Is the cost of going digital too expensive?

24 October 2010

Is the cost of going digital too expensive?

The publishing world is going digital, well, its trying. When we think of the costs involved in this the reaction from many people is, “cool, we’ll save loads of money”, but is this really true? Dominique Raccah from Sourcebooks says not.

Dominique has talk before about how Sourcebooks is finding it very costly to go digital and at this years Frankfurt Book Fair, she is making these comments again. I’m not a publisher myself, and I certainly don’t have experience with print publishing,  but Dominique paints a pretty grim picture in this quote (Original Article from PublishingPerspectives);

“E-books have added six overall processes to the production of books, and a further seventy steps within those processes. Think about it: When I print a book, I provide the same printed book to every retailer — Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, whoever. But when I provide an e-book, that’s not true because there’s no standardization of formats. What Apple gets, what Amazon gets is different . . . Then every time there’s a change in operating systems, we need to change again. So that’s a lot of added expense. And this is without mentioning things like Apps!”

No one will deny that there’s additional processes involved in producing both print and digital versions, but I’d be interested in knowing what those extra 70 steps are, because I see this whole thing as being quite straightforward.

First, your book is stored in a master file, likely some form of XML, then from this one master file you can produce output for your print version using an XSLT stylesheet. You then only need to create a new stylesheet for each extra format; one for EPUB (Apple, B&N, Sony, etc), one for Amazon (Kindle AZW format) and perhaps another for a generic PDF.

Dominique also says there is no standardised format, but this isn’t exactly true. These days you have EPUB, PDF and Amazon Kindle format so you can basically get away with just those three.

Sourcebooks is the largest independent book publisher in the U.S. and is home for some very clever and talented people, so you have to take what is being said as pretty much on the mark. However, the way I see it, is that once their own backend has been adjusted they should be able to reduce the additional digital costs to a minimum. Of course, getting all that in place has huge costs, let alone all the staff retraining that would be needed.

Whatever the costs, Sourcebooks, and any other publisher for that matter, is going to have to accept it. If they don’t they could end up losing that top spot as largest indie publisher.