoke (and generally have a bespoke price tag to match, along with significant development time). The latter provides a textbook publisher with a ready-made e-commerce portal on one of the most important discoverability tools currently available, the app store.
There’s also a distinction in that some apps work on a cross-platform runtime to work across all platforms, whilst others are truly “native” and generally deliver superior performance and responsiveness, an important point to consider when we’re talking about readability experience.
Ultimately, if we can boil the question of what makes a quality eBook down to a single point, it would be that catechism: “Readability”. Based on our experience of working with publishers, from projects as diverse as film accompaniment book to The Hobbit, a truly bespoke iBooks Author digital book, to History in Comics, a fully-fledged “Bookstore App”, this is overwhelmingly the main objective we try to reach. Different projects may require different tools and different methods of delivery, but this objective absolutely constant.
So what’s going to deliver the most pleasant experience for readers as a whole? Again there’s no simple answer to this question. It requires extensive market analysis in order to understand what are often vastly different audiences (consider the difference between a textbook audience for tertiary education and the potential audience of a children’s interactive novel for example). So this means taking into account statistics such as the most common device they’re using, how they’re generally consuming the particular type of content you want to publish (be it by browser, app, bespoke eBook or another), what their gripes are with this method, how good your marketing team is at reaching out to existing readers and informing them of new digital content and so on.
Our approach is to provide both the full range of bespoke creative services for individual books as well as bookstore apps that can sit on any device, accommodate interactive content and can act as an independent e-commerce portal for publishers who want that single storefront on the various app stores.
If you’d like to learn more, feel free to contact our books team at: firstname.lastname@example.org