Focus on Digital Publishing Options
By Paula J. Hane
The June 2013 issue of Against the Grain featured a special segment with commentary on “The Self-Publishing Phenomenon.” It provided observations from authors, publishers, vendors, and librarians, and even included a discussion of the collection development issues faced by librarians. Clearly, the self-publishing phenomenon is no longer limited to vanity press status—it has become a serious option for many people. Ebook publishing options are also of great interest to small and independent publishers that would like to get digital content out to a wider audience for a reasonable cost. Email discussion about this with ATG’s Katina Strauch led me to look at some of the options now available. Luckily, we are not just limited to Amazon’s free Kindle Direct Publishing service, which limits one to the proprietary Kindle service. There are many ebook conversion services and publishing tools available for independent publishers.
IngramSpark is a new Publish On Demand platform from the Ingram Content Group, Inc., a subsidiary of Nashville-based Ingram Industries Inc. The easy-to-use, online publishing tool provides independent publishers with simple, cost-effective access to Ingram’s global distribution network for both print titles and ebook content. It is designed to give small and boutique publishers looking for print and ebook distribution services, the best possible value and return.
Through the IngramSpark platform, independent publishers now have “access to Ingram’s reach, enabling them to affordably print copies, distribute books to global retailers, make titles available to all major e-readers and connect with more customers worldwide,” said Mark Ouimet, vice president and general manager, Ingram Publisher Services. “We wanted to make it easy for publishers to create an account and start uploading their content in just a few minutes.”
The platform, which is set to launch in July 2013, gives publishers the tools to manage their print books and ebooks in one location. It’s free to open an account. Print titles can be managed through an on-demand, low-risk inventory model, and the ebook distribution part of the service will be available in August.
There are many vendors in the market with varying pricing and services, and this is especially true for ebook services. A publisher can go direct to many e-retailers, and for publishers who are able to manage the complexity associated with submitting the same title to multiple vendors, that is the way to go to earn more revenue. The pricing for IngramSpark reflects that it is all about ease, convenience, and global reach. With IngramSpark, publishers can make titles available to what is claimed to be the world’s largest distribution network without having to set up accounts with each individual vendor.
The e-distribution for IngramSpark is handled by Ingram’s CoreSource service, which takes care of the specific details and requirements of each e-retailer. By default, all titles are sent to all of Ingram’s online retail distributors. The only option for opt-out is for the Amazon Kindle. And, Ingram is working to link its MyiLibrary service to IngramSpark, which would allow distribution to libraries. This is “projected to be up and running this fall,” according to a company spokesperson.
Ebooks require a validated EPUB file of the interior content and a JPEG of the cover. (Here’s a link to check if the EPUB meets IDPF validation standards, and here’s the link to the IngramSpark File Creation Guide.) IngramSpark does not currently provide file conversion services but plans at a later date to be able to accept and convert print-ready PDFs. For submission, an ISBN is required; by fall, IngramSpark will offer this as an additional service.
Costs for loading, storing, and managing book, ebook files, and metadata per title are as follows:
- Book and ebook — $49 (submitted at the same time)
- Book — $49
- Ebook — $25
- $12 annual “market access fee”
- Publishers are paid 40% of their list price on ebooks sold through e-retailers
Michael Kozlowski, writing at Good E-Reader, noted, “The most compelling feature on Spark is the ability to bundle your digital and physical version at the same time…Once this has a full launch, I would seriously recommend this to most small and boutique publishers who are looking for further distribution than what Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace can offer.”
Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL)
While Ingram focuses on the distribution aspect of ebooks, Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) focuses on the challenges of converting text, particularly those with high complexity. The company has been a leader in document conversion since 1981. Now it has added capabilities for basic conversion solutions from low-complexity paper, Word, PDF, HTML, or SGML documents. Users who have simple or low-volume conversion projects can save time and money by skipping the hassle of phone inquiries and consultations. It provides ready-to-go content but does not arrange for distribution.
DCL’s EPUB on Demand is an online self-service submission portal that allows authors, publishers, and other users to benefit from the same powerful resources dedicated to larger clients and organizations while streamlining the process. It’s “The One-Book-At-A-Time Conversion Service.” The company says it’s quick, accurate, cost-effective, and supports all popular e-reader devices.
All projects will undergo DCL’s state-of-the-art conversion process, be reviewed through DCL’s time-tested quality control process, and delivered error-free, with 99.99% accuracy guaranteed. Devorah Ashlem, senior project manager at DCL, stressed that the company has been in business for 30 years and is used to receiving diverse input, and converting to diverse output. It uses a semi-automatic process. “We automate what we can and then have someone look at every file.
