By Erik J. Martin, EContent
Thanks to ever-improving technology, ebooks can be produced relatively quickly and economically compared to their traditional print cousins. But with the temptation to capitalize on speed and low cost, it's easy for publishers to cut corners on quality, especially when it comes to things that affect look, layout, and readability – such as proper conversion of text, images, and other elements from a print book to an ebook. And because churning out sloppy electronic copy can potentially turn off customers, content providers are worried.
That's one of the major takeaways from a new study on trends in the digital publishing industry, conducted by Data Conversion Laboratory and Bowker. When asked what aspect of digital conversion they're most concerned about, 53% and 52%, respectively, of publishers who responded indicated "retaining formatting" and "quality"; other worrisome areas included errors caused by data conversion (45%) and converting tables and graphics (36%).
Additionally, about one in three publishers surveyed rated the quality of most ebooks they've read as either "okay" or "poor." Two thirds of respondents believe readers want the best quality possible and that quality affects ebook sales. And approximately 98% feel that editing and copyediting is as important or more important for ebooks than for print.
While it may seem silly or even old-fashioned to some to fret over the quality of ebooks-considering their increasing popularity, strong sales and ubiquitous presence on digital devices everywhere-experts say these concerns are valid and warranted.
"I haven't actually heard anyone say that it's old-fashioned, but two to three years ago, publishers thought that the reader wouldn't notice problems with quality. But it's now very clear they do," says Mark Gross, president of Data Conversion Laboratory. "You see that not only from this survey, but also from the nasty reviews you read on book sites and the comments that get twittered about."
Back when ebooks were a novelty, people were willing to live with minor annoyances like typos and poorly converted text. But today, customers are saying they won't stand for it, "especially now that ebooks are selling at a higher price point. They expect a nicely packaged, accurate, well-formatted product," Gross says.
Ebooks have skyrocketed from a garage industry to a major form of media consumption, so expectations have skyrocketed in parallel, says author Eliot Peper.
"Many large publishers treat ebooks as an afterthought, even though they're higher margin and represent a large percentage of sales, and many small publishers don't enforce strict enough quality control," Peper says.
However, poor quality can not only hamper sales of that particular product-it can also tarnish the reputation and future earnings potential of the author and publisher, says Liora Farkovitz, a content developer/strategist and author.
"You want your reader to be focused on your content, expertise, creativity and imagery, not on distractions like constantly having to adjust their device so they can read a page that isn't laying out on screen well," Farkovitz says.
To ensure a better end product, publishers need to implement an effective quality control process and rely on reputable vendors. "Traditional publishing has always had multiple levels of editing and proofing to ensure accuracy and formatting," says Gross. "While the tools we have today allow us to streamline the process, and check the results more easily, there are no shortcuts to rigorous review."
Peper agrees: "Publishers should do proofreading runs on each format to ensure quality and use platform-specific tools and designers for each format, too."
While many in the digital publishing world advise hiring professionals for assistance with ebook editing, proofreading, design and production to ensure better results, self-publishing authors and the like can turn to recommended resources like free or paid automatic conversion apps, manuscript e-formatting tools and ebook creation software.
But while handy tools like these can help boost ebook quality, guaranteeing a good finished product requires a different mindset from many writers and publishers stuck in the old print paradigm.
"The best way that publishers and content providers can improve the quality of their ebooks is to stop trying to recreate print books as ebooks and start embracing the formats, technology and additional audience engagement opportunities that are possible with ebooks," says Joseph Gilbert, partner and chief creative officer with Visualist Publishing, LLC. "The traditional formats and qualities of print books can't be directly converted into a digital space effectively without real consideration for the new digital environment in which ebooks are explored and loved. If that means restructuring the content for the digital space, then that's the best thing you can do to ensure quality."