BillyFish Books: A Case of Conversion

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The Solution

After an arduous search, Stevens located DCL. The company, based in Queens, N.Y., has experience in data conversion that predates the advent of ebooks by 25 years. It understands how to tackle the complexity of the formatting issues that occur across the many platforms in which the book will be viewed. Mark Gross, CEO of DCL, explains that while a good portion of his projects can be outsourced or run entirely using automation, he makes sure to determine which projects require hands on project management. Stevens was immediately at ease and assigned a project manager, Devorah, who worked weekends to complete the project in an excellent manner, despite planning her own wedding.

The overall process for creating an ebook sounds simple enough. In a nutshell, an ebook conversion involves taking the original format, which Gross explains can be in any form, converting it to digital file, and then converting that to a flexible level of XML, which makes the text into pieces of data. Now, these XML elements can be treated like fields in a database-able to be located, sorted, used for retrieval, and otherwise manipulated. From there, DCL's proprietary computer software can manipulate and organize the document parts. Once the document is understood by the system, the XML document is converted into the correct e-reader formats for the job.

A key area of concern in ebook conversion is future-proofing the content. DCL believes that the book should be archived in a format that allows for the optimum flexibility once standards change again. If the content is stored in a format that is too rigid, then the publisher will not be able to access it for future projects. It risks having to go all the way back to the manuscript in Word to begin a new conversion.

This means that DCL will stop at a higher-level XML version of the conversion and create an archive of the book that can be converted to the future format-du-jour later on. For instance, EPUB is not suitable for print. Likewise, files cannot be converted to EPUB from MOBI. In reality, the correct format for archiving the ebook is a guess. However, executing any educated guess for future flexibility is a good plan for now. It's certainly a better one than archiving the ebook in whatever format it ultimately works in for today's purposes and running the risk of finding yourself up a technological blind alley in a year or two.

The Outcome

The Expedition: Dark Waters was a success both in digital and in print. Despite its complexity, the ebook was completed by the team at DCL within a single week. It was available for download just 1 week after the print publication date of the book. So BillyFish Books captured the vacation market and garnered strong reviews and audience response, including an appearance by Jason Lewis on The Tonight Show, and a positive review in Utne Reader. The company is working on the publication of the second book in the trilogy, The Expedition: The Seed Buried Deep.

 "The challenge was that somebody here had to pay attention to make sure all the pieces were done right," explains Gross, adding, "A publisher who does 1,000 books a year will have a technical specialist to make sure all the pieces work," whereas a smaller publisher will not have access to a technical specialist and must rely on the vendor for this stewardship of the project. According to Gross, certain types of publications such as scientific articles have a set format. Once that format is coded, the entire project can be handled by machine with just a small amount of human review at the end of the process. Likewise, old journals that need to be made digitally searchable but are presented as page images do not need to be carefully formatted because the text, even if imperfectly converted by the OCR software, is usually close enough for the purposes of search.

As Gross points out, "It's always a balancing act." Not only to make the book work across so many formats, but also to balance the economic realities of the project with the investment needed to create the ideal digital format for the book. He points out that in some markets, it makes more sense to make an excellent product; for instance, "Children's book producers are investing a lot in ebooks because it's worth it there."

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