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January 2, 2019

Give new life to old texts through ebook conversion

Converting backlist titles to ebook formats is a growing trend, and for good reason

There is incredible value in converting backlist title to ebook.With the amount of digital content created growing every day, it is easy to forget that publishers have only been producing “born-digital” content for about twenty years.

There is incredible value – both for revenue and academic purposes – in the hundreds of years of backlist, print-only titles sitting on publishers’ shelves. Similarly, early digital publications created in now-obsolete software have a chance of second life through ebook conversion.

Thanks to years of experience and ever-advancing technology, converting backlist titles to ebook formats is easier than ever; and publishers are reaping the benefits of providing old content through new distribution channels.

Ebook conversion has gotten much easier

Since “digital preservation” even became feasible during the last two decades of the 20th century, the entire ebook conversion process has become very smooth overall.

OCR technology has come a long way and can achieve very high accuracy given the source content is of high quality. While handwritten texts still present some serious challenges, typeset or word processor files created with modern fonts are much easier to convert.

Publishers have had huge success in converting more modern publications (1970s – 1990s) to ebook formats.

Capitalize on ebook distribution platforms with XML

By “ebook,” we really mean any of the wide variety of ways a text can show up digitally – as a WebPDF, a string of HTML files on a website, a Kindle MOBI file, EPUB, or what we see most often, an XML file.

The many distribution channels publishers use today like Amazon, Apple, OverDrive, VitalSource, and Google Scholar, all require different file types.

Publishers need a suite of file types – different versions of the exact same publication (EPUB, MOBI, XML, WebPDF) that will “just work” anywhere. XML is the best method to ensure the underlying content is consistent and correct to achieve that goal.

While XML-first workflows have gained large-scale adoption in the last decade, there are still plenty of publishers who do not use an XML-workflow or create “born digital” publications today. That doesn’t mean ebook conversion work cannot still take place.

Thank you, STM Journals

We really have the STM community, particularly publisher initiatives working with the National Library of Medicine, to thank for helping to lay the foundation for how content could be coded full-text in a consistent manner, and, for publishers hosting online content that needed to be uniquely identified so that it could be found in web searches. The rise of CrossRef, the mandate of PubMed Central, and accessibility initiatives promoted by DAISY pushed forward core technologies and delivery platforms.

Frontlist vs. backlist conversion

The process of converting ebooks has only improved from there for both frontlist and backlist content.

The difference between frontlist and backlist ebook creation is rooted in source type and access to authors for fine-tuning. Today, most of the backlist titles Apex converts for publishers come to us either in old PDF formats or as images.

Libraries and cultural heritage preservation

Libraries working to preserve cultural heritage materials require digitization or scanning first for content preservation and condensing storage.  Microfilm digitization is a common medium for libraries who own collections of historic newspapers and books.  Conversion to XML and ebooks facilities making this content available broadly for end-users.

Keep up the good (conversion) work

Whatever you are converting, the steady evolution of markup language from SGML to HTML and now XML have made ebook conversion both a competitive business strategy and a practical method for opening information to a wider audience online.

There is a lot of content out there. Print, digital, print and digital – and it is a wonderful thing. The access we have today to research, history, and entertainment is driving medical breakthroughs that save lives, bridging gaps across cultures, and bringing joy and excitement to millions of people around the world.

If you are working on ebook conversion or other digitization projects, we would love to talk. Apex has converted over a million documents for publishers and libraries around the world. Contact us to start a conversation.

About Greg Suprock

Greg is Head of Solutions Architecture at Apex. He has over 20 years of experience in XML workflows, content management, web application development, and prepress. Greg excels at collaborative efforts to achieve project and business goals. He has developed XML workflows for the Public Library of Science, HighWire Press, The Library of Congress, and many more.

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