How Do Small Publishers Make eBooks?

by Kim on February 4, 2011 · 15 comments

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What happens to a small press when they need to start producing ebooks?

That’s always been one of my questions as I read stories about the impact of ebooks on booksellers and consumers, and I finally got a chance to get a perspective on that issue when I interviewed Krista Coulson, the electronic publishing manager for the University of Wisconsin Press, for the books column I write for a local newspaper.

I went to UW Press, a small academic publisher, at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, and ended up chatting with Krista for about 45 minutes about a pretty wide variety of topics related to ebooks.  She was great — a total book geek who was excited to chat about the market and think about where book publishing might go next. You can read the full column by following this link, but I wanted to share some of the things I learned that didn’t quite make my word count.

Krista told me there has really been two ebook waves — one in the late ‘90s, and then one that started just a few years ago. We’re in the second wave, which has been driven mostly by websites like Amazon pushing ebooks and the associated increased consumer demand. That was challenge for presses, especially small presses, who don’t have a lot of resource for experimenting.

Even today, a lot of the books that end up going from a backlist title to an ebook for sale go there because of consumer demand. UW Press pays attention to people who request books via Kindle, readers who e-mail asking for particular ebooks, or even authors who want their books available that way.

I also asked her about pricing, since that’s something I’ve always been curious about. Krista told me a lot of it is still experimental. Currently, UW Press sells ebooks below the paperback price, but price also depends on the type of book (scholarly or commercial) and how many of the ebook they hope to sell. At some point, the pricing should stabilize, but for now people are still trying to figure it out.

The other most interesting thing that didn’t make the print story was some thoughts on the future of ebooks. Krista told me she didn’t think things like the vook (books embedded with video) would be feasible for small presses, but might be a thing for some bigger publishers to experiment with. UW Press might take on some smaller projects, maybe using mobile and apps to connect Wisconsin specific guidebooks with users, or starting to embed multimedia with language teaching tools. It’s all still in the works, but I think small presses like UW Press will be successful if they have people as enthusiastic about ebooks as Krista is.

I hope you’ll take the time to go read the column — I’m proud of the way it turned out — and share some other thoughts you have about ebooks and small presses. It’s fascinating, and I’m happy I got the chance to talk about it with someone like Krista, who seems to love geeking out about books as much as I do.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

bermudaonion (Kathy) February 4, 2011 at 8:37 am

I’m going to read it now! I recently read an e-version of an older book from a big publisher and it was terribly formatted. I think they just scanned it and never corrected the errors.

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Kim February 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm

bermudaonion: Getting older books into an ebook format was a lot more work than I expected — there are whole levels of scanning the original, reediting it for mistakes, adding extra electronic data, then more formatting before it’s ready. I suppose if not much time in invested, the quality will be poor.

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Care February 4, 2011 at 8:41 am

What an interesting angle to the whole eReader phenomena. Off to see your article.

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Kim February 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Care: I thought it was! I didn’t know how ebooks were impacting publishers, so it was nice to have one perspective.

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Man of la Book February 4, 2011 at 9:13 am

Interesting article. I, however, think that enhanced eBooks (not necessarily with video) are the future of eBooks.

Next time you chat with her ask her what she thinks about ads in eBooks.

http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

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Kim February 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Man of la Book: I think enhanced ebooks will depend on the reader. I’m not sure if I’d want that — I’ve grown to really appreciate the ability to invest in a book without distractions or the option to be distracted.

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Trisha February 4, 2011 at 9:46 am

Love the article. Informative, interesting, and well-written. Like with many journalistic writings, I now want to know more, specifically the relationship between textbooks and ereaders. Textbooks are generally larger books, bigger pages with graphs and images etc. eReaders are not well set-up for such a format. Time to think…

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Kim February 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Trisha: Krista touched on that a little bit, saying that many of the academic books UW Press publishes are a challenge as ebooks, for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. It’s still also not easy to flag passages, check citations, that sort of thing.

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Ash February 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I never thought about how difficult it is to produce and ebook until I got one that was horribly formatted. Since a lot of small publishers lack resources already I’m sure it’s even more difficult for them to produce ebooks.

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Kim February 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Ash: I didn’t either! I think it’s less work for new books, since there’s already a clean, electronic file to work from because they need one for print. But when an old book needs to be scanned and converted to a print quality PDF to then make the ebook, it’s a lot more work. Krista said it costs between $300 and $400 per book, depending on a number of factors.

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Vasilly February 5, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I always wondered about small presses and e-books. As someone who has just bought an e-reader, I’m a little bit more willing to buy books from a small press if I can buy them as e-books. I can’t wait to read your article.

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Kim February 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Vasilly: I haven’t figured out my own ebook/physical book preferences, but I like knowing they are available. I’m trying to start buying physical books when I think I’ll want to keep them, but going with ebooks or the library for all others, but it’s hard to know that before you read a book!

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Jennifer February 6, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Your article is terrific!! Great job. And this is such an interesting topic – one I’m certainly interested in as I bought myself an iPad this summer. Even more, I’m intrigued to see if the ereader becomes more useful in the intellectual sphere. It would be great to get my class reading on my iPad, but much of what I’m reading for school is not available in an e-reader format right now. Still, I’m hopeful that this market will really be taking off in the future.

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Kim February 7, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Thanks Jennifer! I am curious about how ebooks will change academia. Krista talked about how the tech just isn’t quite ready yet, but eventually it would be cool to be able to mark passages in academic books, then have then transfer into some sort of note taking service — a digital bibliography of sorts. I think that would be awesome.

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