Why is ebook publishing so badly supported?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

The Magazine in book form

One of the few Kickstarters I’ve backed was the one for a hardback book of the best of The Magazine‘s first year. Something about a digital-only magazine spawning a hardback just appealed to me.

As you can see from the photo above, the book is with me. And it’s quite lovely. But it’s also on my iPad, as one of my backer rewards, and that’s where the trouble started for editor and publisher Glenn Fleishman. Laying out a book: easy. Turning that layout into a PDF: easy. Going from there to the native eBook formats – mobi and ePub – was hard.

Fleishmann has chronicled the ebook creation process on The Economist‘s Babbage blog:

And that is where the trouble began. Accustomed to creating InDesign layouts for which the ultimate destination is either print or PDF, Babbage and his designers (under his direction; the e-buck stops with him) made myriad tiny choices that refined the presentation, but which made EPUB conversion tedious. Choices as simple as the width of a text container for a headline, repeated 28 times throughout the book, once per story, affected the flow of text that InDesign created. The opening spreads with overlays of photographs, illustrations and type work in a PDF, but had to be deconstructed and rendered into flat image files for EPUB.

What’s interesting is that designers aren’t yet geared up for producing ebooks – possibly because the “flow” format of them runs counter to the fixed design of the print age – and that the tools aren’t there. The experts he eventually goes to are using Apple’s Pages ’09 for their work.

Given the burgeoning eBook market, the lack of both tools and specialists remains puzzling. But, as Fleishman concludes:

The production of a book has changed drastically in all the particulars of how words and images move from the mind through intermediaries onto a page. But in the larger scheme, a printed book remains an object of the 1500s, with all the advantages of a process perfected across the centuries. E-books will get there. Just not today.

Pages from The Magazine: The Book

Stunning photography in The Magazine: The Book

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.