Recently, I’ve seen a groundswell of articles, blog posts and comments loosely structured around the idea that “making e-books is a lot harder than you think”.
The discussion often takes place at the intersection of price (“Why do e-books cost so much?”) and process (“You don’t realize how many steps it takes to make an e-book!”). Much of the energy seems directed at defending prevailing models against consumers (and authors) who just don’t understand how hard it is to be a publisher these days.
There are credible reasons for publishers to articulate the complexities of a prevailing model, particularly when addressing authors, who may feel they could do better on their own. But there is significant risk in defending complexity while not doing anything to simplify things.
There is no good argument for process complexity. It makes workflows expensive, inflexible and more prone to failure.
The process complexity we have now grew up on our watch. Tacking on new uses, like e-books, only exposes weaknesses in the current model (like incomplete title-level metadata).
New uses also extend the existing complexity. It’s easy to focus on the work required to link title-level metadata to e-book content files, but we should be asking a different question: why aren’t we linking metadata as a matter of course for ALL content?
Without doubt, some publishers are pushing themselves to simplify. They are looking at the full range of uses, current and expected, and planning content workflows that write data and metadata once and then transform it downstream.
But most complaints seem to accept the complexity. After all, it’s easy to be hard.