Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Changes in ebook production and conversion technologies are opening up new opportunities when it comes to digital content. But that expansion is also creating a handful of challenges for those who use such tools, and quality assurance methods will need to adapt to keep pace.
On its face, the ebook management app Calibre’s recent upgrade doesn’t appear to concern traditional ebook developers directly. Calibre originated as a personal library manager and conversion tool, allowing readers to convert their titles from one format to another. Some users have also used it in conjunction with additional software and plug-ins in order to remove DRM from their titles.
Calibre is now an ebook editing platform, too. The 2.0 version released earlier this month adds Android and OS X compatibility and now includes a comparison feature letting users track the results of their edits.
Now that the ebook editor Sigil has been discontinued, Calibre is aiming to offer small publishers and self-published authors a comprehensive ebook editing toolkit. For that reason one analyst called the upgrade a “major milestone.” Others are less sure of its long-term impact. An ebook developer for a Big Five publisher I spoke with recently said she “can’t imagine this making a real ripple for professionals or consumers.”
Still, Calibre 2.0 does put consumers of digital content into the content-creator seat, offering tools for both authors and readers to determine the platforms for accessing their ebooks and how they render on them. Those decisions have traditionally been the preserve of ebook developers. A more democratic approach is in many ways a thing to be celebrated, as long as it’s accompanied by methods for ensuring high-quality outputs.
In most cases, that means understanding what goes on under the hood–in other words, coding. As Matt LeBlanc, Director of Digital Publishing at F+W, which owns and operates Digital Book World, explained, “In general, any software tool I’ve investigated that claims to automate coding and create a pushbutton development experience, without the need to understand coding, has shown to have a lot of junk code and produce poor ebooks.”
Iris Febres, Solution Architect and Manager at Aptara, agreed. She added, though, that there’s “potential” in “the fact that you have quick access to not only the actual markup but the ebook file structure.” The app could help introduce less experienced users to higher-level coding challenges.
None of that will obviate the need for quality assurance practices, though. Febres points out that ebook QA is the one component Calibre–which does now offer a spell-check feature–largely leaves out of the picture. And that need will only grow more acute as production technology develops further.
Experienced professionals working in much more popular systems aren’t exempt, either. As Laura Brady, Principal at Brady Type, emphasized in a recent presentation on the new fixed-layout export for Adobe InDesign, testing remains critical. The feature will let print designers and ebook developers alike create more sophisticated fixed-layout ebooks more quickly and cheaply, she said. But as with any new tool, vigilantly monitoring its outputs is an essential precondition.
A recent study found that publishers are increasingly concerned about ebook quality as production, conversion and formatting processes change and widen. It’s a reasonable concern, and the complexity of today’s ebook production field makes it a difficult one to address. Still, it’s up to all stakeholders in the ereading universe to take part.
Clarification: An earlier version of this post stated that Calibre is, among other things, a tool used for removing DRM. It has been popularly used that way in a process involving additional software, but DRM removal is not among Calibre’s officially prescribed functions. The article has been amended.