It’s still more common to outsource the production of ebooks than produce them in-house. This often applies even when publishers produce printed works in-house.
As we’ve seen in the section on hiring ebook designers, the skillsets needed are quite different from the print world. In addition, a very capable industry has grown up around ebook conversion, making it both efficient and cost-effective to outsource.
So does it even make sense to produce ebooks in-house?
Reasons for in-house production
There are several good reasons to consider doing some or all of your digital production in-house. Here are a few situations where good in-house systems might be better than outsourcing.
- Creative control. This can come both from carrying out the production work and from learning what is technically possible. It will become more important as we move beyond today’s simple ebooks.
- Quality control. In-house production gives the publisher more control over quality standards. As we’ll see in a later section, however, the publisher has to actively manage quality control, whether the works are produced in-house or outsourced.
- Speed to market and updates. If you produce works with tight timeframes, simultaneous release dates, topical subjects and frequent time-sensitive updates, you might find that in-house production offers you better management of the process.
- Integration with internal workflow. The publication workflow might involve several people and several revisions which are more easily coordinated internally. This will be more complex to manage if you are also producing multiple versions and formats, or working on time-sensitive material.
- Developing essential technology skills. This might be the most important reason. There is a strong argument that technology expertise will be a core skill for publishers, just as important as high-level editorial skills and physical distribution are today. We’re already seeing technology companies driving the industry and the bar is being raised as we move beyond today’s simple formats. Authors can buy the same services as professional publishers, potentially weakening a publisher’s argument to be their partner. Today’s simple ebooks are easy to outsource, making it a popular option. But they’re also relatively simple to produce in-house so it’s also a good time to build your organisation’s skill base.
- Cost savings? This is less clear and probably the worst reason to start in-house production. You might spend more initially in-house than you would with outsourced production but other considerations will justify the move. Over time, you will hopefully make cost savings.
Methods to produce ebooks in-house
There are four basic ways that publishers can produce EPUB and Kindle ebooks in-house:
- Ebook conversion software
- Print design software
- Ebook editors
- Online ebook production tools
We’ll look at these in detail in the next sections.
Each method has its advantages and disadvantages and many publishers will use more than one of them. We’ll look at each of these methods in more detail.
But first, a ‘reality check’. It’s important to bear two things in mind as you consider whether to move to in-house production and which tools to use:
- None of these systems will produce a clean, well-formatted ebook ‘out of the box‘. Many of them will make it look simple to produce an ebook, and they are. But the reality is that the ebook files these programs output need further work before they are good enough to be sold by publishers with high quality standards.
- Expect to see a lot of new and improved digital publishing tools. Development of publisher-friendly tools to produce ebooks has been slow, but we’re now seeing a rapidly evolving market as publishers shift focus from outsourcing to doing more production in-house.
Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.