Follow Up: Some of the Logistics Publishers Face Currently Regarding E-books

In regards to Nila’s comment on my DRM post, here’s some explanation about what’s involved with e-books for publishers from Michael Hyatt at Thomas Nelson, a large to medium sized press.  Every one of the things that he’s talking about here requires personnel to do it, and tech support personnel and production and accounting systems developed and maintained to do it. It can be done with a small number of people — the smaller the press, the more that’s needed which is why small non-electronic presses have been slow to digitize their lists — but first you have to get to that point. It is a vast infrastructure that had to be hastily built. When I put this material up at SFFWorld, the general reaction was enormous denial that this involved costs and human power and most importantly, planning. One thing that has been increasingly clear over these early years is that people do not want to deal with the business realities of e-books on a large scale. It says something, I think, to the fact that the Internet up until maybe six years ago or so has successfully presented the image of being a free party where every wish is provided with ease, when in actuality it all costs money and requires people who either are paid or who give the cost of their labor for payment in other forms. We pay a lot for our Internet and the tech to access it — way more than we ever did for movies, television, libraries, etc., but we don’t want to look at that cost. I’m going to touch on this more later because I think it’s going to be a major issue of our future now.

The transition to ePub as the standard — again which tech people have been predicting would happen for the last several years — is going to solve a lot of the issues Hyatt is talking about below. It will allow publishers to greatly streamline their e-wares. But not completely as different vendors will still have different protocols and platforms. But it’s definitely going to make it easier if the market can move from six main formats and various stragglers to one main format and various stragglers:


Digital preparation. Granted, most new books start out as a digital file. If they aren’t already digitized, then they have to be scanned or manually keyed in. But that’s only the beginning. Publishers must then format the books, so that they work on all the various e-Readers.

Currently, there are about six major formats. Some are similar, but each has its own nuances and quirks. In addition, publishers must collect and add all the relevant metadata so that customers can actually find the books when they search for them.

Quality assurance. Once the publisher gets the eBook formatted for a particular eReader, he then has to take it through a quality assurance process (often referred to as “QAing” the book) to make sure that each of the major eReaders renders the pages correctly. This is a time-consuming and laborious process.

This is fairly easy with books that are straight text. But few are this simple. When you add epigraphs, pull quotes, tables, charts, graphs, illustrations, footnotes, etc., it quickly becomes complicated. In this sense book publishing has become much like software development. At Thomas Nelson, we have seven full-time people managing this process, and we’re currently looking for three more.

Digital distribution. Once publishers have finished the QA process, then they have to distribute the files to the various eRetailers. You might think Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Sony are the only ones out there. They’re not. We are currently distributing our eBooks to more than twenty separate accounts.

Each of these has a different upload protocol and digital asset management system. When something changes in an eBook (e.g., simple corrections or a new edition), publishers must re-distribute the new file and ensure that each eRetailer has the current version. Publishers must also collect payments from these accounts, ensuring that they are getting paid for each download, so they can, in turn, pay their authors.


Filed under book publishing, Technology

4 responses to “Follow Up: Some of the Logistics Publishers Face Currently Regarding E-books

  1. I agree that it takes effort, and I think the denials come from folks who honestly have never tried to self-publish anything. As soon as you do, you realize all the work involved to make a good e-book.

    • Actually, self-publishing or not does not seem to be the factor. Many self-publishing authors do one book in a few formats and then try to parallel that enterprise into the whole industry. It seems more to do with people believing that the predicted futures of the e-book market, including costs, are already in existence now. People have forgotten or aren’t old enough to remember how long it actually took the Internet to develop as a consumer network and how many changes occurred over that process — and are still now occurring with pay walls, new advertising issues and access issues. Games as well.

      • Ah, yes. The big picture we often fail to see. I think I’ll go back and hide under my rock and until things settle. But they never do, huh? There are just lulls that fool us into complacency…

  2. It’s probably too late for anyone to see this, but there are two points worth making.

    EVERYTHING COSTS. It’s a basic law of physics, the law of inertia, first expressed by Isaac Newton as: an objection at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion, unless energy is used to change the state of the object.

    The same principle shows up in every area of life, economics as surely as any other.

    Sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein expressed it as TANSTAAFL: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, a phrase that had been around since at least the 1930s.

    MOST COSTS ARE HIDDEN. Engineers such as myself struggle with each project to find and quantify those costs, and project managers must do the same. And many of the costs are not just monetary. Professionals wish matters were as simple as that.

    Some of them are societal such as Will my company’s reputation be damaged? And many times more etc.

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