Conversion and Development

Conversion is taking a print product and turning it into a digital file, which can in turn be manipulated to become part of a CD-ROM database or a new print product. Development is taking those digital files and creating a new product, usually electronic. Ideally the content will be coded during conversion with SGML codes that identify the content elements, making it easier for those new digital files to flow into the design template created by the developer. Sometimes it's hard to know whether you need a developer before you convert the data, so that the DTD (Document Type Definition) will be perfectly suited to the electronic product currently being planned, or whether you should get the conversion going immediately and take your time deciding on the right developer later. If you have a large amount of material to convert — whether by keyboarding or by scanning — that process should start as soon as possible. Ideally, you will have a developer on the project soon, so that the developer and the conversion house can communicate. Before choosing among developers, check their references.

Conversion is amazingly accurate. Editors will be dubious, but keyboarding and scanning are both guaranteed at 99.995 percent accuracy. To avoid any possible lapse in Scribner editorial quality, we had all of the newly keyboarded Dictionary of American Biography printed out, and one of our senior editors offered proofreaders a flat fee for proofreading each impressive stack on the floor of his office; he inspired proofreaders to read quickly by writing the fee on top of each stack, $1,200 on taller stacks and $800 on shorter ones, for example. All 19,173 biographies were read in record time. I thought that strategy was terribly clever, but in retrospect I must admit that a thorough read was not needed. Mostly all the proofreaders found were decades-old editing oddities.

One must be aware, however, that glitches can creep in when the converted files are plugged into the design template for the new product. A careful review is necessary at each stage of the process. For example, we have found that italics in headings might vanish or verse extracts might appear misaligned. One can anticipate some of those problems but not all of them.

If you have typesetting tapes available for the books you want to convert, go ahead and try to get the conversion house to use them. But they will probably tell you that stripping out the old codes and replacing them is more costly than starting from scratch. I am told that that is because typesetting files are often inconsistent, undocumented, use nonstandard coding, and may have been prepared sloppily. It is important to implement well-structured and consistent composition in the production of future print products, to create typesetting files that can actually be used for more than creating one print product. To use SGML coding at the start is the best way to go.