So, to wit:
Downloaded a Word document (127,000 words) from an author.
2 hours to convert to HTML without a table of contents.
45 minutes to tidy the HTML (harder than you think) and create an Epub file that validates.
1 minute to generate the Mobipocket file.
5 minutes to create the table of contents for the HTML file.
More than 2 hours to discover that I can’t generate PDF with links in the Table of Contents, though obviously I can just open the HTML file and print it to PDF.
2 minutes to generate the Sony Reader file, mostly because I’m still unfamiliar with calibre’s any2lrf. It’d it be less than a minute otherwise.
2 minutes to generate the Microsoft Reader file, similarly for oeb2lit.
So basically: not counting the clueless bumbling around with respect to PDF, in three hours I created 5 (6 if you count PDF without hyperlinks, but I don’t really) ebook formats.
And I suppose some time was spent writing all this down for the blog and prosperity.
The time-eater is what I’ll call feature-filled PDF, and always has been. That’s what takes the real hours of frustration. If you only worried about the other formats, you’d be fairly set.
A book publisher who still does traditional print must of course worry about finely set PDF with all the trimmings that the physical media of a book requires—headers, footing, page numbering, left versus right pages—extreme control over the text’s appearance. But a book publisher who only sells ebooks needn’t worry about PDF at all, or at least, not PDF for book-printing. And that frees up a fair amount of time.
Save for the galley checks, of course. Nothing frees up that time. At least, not until The Singularity.
In the end, either the author or I (or heck, both!) can put the files on our download servers, with the logistics of print out of the way. There’s more effort involved if you want to sell the book behind a store front, but that’s more or less what Fictionwise, Amazon’s DTP, LuLu, and Webscriptions are for.
In case you were wondering, if you were hiring me in my full capacity, rather than just a scripter of ruby and knowledge-engine of HTML/CSS, you’d be paying me over $50 an hour. However, I think frankly you don’t need a (cheap) $50/hour programmer who normally works on large-scale highly-available internet services to do this type of stuff, and you could get away with maybe $20/hour.
In the end, it’s still $60 a book that way.
But I really hope you can sell more than 30 copies of your book at $3 a pop (being generous with the taxes here). Wil Wheaton, I hear, sold through more copies of his Sunken Treasure ebook than the print version in a few days. Perhaps even just one day.
Plus, for a book of 80,000 words or more? Thank the Kindle store, which has been consistently training people to buy new Kindle books at $10.00 a pop.
Your move, traditional publishing.