Friday, July 13, 2012

e-Book conversions

I've yet to purchase one of the proprietary e-book readers so I can't speak from personal experience, but  botched conversions appear to be commonplace.  If you browse through Amazon listings, there are many 1-star reviews of otherwise fine books that refer solely to the deficiencies of the e-book version formatting.  You get these kinds of complaints often in the software world, where it can be difficult for developers to take into account the almost infinite combination of PC hardware configurations, but the readers do not have this problem.  I seem to recall a tweet from a publisher referring to an article explaining why these conversions are much more difficult to do right than one might suppose (wish I had read it!).

Anyway, for those of you who have ordered new release Civil War e-books, what has your experience been like so far?  Have publishers been able to format text, illustrations, maps, footnotes, etc. to your satisfaction?


  1. I've purchased ebook versions of many books, both Civil War and otherwise. I rarely have had an issue with formatting. Occasionally, an i might be translated to an l or something like that but it's never a problem. I no longer purchase hard copies of books; my library was full and I like carrying around lots of books not to mention with my trifocals ereaders are much easier to read. I will read on my iTouch, Kindle, Kindle fire, or laptop depending on where I am and appreciate the resume across each platform. Kobo, Play Books (Google) and B&N, which I also use, don't work quite as well as the Kindle software.

  2. For the most part, I have not been pleased with the formatting of nonfiction books on e-book readers. My biggest complaint are publishers (and they seem to be many) that do not hyperlink the endnote numbers. If they did so, then with a click you could navigate to the endnote, but without it you have to make your way to the endnote section. Tedious. On my Kindle, the maps are often in such a small format that they are quite difficult to read. As a result, it's been quite some time since I have purchased a nonfiction book for my Kindle. With time, I'm sure the situation will improve. I have noticed botched conversions on books--particularly those that are free or for a minimal cost.

    1. The way endnotes are handled can be a problem. The books I've read all had hyperlinked endnotes but they were at the end of the book, so the "furthest page read" is always the end of the book at the endnote rather than where you were actually reading. I would much prefer to have them at the bottom of the page, but that would prevent changing the font size, an important consideration. For now, the benefits far outweigh the negatives, IMO. It's so nice to be able to read a 1000 page book in bed on an ereader without breaking one's elbows.

    2. Thanks for your thoughts everyone. It appears that the way notes are handled are still problematic. I hadn't thought of zoomability for maps. Trying to view a battlefield tour book or atlas on a 7 in. screen without this ability sounds frustrating.

  3. I have read and worked with a lot of nonfiction ebooks on my Kindle Fire. My main complaint is not being able to zoom into maps. Most maps on a 7 inch ereader are too small to be legible. My workaround has been to look at the maps from the laptop, but still not the best.
    I have also experienced OCR glitches, particularly in public domain texts. Sometimes it's easy to figure it out, sometimes not.
    With endnotes, I am able to use the "back arrow" on the K Fire to return to the text after reading the endnote.
    Dick T, KC, MO

  4. At Savas Beatie, we work hard on our digital conversions. A lot depends on (1) The type of reader you have (vis a vis the content of the title you are purchasing) (2) The company doing the converting, and (3) The final internal reviewing process (which can take as long as the converting). Many companies skip the last step--they convert and sell and issues be damned.

    The entire paper to digital is all a learning curve for everyone and while it was steep in the beginning, it is beginning to level out a bit.

    Thankfully, the advent of better tablets is making it easier to expand and use maps to advantage (a must with most Savas Beatie titles). We are keenly aware of that, as well as how footnotes are displayed.

    Still, I am old fashioned. I don't mind holding a 600-page book in bed and reading. In fact, I like it better than an e-reader. But when I am traveling . . . it is nice to have 50 books in a thin tablet.

    We would appreciate hearing any feedback, at any time, about our e-books (or any books, for that matter.)

    Theodore P. Savas
    Managing Director

  5. I think Mr. Savas nailed it - the quality really depends on the conversion. I've been lucky; my publisher got a great company to convert my titles, and they look fantastic.

    Still, even with a so-so conversion, you're not totally out of luck.

    I have the basic Kindle, and I don't know what I'd do without it now. Yes, a few of the free or $0.99 titles have some formatting issues. But having Lincoln's complete writings, the memoirs of Grant, Davis, Douglass, Gordon, etc. at my fingertips for close to nothing? I'll deal with any headaches.

    Also, to clear something up... the Kindle is zoomable. A few months ago, Savas Beatie's Gettysburg atlas was offered for a discount price. I wasn't optimistic, but I tried it. I think it looks great, all things considered, and it's better than lugging the book around the battlefield. If you know the features on your e-reader, you can make it work.

  6. The conversion technology is still immature and takes a lot of hand work. I've been trying to have my sharpshooter book converted for a while now and it still isn't right. Page numbers and footnotes are a perennial problem, as are maps, some of which disappear without a trace. Converting all-text books is fairly easy, converting ones in more complex scholarly format are definitely not! As Mr. Savas says, each one still has to be gone thru by hand.

    1. Hi Fred,
      It is surprising that the conversion software isn't more advanced (or user friendly?) at this point. One would have thought it would be a common priority.


    2. I would offer it is pretty sophisticated given the few years this has been a priority, but like ALL software it still requires human interaction, review, testing, and deployment. It is the human interactive process that is being short-shrifted in my opinion.


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