From Print to ePUB: Transforming Your Workflow

Colleeen CunninghamBy Colleen Cunningham, Senior Book Designer, Adams Media

Digital books are going to be a big part of the future of publishing. Everyone in publishing knows this, and many of us are embracing the opportunity to reach more readers in whichever formats they prefer.

For the print book designer, it’s an exciting, if somewhat scary time, as eBook production is being added to our workflows, and the variety of formats and digital platforms pose new and unique challenges. The fonts we choose, the grids we build, the design we cultivate — they’re all skills we have developed and refined in order to help make the meaning of the words come alive for readers.

“Export to PDF” has faithfully preserved our design choices in a static layout and stable context, but PDF eBooks are, for the most part, meant to be viewed on large, four-color screens. Good design, however, is being redefined in this new digital age, and as designers, our focus needs to expand to include the myriad ways readers might access our content beyond the printed page.

Are they reading on their computers, laptops, or tablets like the iPad? If so, a PDF eBook remains a good option as our original design can be preserved and displayed as we intended.

But, what if they’re reading on an e-ink device, eg: Kindle, Sony Reader, or Nook, or via Apple’s iBooks app? This is where it all becomes murky for designers.

Should our design-driven books be simplified to fit the constraints of the ePUB format?

Publishers have to ask themselves if they have the skills, time, and resources to invest in reworking their content in-house, or if an outsourced solution should be retained.

And if an outsourcer is retained, is there a quality control process in place?

PDF vs. ePUBSavvy publishers will produce two versions of their books – PDF and ePUB – giving readers the option to choose their preferred format. PDF eBooks are still the format of choice for design-driven books, but with e-ink devices and iBooks commanding a lot of attention these days (especially since the Kindle and the Nook are driven by established book retailers), publishers must also consider putting resources behind the ePUB format.

When faced with this challenge (or opportunity — is your glass half-full?), print designers must quickly develop the skills that will enable them to produce a high-quality ePUB file that is accessible over a wide range of devices.

For print designers this creates a problem, because ePUB files are, in a way, self-contained websites. When we choose “Export to Digital Editions” in InDesign, we’re translating the content into HTML, and as every web designer knows, a web page is all about presenting content that can be accessed via a variety of web browsers.

With ePUB, our challenge is to produce an eBook that can be read on a variety of eReaders, with its information hierarchy intact and intuitive navigation that makes access to the content quick and easy, no matter what device it’s being viewed upon. It’s a significant shift in thinking, and the designer who wants to make the transition from print to digital must be able to let go of some design control and put content first, before design.

Adobe and InDesign have given print designers the ability to expand their skills to the digital realm with the “Export to Digital Editions” option. In our own experience in the Production Department at Adams Media (a division of F+W Media), we’ve welcomed this opportunity to bring our ePUB production in-house for a number of reasons, not the least of which is for better quality control. We’re also saving money by reducing our outsourcing budget, increasing our in-house digital capabilities, and becoming advocates of best practices within our own company.

However, the challenging side of this opportunity is the additional time it takes us to troubleshoot.

When a highly-designed book enters our print production schedule, we have to evaluate 1) whether it’s worth the time to create an ePUB file, and 2) how to manage the design and layout to facilitate the ePUB production process. Simply tacking a digital workflow onto the end of an existing print workflow is not efficient and there is no “easy button” for exporting a clean ePUB file. Ideally, when a title enters the publishing list, both print and digital formats should be planned out at the same time — content and design can be optimized every step of the way in order for the digital export to go smoothly.

In future posts, I plan to explore the various challenges we have faced in everyday situations in transforming our InDesign print workflow to include an ePUB export process, and share the results and any best practices I uncover.

A few important notes up front:

  1. Our print workflow is based on InDesign CS4, so that’s where our ePUB production begins. Galley edits are made into the print InDesign file and to preserve the edits, our ePUB export must be done from InDesign.
  2. Our ePUB toolkit consists of: InDesign CS4 to export, Springy Archiver to open the ePUB file, Dreamweaver to edit the CSS, Adobe Digital Editions to preview.
  3. We are not coders by trade; we are print designers and print pre-press specialists, and are excited to incorporate digital production into our roles.
  4. Our production schedule is tight, so our standards for what makes an ePUB candidate are narrow — straight text and minimal floating elements (sidebars, art) are preferable to highly-designed ePUB eBooks.
  5. All of our books are exported as PDF eBooks, but only about 75% are considered ePUB candidates due to the design considerations discussed above.
  6. We are concerned with deadlines, storage, transmission issues, and eReader limitations; therefore, we create one ePUB that is lightweight and content-driven, intended for every platform from the Kindle to the iPad.