Ashlem says the current marketplace has unfortunately turned ebook creation into a commodity. “Everyone and their brothers are jumping on the ebook bandwagon. It is not a commodity. There’s a lot of misunderstanding [of the process]. Anything highly stylized takes real professionals to manage.” The company does as much fixing of improperly converted files as it does starting a conversion.
The book publishing division of Information Today, Inc. (ITI) uses DCL as its conversion service. It creates EPUB and MOBI files from the ITI ebook PDFs. The company has its own ebookstore at http://books.infotoday.com/ebooks/ and also sells through IPG, Amazon, Apple iBooks, OverDrive, MyiLibrary, ebrary and a number of others.
Earlier this year, DCL teamed up with Bowker, a leader in bibliographic information management solutions, to better serve the self-publishing market. Bowker Identifier Services will now offer self-publishers DCL’s EPUB on Demand eBook Product Service through Bowker’s MyIdentifiers.com website.
Vook is a digital book platform that launched in 2009 and focused on combining high-quality, professionally produced video alongside the digital text to add depth to the information presented. Since then Vook has added a storefront and personal webpages for authors. Publisher’s Weekly used Vook to publish its recent ebook, The Battle of $9.99 by Andrew Albanese. Vook’s clients include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, GigaOm, and others.
Here are some details from its website.
Prepare your final manuscript as a Word, PDF, RTF, or InDesign document.
We do not proofread your manuscript or correct spelling and grammatical errors during the regular course of production. However, we do offer Copy Editing services, which you can request.
Vook outputs ebook files in EPUB (iPad, iPhone, Nook) and MOBI (Kindle) formats.
Vook provides a daily sales-tracking dashboard for all retailers in one easy place. Retailers can include Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iBookstore.
Vook takes 15% of the royalties from titles sold in its proprietary storefront.
Smashwords claims to be “the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks.” The company says it makes it “fast, free and easy for authors and publishers to distribute ebooks to the world’s largest ebook retailers. Authors and publishers retain full control over how their works are published, sampled, priced, and sold. If an author wants to give it away for free, they have that freedom.”
Here’s what the website says about sales. “Authors and publishers earn 85% or more of the net proceeds from the sale of their works. Net proceeds to author = (sales price minus PayPal payment processing fees)*.85 for sales at Smashwords.com, our retail operation. Authors receive 70.5% for affiliate sales. Smashwords distributes books to most of the major retailers, including the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and the Diesel eBook Store. Sales originated by retailers earn authors/publishers 60% of the list price.
Smashwords offers free marketing tools and free author pages. Prospective users register for a Smashwords account (it’s free) and then should carefully study and implement the Smashwords Style Guide for formatting requirements. It will accept Word .doc files or .epub files that have been formatted to the Style Guide. Its “Meatgrinder” technology will automatically convert a .doc file into nine different ebook formats, plus a tenth, custom version of EPUB required by Sony. It will not accept PDF files.
Bookbaby says it provides “Self Publishing Made Easy” for independent authors. Publishing packages start as low as $99 if you supply an EPUB file (plus $19 annual fee after first year). If you need conversion from Word, PDF, or other electronic file types, you can choose between a Standard Package for $199 with EPUB and MOBI conversion, ebook proofs, and distribution, or the Premium Package with priority delivery, free lifetime membership, a free author’s website for 1 year, and more for $349. For additional cost, it can provide cover design, scanning, editing services, ISBN, and printing. Ebooks are distributed to select digital retailers (Amazon, iBookstore, Barnes & Noble,Sony Reader Store, Kobo, Baker & Taylor, and many more). BookBaby collects net sales from the online retail stores, and immediately pays its authors 100% of net sales.
calibre is a bit different from the other services discussed here. It is actually designed for ebook consumers, not producers. calibre is a free and open source ebook library management application developed by users of ebooks for users of ebooks. calibre can convert from a huge number of formats to a huge number of formats. It supports all the major ebook formats. The full list of formats can be found here. The conversion engine has lots of powerful features. It can rescale all font sizes, ensuring the output ebook is readable no matter what font sizes the input document uses. It can automatically detect/create book structure, like chapters and Table of Contents. It can insert the book metadata into a “Book Jacket” at the start of the book.
Here is what it has to say about PDF files. “PDF documents are one of the worst formats to convert from. They are a fixed page size and text placement format. Meaning, it is very difficult to determine where one paragraph ends and another begins. calibre will try to unwrap paragraphs using a configurable, Line Un-Wrapping Factor…To re-iterate PDF is a really, really bad format to use as input. If you absolutely must use PDF, then be prepared for an output ranging anywhere from decent to unusable, depending on the input PDF.”
And here’s a cool feature: calibre can automatically fetch news from websites or RSS feeds, format the news into an ebook and upload to a connected device. The ebooks include the full versions of the articles, not just the summaries.
Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.