Most small and medium-sized publishers who haven’t YET decided to act on digital publishing wonder where to start. They are especially cautious if they have been in business for some time and have a backlist they are worried about converting. That’s a significant up-front cost for small publishers if they only have PDF copies of their titles.
In their minds backlists look like a cost sink rather than a potential digital profit centre. That’s because depending on who you talk to a backlist conversion from PDF to epub or .mobi will cost about €150-€250 and what’s more, it’ll be even more for a high-design title.
If you’ve been publishing say a modest 10 titles a year for ten years, then you’ve a back list of 100 titles and even at the most reasonable quote that might cost you €15,000 to convert. For a small company that’s a chunk of change equivalent to publishing a few new titles a year in cost terms.
Well to my mind, the first thing ANY publisher needs to do, even if they don’t have immediate plans for digital publishing, is stop making that backlist issue bigger and I’ve a pretty sensible strategy for how they can do that AND start preparing for digital publishing.
1) Stop only holding PDF files
Simple enough really, but if you are using in-house design programmes like Indesign or Quark, make sure you hold onto the Quark or Indesign files of your titles AS WELL as holding on to the PDF. If you are using out of company contractors, make it a condition that designers supply original files to you when they deliver the final files. Doing this means that you have files that are easier to convert then PDFs and will thus cost considerably less money when you decide to explore digital publishing and ebooks.
Cost to you: Nothing
2) Convert all new titles yourself
Many of the best in-house design systems offer conversion tools that publishers can use to create epub and .mobi files themselves. There are other programs that allow you to create them from word files too, so this isn’t as difficult as it might sound. What’s more it future proofs your business going forward against the conversion fees I highlighted above. If you use an external contractor, make them convert the files at source and deliver the resulting files, this should not take them TOO long and for a modest cost at the time of origination you will be ready to sell ebooks.
Cost to you: Nothing to very modest
3) Audit your backlist
So you’ve stopped making the problem bigger and you’ve created files that can easily be converted to ebook formats of your choice. It is time to see just how big the problem is on the backlist. Go through your titles and find out what files you actually have for them. PDF, Indesign, Quark or Word. From an ebook creation perspective Word files and original design files are actually fairly easy to convert (with a little knowledge) so if you have those file types AS WELL as PDF files for your title, you are in a good place. Sort titles into two groups, those with ONLY PDF files and those with Word or Indesign/Quark files.
Cost to you: Time and frustration
4) Convert the easy titles
As I mentioned in 2 (above) in-house design suites will generally have plug-ins that enable you to convert your Indesign/Quark files and there are cheap commercial products that will convert word files. You can make headway in creating a digitzed backlist by converting the files in those formats before worrying about the PDF files. Likewise, external designers will charge MUCH less for converting those files then a PDF, if they don’t, they are probably over-charging you.
Cost to you: Nothing to modest
5) Start selling them
Of course this section requires some thought and strategic planning* before you forge ahead, but once you’ve done that and chosen the right path for your company, you actually have files in formats that can be uploaded to major ebook retail sites. Create accounts, add metadata and start selling them, or sign up with an ebook distributor who will do that work for you. Once the converted titles start to pay back some cash, use that to convert the tricky or PDF-bound titles.
Cost to you: Nothing to modest depending on the sales channel you chose
And there, in five easy steps, is a simple strategy for small and medium-sized publisher looking for somewhere to start on the digital publishing market but worried about their backlist problem.