An Independent Publisher Speaks Out About eBooks

An Independent Publisher Speaks Out About eBooks

Steve Emecz runs independent London publishers MX Publishing specialising in NLP and therapy books. He talks us through his experience with e-books:

One of the wonderful things about the evolution of social media is that you get instant and regular feedback from your customers. We publish many NLP, hypnotherapy and coaching books and one of the regular pieces of feedback from practitioners, in particular from the USA in the last 12 months is that they would love to have books in an electronic format.

OK – shouldn’t be too hard? Or is it? We began our journey towards eBooks last year and a year on we are almost clear on our way forward – but were amazed at how complex and painful it has been. There are several formats and each one has different processes and different costs associated with them. There is of course the alternative of handing over the problem to a service provider.  We’re all for outsourcing – we outsource our cover design to a specialist, our warehouse to an on demand provider, so it’s not like we are precious about doing it all ourselves. The big problem here was that we didn’t really know which titles would sell in which format, so to spend hundreds of pounds on a title that may or may not sell was not really an option, so we tried to find out for ourselves.

Going electronic – The Formats

Our first step was ePub. This is the ‘standard’ that the book industry has gone with – check out wikipedia for the deeper definition. It’s an optimistic use of the word ‘standard’ although it is not too bad an attempt.  You need to be wary that many companies that produce ePub versions don’t produce a clean enough version, so there is already dilution of the ‘standard’ happening. We took a long hard look at producing ePub files and decided against it – so we set about getting quotes. For a 200 page book with a few illustrations our quotes varied from around £50 per title to over £300. We settled in the end for a global provider, not the cheapest, but at the bottom end of the pricing. Our ePub files are produced in India and we have to say so far they have been excellent.

So that’s it then, we have our ePub files with of course our new ISBN for it. OK, I get that you have to differentiate from the printed version, so now we were set and ready to go. We load the files to the various distributors and that is not too bad – although many want metadata spreadsheets, all in different formats. However, we are all sorted as far as eBooks are concerned then? Well, not really. The world’s biggest seller of books, Amazon uses a different format. Ah.

Onto the mighty Amazon Kindle then. To supply Kindle you need the mobipocket format. OK, fair enough, allocate another IBSN, get the mobipocket files created.Once the mobipocket files are created its fairly simple getting them to Kindle, once you have all the agreements with Amazon in place. This is pretty tricky for non-US based publishers, but not impossible.

And finally, the uber-sexy iPad. In my opinion a lifestyle/behaviour changing device. The great news for us as publishers is that Apple have chosen to run with the industry standard ePub format. What? I hear you exclaim, no new format that you have to use that is specific to Apple? Wonderful. Well, actually not quite.

You can’t supply ePub as it is to Apple, you have to convert it into a file format that they will accept. Before you reach for your wallet, the good news is that Apple provides you with the free software that you need to convert your ePub files. I will at this point refer you back to the earlier statement, it has to be a proper ePub file, not one of the really cheap “I’ll give you a volume price sir” ePub files some are knocking out to unsuspecting publishers. Hooray then – go, go Apple. Ah, slight problem. iTunes Producer, the software that converts only runs on Macs.

Unfortunately, we only run PCs not Macs. Brilliant. So we have lots of lovely ePub files and now have to find a low/zero cost way to convert them. By the way Apple have taken a lesson from their eBook predecessors and set up a series of aggregators that will gladly take that hassle away from you in return for either a) a fee, or b) 30-60% of your margin. Didn’t like either of those options so decided to tackle it direct.

So we found someone with a Mac to do our conversion and upload all the metadata for us [yes, you manually have to yet again load the metadata]. In terms of processing time be ready for the longest wait you will probably experience with eBooks to get files live. On the website it says ‘up to 10 working days’ and our first few titles took quite a bit longer than that.

That’s the Three Formats, and the metadata – What’s Next?

So, three different formats, costs to set up and quite a bit of time. Well, we haven’t got to the most frustrating bit yet. The reporting. Sadly in addition to each of these places all wanting their own metadata, in their own format, the reporting is largely a mess too. I expect to set aside a day this week to reformat all the spreadsheets for that. You also have to bear in mind eBooks attract VAT which our printed books don’t and that adds some complication to the preparation of spreadsheets.

However, all the above aside. It’s still very, very worth it. For several of our titles the sales look extremely positive.  If you haven’t started yet, then start right now as in the USA eBooks have already outstripped paperbacks in many genres.

In summary, things we would have like to have known 6 months ago:

1. You need ePub and mobipocket and most file converters will do you a deal for both

a.       It’s worth getting a few quotes and ask for samples
b.      You can get Adobe Digital Editions and Kindle Reader so you can check the files
c.       If you are doing this in house, think carefully about the time cost. Most converters off-shore and if you are spending more than 2 hours converting files it’s unlikely it’s a good use of your time.

2. You need new ISBNs for each format – it’s worth for all future titles to pre-allocate 3 and put them into the master so you only have one master set of innards.

3. Be clear on your strategy and have a cut-over date when you will launch in all formats.

4. Go through your back catalogue and work out which order you will convert them in.

5. Be prepared to be more organised on your metadata than you have ever been – you will need lots of spreadsheets to support the different formats.

6. Be ready for the VAT impact on pricing. You will end up with a lot of pricing for each item in several currencies.

Finally, we’d love to hear from other independents on good distribution partners once you have your files. It is easy to get caught up in getting the files done and forget that you need to get the sales.