Bookbuilders of Boston is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing together people involved in book publishing and manufacturing throughout New England. Our blog describes industry events that we sponsor or attend.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 22 Forum Continued: E-Problems

[This is a guest post by Victor Curran of Precision Graphics. The subject is the first presentation at Bookbuilders' March 22 Forum, "E-Problems: Old files, E-books, Ideas and Limitations" at Emerson College. Please see Jamie Carter's post below for the second and third presentations.]

Karen Greenleaf, head of Business Development at VPG Integrated Media, spoke about digital content in the K-12 and higher education markets (VPG's clientele is about 60% K-12 and 30% higher ed). She pointed out the resistance of college students to ebooks, because the ebook versions of college texts cost about as much as used copies of printed texts, and because their professors often require them to buy a license to a learning management system which includes the ebook content anyway.

VPG recommends a browser-based ebook model using Flash and HTML. This allows content to be optimized for whatever device the student chooses to view it on (laptop, e-reader, smartphone, tablet).

She pointed out the limitations of a mobile app to deliver educational content, but conceded its appeal to the market, saying "It's limited, but boy, it sure is slick!"

She gave the audience its biggest laugh of the evening by showing "The Electronic Publishing Bingo Card," the creation of author/critic/blogger John Scalzi, in which he lampoons the many wrongheaded ideas that publishers (and others) have about ebooks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Second March Forum: E-Problems

Full disclosure: I wasn't on my game last night. I was unable to join in time for the first presenter, and I forgot my camera. However, I was able to capture a lot of useful information!

The second speaker, Senior Book Designer from Adams Media, was Colleen Cunningham. Colleen described challenges experienced at Adams with the advent of electronic publications:
  • Editors are encouraged to make content "e-friendly." Among other things, this means referencing chapters or sections instead of page numbers.
  • There are special considerations for art in e-pubs. Because of file size restrictions, e-books may lack art that is available in a print equivalent.
  • E-book production cannot be absorbed into the existing print workflow. Additional resources are required, most notably for tagging and QC.
  • Back-of-the-book marketing is more complicated in e-books because of the need to link to multiple provider sites (Amazon, B&N, etc.).
  • An "e-book only" imprint evolved at Adams, using a separate workflow.
  • Restrictions are imposed by certain platforms (e.g., Kindle). Other platforms present opportunities (Apple/multimedia).
  • Metadata feeds to vendors are separate and unique, requiring new staff.
  • There are promising features available in apps, but these require extensive marketing.
Colleen ended with a topic now near to my heart: a reminder that pieces permissioned for print may require additional rights or fees for inclusion in an e-publication. It came to my mind that this will be especially problematic for backlist, since components are not called out and are more difficult to research.

Speaker number three was Bill Trippe, Vice President at Outsell. Outsell provides marketing research for publishers, and their report, "A Blueprint for Book Publishing Transformation," is available for free (account creation required).  The study covers the effects of electronic publishing throughout the production workflow: in planning, editorial/production, rights/royalties, promotion, sales, manufacturing, and distribution.

Highlights from Bill's presentation:
  • Content consumption on smartphones will be important. In the fourth quarter of 2010, smartphone sales exceeded computer sales for the first time. Some people in the world will experience the Internet for the first time on a smartphone.
  • The iPad is also significant. Its adoption rate is faster than any other device in history, and iPad users are demonstrated consumers of paid content.
  • E-book conversion vendors are becoming partners in the publishing process: close collaboration as opposed to a hand-off.
The Q&A portion of the forum is always interesting, and there was a half hour available for this. Questions covered many different aspects of the publishing process:
  • DRM practices (primarily handled by the device manufacturer, with difficulties noted in the academic market).
  • Adoption of e-textbooks (certain fields of study convert faster than others; some public schools lack funds for hardware; some students favor print because the spatial arrangement of content influences their recall).
  • Poetry in electronic format (workarounds required for multiple-column display on the Kindle).
  • XML workflow and portability of content ("XML-First" workflow is still rare, but "XML-Early" is becoming more common).
  • Impact of different channels on designers (iPad suggests twice as much design work because each "page" can be viewed vertically and horizontally).
  • ISBN challenges (a unique ISBN for the same title in multiple platforms?).
  • Moving backlist titles to electronic format (seen as important but quality control suffers with title count).
This was the last Bookbuilders forum until the fall. Please comment on this post with suggestions for future educational topics.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring Forum: Children's Publishing Today

Last night's forum on children's publishing was well-received by 100+ attendees gathered at Emerson College. Panel participants (l-r) were Amy Pattee, Associate Professor at Simmons and author of Reading the Adolescent Romance; Mary Wilcox, VP and Editorial Director of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children and HMH Books; and Yolanda Scott, Editorial Director of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Yolanda and Mary described the various types of children's books being published, from picture books to early readers and YA (young adult) novels. There was also discussion of business processes at Charlesbridge and Houghton Mifflin, very different companies in size and scope. The core function of the editorial department as "list builder" (i.e., spring list, fall list) was common to both, as was passion for the material and adherence to high literary standards in acquisition.

Amy's overview of her recently published book was popular--the title focuses on an interpretation of the Sweet Valley High series for young teenagers. The analysis emphasized that children's literature often deals with dream scenarios that allow readers to experience lives others than their own. In some cases the dreams are designed by adults as models for the children, but in others the dreams express the children's own desires.
The Q&A portion of the forum was also popular, with interest in the following topics:
  • E-books in the library setting (reference to Harper Collins controversy, new to me and very interesting)
  • Weight of digital considerations in editorial process (currently not essential to acquisition)
  • Simultaneous release of print and e-product (adopted by Charlesbridge)
  • Concerns regarding piracy (in this genre, sometimes considered to enhance discoverability)
  • Difficulty of bringing nonfiction titles (esp. backlist) to electronic form because of costly permissions
  • Interest in Spanish-language translations (produced by both publishers)
  • Concern about Borders' closing stores and decline of brick-and-mortar retailers
The question of brick-and-mortar viability comes up at almost every event I attend, and more and more in casual conversation as well. Publishers appreciate the importance of "hand selling" and hate to think of it going away. More to the point, they don't know what will replace it. Readers as well have a sense that the physical store, particularly an independent store, is a valuable part of their literary life. For an interesting demonstration of readers' commitment to an independent store in action, read about a proposed customer buyout of Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, NY.