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?
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So Are Publishers Making Any Money with this Ebook Thing?

The session in which three publishers talked about process, discipline, waltzing and the vise. (Not vice)

Liisa McCloy Kelly from Random House said that making an EPUB before EPUB 3 was “like waltzing with both hands tied behind your back and a weight on one foot.” (I think of it more as Tarantella in the dark while the stage shifts constantly underfoot) She said that Random House has 5 different eBook processes, the most complex of which requires teams of product managers, HTML coders, designers, R&D and testing. She recommends encouraging designers to keep an eye on digital conversion, to think about variable sizes.

Bob Young of Lulu stated that the core value of the internet is that it connects everyone of us to everyone else. (Mostly true, but I worry about the digital divide. More tech in libraries!) The role of publishers, he went on to say, is to match people with something interesting to say with people who want to hear it.

Ken Brooks of Cengage Learning was all business. Publishers are caught in a vise, as less cash for operations meets lower profits from products. Efficiently managing process, vendors, and technology is key. If each new project requires a different flow of process, you’re dying the death of a thousand cuts. It’s better to determine one or two ways to work, and have the discipline to stick to them, “ruthless management of complexity and standards is more efficient.”

How do you determine which projects to tackle? You aim for projects that are low in complexity and costs and high in payback, and he put up a great chart:

How to Determine Which Projects to Pursue

A loose interpretation

This is a good way to visualize this common sense approach. But in this new and rapidly evolving marketplace, where do you get the data? Perhaps the scarcity of data prompted these pieces of advice also:

-Brooks recommends that we start with the end in mind, and work incrementally rather than wholesale.
-And stick to standards. “Standards represent our collective experience, you might as well benefit from what other people know.

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/

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.