Digitization: The Rock-bottom
by Genene Coté
“I want a quick and dirty
explanation of what’s involved in making a book available digitally online,” a
PMA member said recently. “Is this easy for a publisher? Is it better to have a
service do it? And will doing it pay off?”
As a digital publisher and e-book
distributor, I believe it is certainly worth having a digital version of a
book. Generally speaking, the people who buy and use digital copies of a book
constitute a different market segment than the print-book consumers. Accessing
another market segment means more opportunities to gain exposure and sell your
A digital copy of your book can be
used in many ways. You can put an excerpt on your Web site, quickly submit your
book to services like Google or Microsoft, and create an e-book for
distribution. Each of these avenues of promotion represents a chance for more
people to see or hear about the book. Of course, you want to make sure that in
each of these cases they have a simple and obvious way to buy it.
First, the File
The starting point is a simple
digital file. In all probability, your book was written with a word-processing
program; if it has lots of illustrations and a complicated design, it may have
been laid out in something like PageMaker, Quark, or InDesign.
With a printed book, presentation
may be almost as important as content. To preserve presentation, you can create
an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file directly from any of the programs listed
above—just print using the PDF print driver or save as a PDF file.
Once you have a PDF file, it can
function as a simple e-book, ready to be downloaded and read from a computer or
e-reading device. The PDF, an exact replica of the printed page, can be
visually pleasing on a computer screen but maddening on a smaller device that
might require scrolling to the right and the left to read a simple line.
This is why you might decide that
it makes sense to sacrifice some presentation values and present your content
in as little space as possible. To create a simpler version that easily adapts
to the size of the screen on which it is being read, you can use any one of
several popular e-book formats, such as MS LIT, Mobipocket, Palm eReader,
dotReader, and Open eBook. All of them start with a simple word-processing or
rich-text file (RTF) version of the content, and they are not supercomplicated.
Generally, you can get someone to create an e-book version at costs ranging
from nothing to hundreds of dollars.
If you want to let people read
your content but not download it, the easiest thing to do is ask your Webmaster
to create an HTML version of whatever you wish to display. If you are a
do-it-yourselfer, save what you want to display as HTML and paste it into your
The Download Decision
Once you have a file that will
work online, what can you do with it? In the simplest terms, there are two
basic methods to consider: restricted download and online access.
The restricted-download option
involves using a PDF or e-book file to allow anyone who wants its content to
download it. At your site, you can sell the download or make it free as part of
a promotion. Most Web-site hosts offer a simple e-commerce module that collects
money and handles the download procedure. In addition, you can put the file into
general distribution through companies such as Lightning Source and bookstores
such as eBooks.com or my DPPstore.
The online-access option entails
putting a copy of your file somewhere on the Internet where people can
see—but not download—all of it, or selected portions of it. It’s
simple to do on your Web site, and you can also use various search-inside
programs such as the ones provided by Google and Microsoft.
To participate in these programs,
you send the company a copy of your print-on-paper book to be scanned, or send
a PDF version for quicker inclusion. When the company puts the file it made on
its book-search site, you won’t have the right to use the file, although you
will retain your copyright to your intellectual property. The advantage, of course,
is that the exposure you get often leads to even more visibility, more traffic
to your site, and more sales.
My Take: Go for It
To sum up: Alternatives for
offering digital content include sending a printed copy of your book to a
company that will create a book-search file, converting to a format that will
work on your own site, and using a service that will create, distribute, and
sell digital files for you. No matter whether you are dipping your toe into
digital waters or plunging in, this is an important and growing market segment,
and it would be a shame to miss out.
Genene Miller Coté is a
publisher, software developer, and marketer with a decade of experience in
e-commerce and Internet-based marketing strategies. Her company, DigitalPulp
Publishing (www.DigitalPulpPublishing.com), and its DPPstore (www.DPPstore.com)
were created to help authors, self-publishers, and independent presses take
advantage of the e-book opportunity.