The eight teams at Rakuten Kobo who look through your EPUBs

Photo of Ben Dugas.

Ben Dugas oversees content QA and Self Publishing Operations at Rakuten Kobo. In addition to these day-to-day responsibilities, he’s also responsible for ensuring proper content display and performance quality across all of Rakuten Kobo’s reading platforms and works with the client and backend teams to make sure roadmaps are aligned with the ever-evolving needs of ebook content worldwide.

Ben Dugas will be at ebookcraft 2018, talking more about who’s looking through your EPUBs in a session called End of the Conveyor Belt: A bookstore’s perspective on quality control, support improvements, and user feedback.

Ebooks outnumber humans many times over at Kobo and, like any other present-day digital media retailer, much of the content goes from supplier to storefront automatically. Automatic, however, does not mean unfiltered. Your content goes through a series of validation checks: perpetually running algorithms built on data science and various reports all developed over years of hard work and careful consideration.

That said, there are humans (teams of humans, in fact) who spend their days looking at, testing, and pulling your ebooks apart in the never-ending pursuit of improving the reading experience or growing and maintaining the catalogue. Below I’ve provided some examples of human-ebook interactions that you’ll find happening at Rakuten Kobo on any given day.

CMS (Content Management System)

  • We’re working on new tags for incoming content and your EPUB is a good case study. The second revision is twice the size of the first EPUB we received and we want to see if the report we set up for these instances is working.

Photo of all the devices used for content review. Publisher and Kobo Writing Life (self-publishing) Operations

  • Your cat walked over your laptop before you could hit “publish” in your author dashboard. You don’t know where it went but Kobo Writing Life Ops has come to your rescue and is finding the most recent version.
  • You used “background-image” in your CSS to embed your cover image because it sounded like a fun idea at the time but our CMS couldn’t extract that cover on ingestion and now we’re looking at the product page and trying to determine why the cover is missing.

Web & store teams

  • You originally sent us an EPUB 2 file but then later you replaced it with an EPUB 3 revision, only the product page is still indicating EPUB 2. We’ve gathered some examples, including yours, to diagnose and correct this so it’s not a manual process in the future.

App & device teams

  • Your file passes EPUBCheck but for some reason you have your cover image and the introduction in the same XHTML and it’s resulted in that whole section being unreadable. We’ve extracted the file and are trying a few things and side-loading to see what does/does not trigger this behaviour. Can we fix this? If so how long will it take? How many titles are affected? Would the publishers fix them if we reported the issue?
  • We’re testing out a new feature and your title is the one Content QA pointed us to when we said we needed a fixed-layout EPUB with SVG items in the spine that reads RTL.

UX

  • Your book is an anthology and one of our designers is looking at it to see how it would benefit from a new TOC menu we’re testing out.
  • We’re experimenting with page turns and auto zoom on comics and your book has both two-page spreads and standalone pages where you have to see one page in full-screen to be able to read the text.

Partner Operations

  • A customer in Italy (or France, the Netherlands, Brazil, Spain, the UK, etc.) has purchased your book through one of our retail partners but chapter seven is missing so they’ve reported it to the retailer, who in turn has passed it on to Partner Operations. They verify the issue on one of our apps, recommend the retailer issue a refund, and pass the report on to Content QA.

Customer Care

  • A customer bought your book but it won’t open. They’re using an old but valid Motorola phone but the app is up to date and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with their wi-fi. We gather the details (ISBN, title, account, app, and version), walk the customer through the basic troubleshooting steps (restart, redownload, reboot…), and report the book to Content QA if it turns out it’s neither a user or app issue.

Content QA

  • A user alerted us to your book via their Android or iPhone because when they increased the font size it expanded the margins. Turns out you used “em” units for margin size. We take a look using matching settings and confirm the issue, so a refund is issued, the book is pulled from sale, and you receive a notice with details on the cause of the issue.
  • Someone asked us on GitHub if our recommended maximum size for images in reflowable EPUBs is really accurate as they have a client who wants to exceed it. We run a query to find some EPUBs with particularly large images and test them across all our apps and devices to see if anything breaks or if we can increase the limit we’ve listed in our guidelines.

Whether you’re a distributor, publisher, author, tool developer, or self-employed producer of ebooks, your feedback allows us to find the titles requiring our attention, which in turn drives many of the decisions we make with regards to developing our tools and reading platforms. If you have a content-related issue requiring a human-based approach we’re always happy to talk.

If you’d like to hear more from Ben Dugas about what happens to your EPUB after you’ve sent it to a retailer, register for ebookcraft, March 21-22, 2018 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for our mailing list to get all of the conference updates.