#ePrdctn on TwitterThat being said, we are open to challenging the limitations of ePUB and are hoping that technology will only make this process smoother, and that the design capabilities of ePUB will eventually be supported by all eReading devices.

Please join us as we explore “real world” scenarios that crop up as this print designer tries to export print files to ePUB. The case studies that will be presented are taken from actual print files, and we welcome any questions and feedback.

The workflow for digital production is being created as we go along, and no one has the perfect, one-size-fits-all solution or all of the answers. Groups like #ePrdctn, hosted by Lindsey Martin (@crych) on Twitter, are working out digital production issues as we go along, and that group is the inspiration behind this column.

You are welcome to join us for the ride!

Colleen Cunningham is the Senior Book Designer for Adams Media, a division of F+W Media.

7 thoughts on “From Print to ePUB: Transforming Your Workflow

  1. Michael W. Perry

    The article is interesting, but remarks that this is “an exciting, if somewhat scary time, as eBook production is being added to our workflows” leave me irritated. Enthusiasm won’t overcome the fact that quite a few bad decisions have been made or are being made that’ll hinder ebook development for years and make our work unnecessarily difficult. Now isn’t the time to get excited. Now is the time to get mad–very, very mad.

    Examples include:

    1. ISBN instead of a new tracking system for digital books. Continuing to use a 1970s-era scheme intended for printed book barcodes is silly and benefits no one but the woefully unimaginative staff at Bowker. A new medium needs a new tracking scheme. One portion of the new numbering scheme should describe the basic content, another the digital format, another the DRM (if any), and another the revision number, given how easy it will be to improved digital books. The result would make life much easier for both readers and online stores. “Have an ereader that can only handle ePub up to version 1.31, then you need an ebook with 267 in one field and 0131 or less in another. Otherwise, life will be hell for consumers. This isn’t paper, this is digital, which makes things much more complex.

    2. Then there is poor, clueless Adobe, who could have made InDesign CS5 an excellent platform for either creating digital books or for exporting content to an application that could, but instead tacked on an overabundance of interactivity features that readers don’t want. If I want to create something in Flash, I’ll use a Flash application. It makes no sense to have ID do badly something that another application does well. Adobe should be driving ePub development like it did PDF. Instead, they’re a drag. And don’t get me talking about all the problems with Digital Editions.

    3. Digital bookstores either going propriety for their formats (Amazon) or with a castrated version of an already woefully weak standard, (Apple’s ePub), rather than using PDF as a transitional format until we can created systems that are smart enough to reflow complex text and graphics on a wide variety of displays. Apple is particularly to blame here. They did a marvelous job transitioning their operating system to OS X and to Intel hardware by building bridges. And yet the iBookstore is expecting us to live with digital book formatting so primitive, it’s good for little more than novels and children’s stories.

    In short, don’t get excited. Get mad enough even the people in large, thickly carpeted offices start to notice.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

    1. Colleen Cunningham

      You make excellent points, Michael. And your energy (excitement and anger can be opposite sides of the same coin) is exactly what we need in digital book production right now. No one has all the answers and many of us are questioning how things are and where they’re going while, at the same time, being in the reality of what it takes to make an eBook in the current technology and systems.

      Are you on Twitter? It’s just one example of a forum filled with people (at all levels and experience) and discussion groups wrestling with these, and many other, issues in publishing. Talking with others and generating discussion is part of what will help make things better for the future. Many of the decision makers are listening in.

      We’re all figuring it out as we go along. Thank you for your input!

    2. Kim Richards Gilchrist

      ISBN’s are not something, we as publishers, have control over. If we want to use the important distribution channels, we must have them. It’s how the databases keep track of everything. Heck, it’s how our own website knows which book to associate with which cover and download. I’d rather use the ISBN’s than have to keep track of yet another identification system.

      Epub is the standard. There are conversion softwares out there…some free like Calibre, so customer’s aren’t left empty-handed. I do predict the electronic readers which can display a wide variety of formats will prevail.

      This IS a time to be very excited. The enthusiasm is what gets you to take those steps out of your comfort zone to lean the new technologies and try new things. That enthusiasm inspires staff and sells books. Anytime someone gets excited about something, other people want to know more about it.

      Kim Richards
      CEO Damnation Books LLC/Eternal Press

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