BillyFish Books: A Case of Conversion

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Article ImageCompany: BillyFish Books

Colorado-based BillyFish Books publishes books it believes are overlooked by the major publishing houses. Today, the company focuses primarily on nonfiction works that deal with true stories of action and wildlife adventure. Jason Lewis, co-founder of BillyFish books and author of the company's flagship book The Expedition: Dark Waters, started off strong but soon found out that there was a price to pay when his story of circumnavigating the globe was taken up by a major publishing house. He was given a six-figure advance, including movie rights, and a ghostwriter to help him pen his story. Lewis said that the downside was that the ghostwriter "didn't know my story, and he didn't get the story right." Ultimately Lewis walked away from the whole deal. Tammie Stevens, managing editor and co-founder, explains, "That was the genesis of BillyFish Books. We said let's do this on our own. In the digital age, this is now possible."

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Business Challenge

BillyFish had just set out to create the ebook version of its flagship book, a story of the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe, which came out Aug. 1, 2012, in print. Without the ebook version, the company faced losing revenue in the expanding digital market, which includes, says Stevens, "a surprisingly broad demographic including seniors and people traveling on vacation." With this travel and adventure book, missing the August vacation traveler on his e-reader would be a critical mistake. However, as the print date approached, the vendor chosen for the task of producing the ebook showed signs of distress. Once the people at BillyFish Books found the problem, they were concerned they might miss their publication deadline.

Vendors of Choice: Data Conversion Laboratory

For more than 30 years, Data Conversion Laboratory, Inc. (DCL) has been organizing, converting, and moving content to digital formats for wide access and new revenue streams for its customers. In recent years the company added ebook conversion as a natural extension of its expertise to meet the changing nature of the ebook market. With expertise across many industries, DCL uses proprietary conversion software adapted to specific publication types based on their experience in the field. They deploy a U.S.-based project management team to solve clients' conversion challenges. The company uses a mixture of automation and personalized client services when projects require it.

dclab.com


The Problem in Depth

Ebooks are only a few years old, yet the rate of growth has been more than 200% a year, going from revenues of $838 million in 2010 to more than $1.97 billion in 2011 according to BookStats. While the pace of growth slowed in 2012, it was still up 27% overall. The quality standards for ebooks that readers expect today are vastly superior to what the market would bear as recently as a year ago. Mistakes, such as problems with formatting, will invite a hailstorm of negative commentary on blogs and poor reviews on Amazon, perilously damaging the overall book rating there.

One of the biggest challenges facing the creation of ebooks is that they must work correctly on a wide array of ebook readers. Apple iPads, Amazon Kindles, Barnes & Noble NOOKs, and Android devices lead the pack overall. There are currently no fewer than 26 different formats for ebooks and 70-plus types of e-readers. Needless to say, vendors must be experienced with compatibility issues to combat the layout challenges that come up within each combination of format and reader. Each format has various pros and cons turning mainly on flexibility of formatting, compatibility with newer generations of e-readers, copyright protection, and security.

The conversion into any of these formats is an automated process. However, the stewarding of the process to produce a professional quality book with a unique layout, images, and maps such as Dark Waters involves a human being with technical project management skills who manages the client's desired outcome with the capabilities and limitations of the technology. The first vendor that BillyFish Books chose lacked the capability or foresight to shepherd the process.

So, the ebook draft of The Expedition: Dark Waters came back to BillyFish Books with problems that made it unacceptable for sale. The images, which are integral to the story, did not appear in the correct locations in the book, the drop caps at the beginning of each chapter were inconsistent, and there was poor resolution on the maps that BillyFish Books had painstakingly produced by a cartographer at great expense. The format of the book sample they received varied by e-reader device.

Stevens contacted other conversion companies after the failure of the first vendor. They took what she felt was a similarly hands-off approach and explained that they outsourced the work to automated conversion laboratories. This gave her cause for concern and made it impossible for them to meet her deadline.

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