I am agog. I am aghast. (Yes, I listened to the Les Misérables soundtrack a bit too much growing up. Another post for another day.)
When I first read that Allen Ginsberg's Collected Poems would soon be available as an eBook, I immediately worried about formatting. It's not a secret that various digital book formats have had typos, spelling errors and odd pagination issues. But an entire collection that includes Howl? A classic poem that at its very core relies upon line breaks? I worried. Yet another part of me thought, well good on them. Surely no one would deign to digitally publish Howl without being sure that formatting was properly sorted.
Yesterday brought news that all my format fretting was not in vain, as Howl looks like hell on Kindle.
I tweeted my frustration. Others did too. What does this say for eBooks if we can't get basic things like formatting right? Why create such hullabaloo around this digital release if you hadn't properly checked formatting on every device? Why is it that publishing sits so far outside the norms of what is required to launch something digital?
I've spent my entire career working at digital agencies. I have war stories about site launches that would make you weep. At any digital agency responsible for launching digital stuff there is Q&A. Tons of it. On multiple platforms. In multiple browsers. We have entire teams devoted to it. We don't launch with errors or people get fired. We don't launch with errors or clients lose sales. We don't launch with errors that anger our clients' customers. They look bad, we look bad. The customers get mad. It's triple bad. So we have systems in place to prevent these errors. If there are too many errors and we're nearing launch date? Guess what? We work all night for weeks on end to fix it or we move the launch date. We don't just ship and cross our fingers.
But I was getting worked up and yesterday was long. Eventually, my frustration subsided after several long Twitter sessions and I focused on other important things. Like launching sites without errors. And reading James Salter's Dusk and Other Stories which cracked me wide open with its devastatingly clean stories full of ache.
This morning brought news that the reason Howl looks like hell on Kindle is because HTML is hard. See paragraph above. We don't just ship and cross our fingers. And we sure as hell don't say that there were mistakes because building websites is hard. Why? Because we should not be in the business of building websites (or launching digital books) if we don't know what we're doing. Period.
So why is publishing, now playing the digital game, somehow outside these basic digital launch tenets? Surely they have folks who build their websites. Agencies who launch every author site, hound litbloggers to write about the latest book touted in their ePressReleases, build and code their next viral book trailer. So why can't these same teams help Howl out?
What am I missing? Is there some cosmically difficult step in turning a digital file into an eBook that renders basic HTML code unreadable? Who is advising these publishers on fixing this problem? Today's revelation that HTML is hard and that there are no resources to help out is laughable. Quality HTML coding skills are among the cheapest and most plentiful to find. So why is this so difficult?
What. Am. I. Missing?
Update: I was recently directed to this insightful piece on eReader incompetence - it adds a much-needed additional layer to the discussion as it touches on formatting issues of digital magazines and iPad apps for those magazines. The piece also states quite plainly what we've been discussing in the comments: "If most ereading software doesn't offer a better experience than simple HTML and CSS, why are so many publishers reinventing the wheel?" Indeed. Definitely worth a read, especially as we wrestle with eBook formatting that finds HTML and CSS to be a challenge.