The Coolest eProduction Stuff I Could Find

In which I learn a fixed-width EPUB previewing workflow from an expert, and the CSS Regions demo makes my jaw drop.

Between the technical sessions, I spoke with a woman from the audience who had answered an iBooks question. It turns out she works for Apple, and kindly shared her fixed-width EPUB proofing workflow with me. I haven’t tried it yet, if you try it, let me know how it works!

<!– thanks to everyone for the feedback, steps have been updated 6.3 –>

  1. In the CSS, define dimensions for the body. Its easiest if these dimensions match the viewport dimensions. Also define a border on the body. This will outline the page, making it easier to place the elements on the page. Remove this border before publishing the book. body { width: 400px; height: 300px; border: thin solid red;}
  2. Once everything is previewing well in Safari on the desktop, preview in Safari on the iPad simulator. You shouldn’t need to change much if anything in this step. iOS Simulator is part of XCode and is available from developer.apple.com and and the Mac App store, free to registered developers and 4.99 from the App store. Note, Mac OS X 10.6.6 is  required. (I will have to skip this step until I’m ready for a system upgrade)
  3. Finally, load the EPUB into iBooks. If you need to make iterations, change the title of the book to circumvent iBook’s cacheing.
The Future of EPUB session was eye candy.
IDPF is moving the EPUB standard forward trying to balance accessibility and the high standards of magazine creative directors with input from DAISY and IDEAlliance.
One application of adding metadata to parts of magazines would be to repurpose content. For instance, a retrospective book with all articles and images about a celebrity would be quick and relatively easy to create from an archive of digital magazines with metadata at the article level. (especially if the article is structured and uses stylesheets consistently)

Complex layouts with reflowable text and JavaScript interaction.

Take THAT custom apps!

CSS 3 Regions from Adobe looks fabulous. This article from Adobe explains further, and the WebKit-based prototype is available for download.
Any suggestions for explaining to my business partner why I can’t do billable work because I’m geeking out playing with CSS3 Regions?
Advertisements

eProduction Jumpstart

EasyPress and Adobe highlight their best features, Joshua Tallent convinces me to buy his book, and I’m guessing no one knows which workflow is most efficient without trying them all.

The morning tech session focused on case studies of eBook conversion. First up was James MacFarlane of the cloud-based auto conversion service EasyPub from EasyPress. This web-based platform looked like it did a pretty fair job of converting files, although in a one-on-one demo the day before, there had been a glitch. McFarlane suggested starting with an Indesign file with style sheets universally applied (all of your backlist documents are totally style-sheeted right?), both character and paragraph sheets are acceptable to the system. The file is uploaded to your client portal, and you map document styles to CSS styles using a point and click interface. Then the file is automatically converted for all eReaders, except Nook, which requires an extra process.

Kiyo Toma from Adobe showed off InDesign 5.5s snazzy new EPUB export features. Lots less code junk, human readable-line breaks, no more anchoring images (woot!!!), image optimization improvements, image spacing you can set in InDesign. Lots of the #eprdctn folks on Twitter have bought the InDesign update, and love it. Is it faster than starting from scratch and hand coding your document? I’m not sure. It’s certainly an advantage to have one document for both print and web, it would make corrections and iterations easier to implement and track. Many current eBook production workflows are blends of automatic conversion and hand coding-fix ups. I’ll be curious to see how the InDesign 5.5 workflow stacks up to that in terms of cost and efficiency.

Joshua Tallent of eBook Architects suggests this Kindle workflow: ePub>remove fonts>add guide to OPF>minimize CSS>remove borders>add page breaks. Joshua was also passionate about the need for good document structure and human-readable code as the best ways to a) provide accessibility and b) future proof your documents. My last note from this session is “Buy Joshua’s damn book.” So I plan to.

One participant raised the question, “Can you just write the html from scratch like a website?” Which kind of brought the panel discussion to a halt. Of course you can. I find it much easier than cleaning up the code from Adobe 4.o, especially for a fixed-width title. Figuring out which CSS tags work well in browsers but are not supported in reading system x or y or z, that’s kind of another story. Would it be more efficient and cost-effective to use the EasyPub service or upgrade to InDesign 5.5? Hard to say. Start small and fail fast? Begin with what you know and build from there?

Just start doing what you know how to do and innovate around that.

Greg Bear and Neal Stephenson of Subutai explain the natural progression from hand-to-hand combat to innovative publishing business model.

An interest in antique weaponry and a forgotten tradition of western hand-t0-hand combat led science fiction author Greg Bear to the theme and story line of the Mongoliad project. On the way, he and his partners developed PULP,  the “Personal Ubiquitous Literary Platform.” PULP is is billed as connected publishing, and in their keynote session, Bear and Stephenson contended that content as service is the only viable business model when piracy is ubiquitous: “create an experience that can’t be pirated.”

