Friday, March 11, 2011

Just for the record...

It takes a bit of work to make a decent ebook. I've been overseeing the conversion of the Pyr backlist for two months now, so I know. I've also bought about 15 ebooks in the last two weeks on iBooks, and I'm sorry to say that I wish a few of the publishers whose books I've bought had taken a little more time with the conversion process. In one sad case, every single first letter of the first word on every line of the contents page is omitted. In another, every instance of the word "pilot" has been rendered as "pi lot," where about a quarter of all apostrophes are rendered as dashes. A third omits all interior illustrations though the cover and front matter proclaims "illustrated by...".

So when I hear people clamoring for instant gratification, moaning that "why isn't this book I want available right now in all formats" and accusing the publisher of sitting on it deliberately or some such nonesense - I grit my teeth. Right now ebooks are in the same place CDs were when they first appeared. Remember all those quick and dirty AAD conversions - Analog Analog Digital - and the CDs that came with warning labels that said, "this CD may reveal limitations of the original source tape" because the music was just being dumped in, not digitally remastered?

Well, there's a lot of that out there now. This will change, as publishers learn how to make ebooks part of the initial work flow of making a book and as ebooks grow. And in fact, most of the new titles I've acquired have looked pretty good. The majority of the mistakes above are in backlist titles where the publisher has raced to digitize their catalogs as fast as possible and done a sloppy job. Sadly, I seriously doubt they'll go back and fix these books once converted.

So, against all the consumers demanding everything digitized now, here's one consumer that wishes they would all take a little more time. I'd rather they did it right than did it fast.

17 comments:

Jvstin Tomorrow said...

"Measure twice, cut once"

Jvstin Tomorrow said...

How do you feel that the evolving formats in ebooks will affect your deliberate, patient process?

And how easy do you think it will be to "retrofit", say, James Enge's Traveller's Rest (an excellent story by the way) for future readers and formats?

Lou Anders said...

Well, we have Travellers' Rest in a variety of formats here already, so it will be pretty easy. What proved the most difficult of our current conversions was James Enge's print books, since they have those beautiful sword illustrations as section and chapter heads, and have interior illustrations as well. We worked VERY hard to preserve their p-book layouts exactly, which you'll be able to see in a month or two.

Larry Marshall said...

It's good to see an actual publisher talking about this, Lou. Kudos to you and Pyr.

I just bought Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. Touted as a great novel (and I'm sure it is) by DAW, it doesn't even come with a cover. This problem has existed in the eBook for for the decade I've been buying them but geez...if the publishers want to justify agency-pricing...well, you understand what I'm saying.

In contrast, Mike Reznick's Buntline Special, created by a smaller publisher, has a great cover, great graphics, perfect formatting...everything. Kudos to Pyr for this.

Cheers --- Larry

Lou Anders said...

Thanks Larry. I'm one of those that thinks that ebook pricing needs to be at sustainable levels (not many people realize that Amazon has been selling ebooks/Kindles at a loss to corner the market). But the corollary to this is that if an ebook is going to cost $9 or up, then it damn well be an improvement over the print book. You cannot charge people the equivalent of a print book price and then give them an inferior product. And a beautifully designed ebook can be every bit the object d'arte that a print book can be.

Lou Anders said...

Lack of first page embedded covers is one of my biggest pet peeves.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden said...

The problem in many cases is that the years-ago agreement for the cover art didn't cover e-book use, so rather than comb through thousands of old art contracts many publishers are deciding that backlist ebooks simply won't have covers for now.

Which still doesn't explain why a big and relatively recent book like THE NAME OF THE WIND would be missing its cover in the ebook edition. Then again, when I bought that same ebook about a year ago, the title page proclaimed the name of its author to be "Partick Rothfuss." I emailed a screen shot to Betsy Wollheim, who responded with an eloquent "oy."

(I don't tell this story in order to imply that we're any better. Indeed, I bought Pat's book as part of a project that entailed buying and inspecting a small mountain of ebooks from all of our competitors, to see if everyone was having the same QA problems we were. Short answer: yes. And we're all scrambling to address it.)

Lou Anders said...

Patrick, thank you for stopping by. Yes, we've only been dealing with a backlist of about 85 titles, and it's taken me three months and I've sent some titles back for re-coversion as many as four times. It's been a huge time sink for me and our ebook department, and a huge headache. I can't imagine dealing with a backlist in the tens of thousands. I agree with you re frontlist though. To give some credit where due, Del Rey's Gentlemen of the Road and Elric reissues did a wonderful job preserving the gorgeous interior illustrations of those books.

Lou Anders said...

Also, this post wasn't intended to say "look how bad everyone else is" in any way. I was aiming it at the buying public, of which I am a member, explaining why "fast" isn't always "best."

The Brillig Blogger said...

We at JABberwocky have been having lots of fun trying to deal with different sorts of issues exactly like you mention. It is safe to say our e-book efforts are taking longer than we had first anticipated.

Jetse de Vries said...

Word!

Jetse de Vries said...

OK: 'word' as in 'take your time to produce a good e-version rather than a hasty bad one'. I'm happy to wait a bit for a good product: this extends to almost *all* areas.

When I changed from my 2003 HP PDA to an iPhone, I loved loved loved all the options available (yes: thinking about the iPad: sometimes it's not bad being a late adapter).

And while I equally like iBooks, Stanza and the Kindle app, I think the latter two have the edge when using your own word and pdf files.

In any case, when a publisher takes the time to do it right, it is indeed a pleasure to read. If that is worth it from a *sales* perspective, I don't know.

But I do highly appreciate the efforts to get it right.

Lou Anders said...

You think the Kindle handles your own PDFs better, really? I love PDFs in iBooks. It's replaced Goodreader for me.

Sean O'Hara said...

You didn't mention the thing that annoys me most -- ebooks that have fancy embedded fonts and iconic chapter headings, but still have all those mistakes you listed. Those are nice extras, but get the basics right first. Given the choice between (1) a book that uses the default Kindle fonts and just makes chapter titles centered bold, but has properly edited text, and (2) a book that has all sorts of fancy layout features, but contains hundreds of misprints, I'll take (1) every time.

(And I think you mean CDs that were AAD. The first letter refers to the original recording, the second to the mixing, and the third to the CD. The original CD release of Dark Side of the Moon was AAD; the current version is ADD. There's no way to create a DDD version without a time machine.)

Lou Anders said...

Doh. I meant AAD. Will correct, thank you.

Reid Kemper said...

Good points. It seems ebooks are selling fairly well now since the launch of the Kindle, iPad and other devices. They'll soon match hardcover and paperback sales at this rate.

SESchend said...

Agreed, Lou; let's hope that by the time the e-reader war dust settles, there'll be a lot of great and well-presented material available regardless of what device one uses.