An Experiment in Crowd Sourcing

LinkedIn is a terrific service, and one in which I find plenty of practical value. I’m a member of well over a dozen groups from which I receive a mix of daily and weekly abstracts of the discussions and announcements. In other words, I get far too much information to practically track.  Fortunately, LinkEdIn’s groups serve as their own archives, and about the best I hope for is that I’ll note something of interest that I know I can go back to later, after, say, I’ve cloned many copies of myself and figured out how to create a hive mind.

A current project has me helping a new publisher take its first steps toward ebooks, and I’m having to swap out my big picture perspective for a hands-on, in-the-trenches view, because in addition to analyzing the content and market and distribution channels and future strategies, a question I need to answer is, in short, how should this publisher go from a print title that is already well-advanced in production, to one or several ebook formats of the title?

LinkedIn’s Digital Book World group had a well-related question along these lines posted a couple of months back, by George Steanidis, who wrote:

Hi all, I have a customer who is a small book publishing company. He is interested in a low cost ebook publishing platform. Any suggestions?

Forty-five comments later, from a total of 28 participants, with a high of 9 postings by one participant, followed by another participant at 4 postings, with a smattering of two post participants.

I also noted that there were two main divergences from the topic, both interesting: the first was a brief discussion about XML in the workflow; the second was regarding piracy.  By and large the thread kept on track.

I was heartened to see a good percentage of early respondents asked the right questions, such as type of books, audience, channels, and production environment.

Right off the bat, specific solutions were pointed to, included, for example, Smashwords. “as a relatively easy way to make ebooks available to most major ebook retailers. It is not a perfect solution, but your client may find it easier than establishing a publisher relationship with multiple retailers.”

The original poster clarified his interest as “an end to end solution for publishing e-books, which will consist of: software platform for converting PDF files to all e-book readers, iPad, iPhone files, a CMS solution for online publishing on an e-commerce site… so that the customers will be able of to buy online and read the ebooks.” God bless, but here was as good a description of the Holy Grail of the day as any.

But, of course, something so sweet is hardly ever so simple. More clarification requests started rolling in: What kind of PDF? What is the original production or manuscript file? More specific recommendations were flying about, including (from Dennis McCunney):

Amazon uses MobiPocket format for books for the Kindle platform. The MobiPocket Publisher application runs on Windows, and is freeware from MobiPocket. It can use Microsoft Word, RTF, HTML, PDF, and plain text files as input. (HTML is the preferred starting point.) It can be found here.

Amazon has a command line MobiPocket generator based on MobiPocket’s former Mobigen product, here.

They have versions for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS/X.

They also have a plugin MobiPocket creator for use within InDesign, at the same place.

The Barnes and Noble Nook and the Sony Reader use the IDPF ePub format. The best tool I’ve found for that is the free and open source Sigil, here.

A Swiss Army Knife for eBooks is Kovid Goyal’s Calibre. Calibre converts between ebook formats, manages metadata, and serves as an ebook librarian. It’s free and open source. Get it here.

SaaS publisher services got some mention—Zinio.com, RealView.com.au, iMirus.com—and the conversion houses chimed in. DocZone got a mention. Other comments included:

  • “Register at www.iPublishCentral for a one stop ePublishing cloud infrastructure solution for publishers.”
  • “Check out www.twpdigitalsolution.com – very suitable for independent publishers or self published authors.”
  • “Check out www.dnaml.com, they also run an ebook store www.ebook.com.”
  • “You can try our self-serve eBook creation system at http://bookbrewer.com. Through tomorrow we’re charging only $39.99 for an eBook. You get the full ePub file back, but can also elect to have us send the book to retailers for you.”
  • “I believe Bibliolabs has a new end-to-end publishing platform. You should check out their website. I also second the suggestions of Smashwords and Lulu. Best of luck!”
  • “www.firstygroup.com. Cost effective conversion/sales/distribution solutions for eBooks and Apps… we also enable publishers the ability to sell their eBooks direct from their own site securely using ACS4.”
  • “Lovelyreader.com provide a turn-key white label reading system with cross-platform ebook reader app and complete social reading services baked in, everything is online for live testing at www.lovelyreader.com.”
  • “For conversion, distribution to all formats and that is turnkey check out BookMobile at www.bookmobile.com.”
  • “Check out http://www.epubtemplates.com – it’s a template I created in MS Word that’s been optimized for publishing directly to Kindle & Nook (the two largest marketplaces for ebooks).”
  • “I haven’t seen (?) mention of FastPencil here, yet. They provide an actual platform (vs. say, a specific formatting tool) for eBook creation/production and distribution, sales & eporting. See: fastpencil.com… You may also want to look at Publish Green @ publishgreen.com.”
  • “Joshua Tallent at eBook Architects (www.ebookarchitects.com) offers cost-effective consulting services as well as ebook conversions. “
  • “A leading player in Italy providing both consumers and (small) publishers with a large set of editorial services and products (books, translations etc.). http://blog.bookrepublic.it/.”
  • “BookBrewer is a platform that costs as little as $39.99 for a DRM-free book. It works like a web / blogging CMS and provides a simple ePub as an output. You can copy and paste content from Word and even import blog posts. See http://bookbrewer.com.”
  • “Paying for conversion services is certainly one way to go, if you want to avoid the learning curve and let the experts handle it. However, be aware that any ebook conversion would could ever want to accomplish is possible with a wide range of free tools. If choosing a paid provider, I’d have them do a free conversion to ensure their quality. Conversion houses have, historically, been somewhat sketchy.”

All told, a pretty helpful thread, I’m sure.  A little more helpful, I suspect, edited in this way, as opposed to going through the actual thread, with its off-topic entries and repetitions.  (I’ve also not included the specific conversion house entries alluded to earlier; these might be helpful to some people, but most helpful is the information that such services are available—and that there is the need to do a lot more homework checking out such services.)  The level of commercial plugging overall was restrained and mostly appropriate for the thread.

The takeaway is that this thread provides a good starting point for more research, but that is as it must be: specific publishing programs will have their particular needs—different types of books, different markets for them—and without more specificity all one can expect is a good general jumping off place.

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