After finding a funding partner and business mentor, (and fellow antique weapon enthusiast), Bear and Stephenson began creating an online experience with serialized content. Members and fans are encouraged to contribute writing and art, all consistent with the “canon,” the settings and characters originally developed by the writers.

At first the main access to the Mongoliad was on the web, but now, one subscription price allows readers (fans? users? community members? mongols?) to use any device for access.

PULP uses open source components for quicker updates and expansion, and hosts the service in Amazon Cloud the which had a famous failure recently. Even with those efficiencies, Neal Stephenson admitted that “easy to use is hard to do.”

With the PULP platform, it seems Subutai would like us all to make a connected publishing community. The website states: “PULP transforms fiction into franchise by building bridges between publishers, fans, artists, and the stories, characters, and universes that help them define themselves.” Just add a great story, some ads, a wiki, fan fic and fan art. As the Subutai team said, “Each book is a micro business venture.”

Addendum 5/30/11: Paul Biba wrote a great review of this session:
http://www.teleread.com/paul-biba/idpf-annual-meeting-keynote-the-mongoliad-year-one/

It was kind of pointed for a roundtable

A discussion to which Richard Nash (Red Lemonade) was late, snarky, and eventually won me over.

It was billed as “Publishers’ Roundtable: Execs discuss agency and other recent events” on Monday at the Digital Book 2011 Conference put on by the <IDPF>.

Dominique Raccah, of SourceBooks started the discussion with some facts, 42% of books sold are Adult, 25% are Juvenile. (The remainder would be YA, Textbooks? I’m not sure I got the numbers right). How fast, she wondered, can we find a platform for juvi? As pictures and pedagogic tools become part of the platform, we will see more [juvi] integration.

Richard Nash piped up with “Don’t look too hard at the data—in 3 years we’ll see the end of the eBook as a product.” Hmm.

DR: Its about the experience—and we haven’t found a way to enhance the experience—we keep taking readers out of stories, not immersing them.

RN: Enhanced eBooks are a price-protection scheme. We are left with publishers aping video game designers.

DR: Richard, we didn’t do it for that—we are in an exploratory space—we need to blow up the book.

Dominique went on to say that the average POD title sells 200 copies. She expects the next conversation to be “How do self-publishers get what they need?” She explained that artists require fans, people who will evangelize their work and spread the word.

Apps, she said, are a transitional form non-fiction. I cling to this.

Richard Nash’s rallying cry was libraries: “For the 18 million Americans engaged in creative writing each year, libraries can become community centers for discovering tools to connect writers to readers.”  I applauded. So did one other brave soul.

Evan Schnittman of Bloomsbury made a good point about piracy: “Cloud solutions eliminate 90% of the casual piracy—its a good business model. Let’s not punish consumers for us not giving them reasonable ways to access their material.”

Digital Book 2011-the first session

The week in which, despite predictions, the world didn’t end, so we figured we’d keep making eBooks.

I was lucky enough to attend International Digital Publishers Association <IDPF> conference, Digital Book 2011. The next few blog entries are based on copious notes fueled by atrocious coffee served by some very nice people at the Javitz Center in Manhattan.

Kobo announced a snazzy looking new e-Ink device. Michael Tamblyn of Kobo Books gave us facts and figures: book sales saw an 8% growth last year, 15-22% growth in digital book sales. Common price points for non-agency books were $9.99 for best-sellers, $7.99 for mass market, and new sales were coming in a $2.99, $3.99, even $.99. (Not sure I get the agency model, more here: ebookreadersresource.com)

Self-publishing grew, 7% of the total unit sales.

And tablets didn’t kill e-Ink devices. It turns out that at this time, the e-Ink customer is worth more, as they purchase 15% more books than tablet owners, giving them a greater lifetime value of 66-126%.

These trends are global.

He identified 2010 as the year we got the reading experience right (easy for you to say, try making a cross-platform EPUB with no errors) and in 2011, we will go on to create the ultimate reader experience. On that hopeful note, he showed us a demo of “Reading Life,” Kobo’s answer to social reading.  I’d love to try this.

Abe Murray from Google Books described reading platform statistics for their customers in a mathematically challenging way:

1/4 read on the web
1 in 4 read on phones
1 in 5 use eReaders
the rest use tablets

Best I can figure, that makes 25% web, 25% phones, 20% eReaders and 30% tablets.  Was he trying to avoid saying the 30% tablet part? I know Google folks are way smarter than me, so I keep going over the math in my head . . .

Lastly, Yoshinobu Noma, of The Electronic Book Producers of Japan, showed slides of a beautiful eBook of haunting photos, donated by the artists, showing the devastation in Japan. I think the English title is 3/11.

Mr. Noma said “We don’t have to make a choice between electronic and print books,” and said that EBPAJ strives to cultivate both.