Monday, December 27, 2010

Amazon Student

In case anyone else out there is buying some books today, I just learned you can get a year of Amazon Prime free if you have a .edu address. It took me about thirty seconds to register, and now I get free two day shipping.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tales from the Self-Publisher

As professionals, it is helpful to know our industry and the people we serve (i.e., readers, and sometimes authors). As publishers, it is helpful to be aware of the entities competing for our respective niches. Self-publishing has in recent years become a more viable competitor to traditional publishing, especially for trade books, and the number of reasons behind the decision to self-publish is as high as the number of authors turning to self-publishing to realize their goals. Perhaps in learning these reasons lies the way to help publishers survive the sea change and come out intact on the other side.

Last April, Colin Sandel self-published Tales from the Securemarket(tm), a sci-fi/fantasy romantic comedy novel. This in and of itself is not terribly unusual; after all, the decentralization of the publishing market has made such a thing almost commonplace. However, less commonly, Sandel has enjoyed a bit of success in his venture; while he claims that he has sold "a statistically insignificant number of books," as of this writing he has personally sold over 100 print copies of Tales in person, and has reached more readers by making the entire work available online, for free.

Sandel's Tales actually began through a blog he keeps for a series of short stories written in the same universe as Tales, the Age of Corporations. As he kept writing in that environment, responding to requests to portray the lives of everyday people in it, he eventually realized that "[he] had written half a novel and still had plenty of plot arc left to resolve."

Once the novel was written, the author decided he wanted to share it with more than just the blog's readers. However, as Sandel explains, he didn't trust himself to have the patience to go through the traditional publishing process: "I had written a book. I wanted it out there.... I saw (after my first round of rejection letters from agents) that there was a very real danger that receiving a second round of such letters would put me in danger of losing so much momentum that I never picked up the project again. Self-publishing was a route by which I could actualize my project without the danger of losing momentum while waiting for someone to notice it."

This taking-notice seems to be a guiding principle for him: "it's more important to me that my work be read and experienced than that I make a living off of having written it." To this end, Sandel and a few volunteers (in particular Dani Church, cited as patron and publisher) have made the entire 300-page book available in HTML and PDF formats online.

"A lot of people don’t like to read on a screen, but won’t buy a book without knowing a little bit about what it's like. Having the book available in full on the site means that they can get a taste of the book, then have a physical copy when they’re willing to commit to reading it," says Sandel.

The biggest driver of sales, however, has been of the person-to-person variety. Far and away, the biggest sales have come from author-hosted events and bigger convention events related to the book. Sandel ran a live-action role-playing game (LARP) at Intercon J set in a Securemarket like the one in Tales, and "even though the LARP didn't go as well as I wanted, I sold 35 books." Most of the marketing for Tales has come from word-of-mouth, and by publicly planning parties; people outside of the author’s personal network have bought the book because he mentioned it on a blog and people followed his link.

The blogosphere's role in this is rather unsurprising: "My initial target audience was somewhat geeky, the critical intersection of sci-fi/fantasy nerds with fans of Kevin Smith movies," Sandel explains. "In truth, my real audience for the book seems much wider. Something about 'sci-fi/fantasy romantic comedy' seems like it should scream 'niche market,' but some of my best compliments have come from the parents of my little brother’s high school friends, and one from a lady in her sixties, who called the book 'so realistic.'"

When asked about what he might do differently now that the book has been out for several months, Sandel replied, "Not a whole lot. I think it went very well. As a publisher, Dani did an amazing job. I worked really hard on editing and so did my volunteer friends. I guess the only other thing I can think of is that I probably would have done well to push harder on advertising. Getting on the reading list for Arisia 2010 would have been very valuable. I plan on doing so for Arisia 2011, and hopefully other cons too."

Having learned a few lessons from this process, it's no surprise that Sandel has several plans for future projects. Right now he's working to expand exposure for Tales through further marketing and cons, as well as adding formats:

"I've been meaning to convert [Tales] to ePub for a while now, and have that available too. There’s a PDF version available on the site right now....I also plan on recording an audiobook, although I haven’t yet decided how exactly I want to handle distribution. It'll take up a lot of my time and it'd probably be wise to charge for it somehow." He's considering a "ransom" model to monetize the audiobook effort. In a "ransom" model, an author solicits donations for a work in progress on the premise that once donations reach a certain threshold, a new installment will be released, usually free of charge. The concept as previously been successful for some webcomic artists, as well as some independent role-playing game publishers.

Sandel is not against the idea of publishing future projects in the traditional way, although he says he would be very wary about losing creative rights: "I’ve heard some serious horror stories. But I have no real problems with the idea, and it certainly wouldn’t pay me less."

Tales from the Securemarket (tm) is available through Amazon and through the book's website. The website also has a link at the bottom to contact Colin Sandel directly.

Author's Note, in the interest of transparency: Colin is a friend of mine, and has been for a few years. I attended one of the aforementioned author events last summer, and I own a copy of his book. Many thanks to Colin for taking the time to let me pick his brain on the process behind the publication.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Get Your Fashion On...

For this project, team Epsilon decided to create a website based on what most ladies love--fashion--and so Capitol Style was born. Next, it was decided that our site should focus on the fashion scene here in Washington, D.C. After looking at a variety of fashion websites like and, we decided on a basic layout for our site based on these sites. Our team liked how easy these sites were to navigate and how the layout showcased the fashion.

Our next task was to divide the pages among the members our team. We took a look at various stories, photos, and blog posts and used what we thought was significant to our site. In some cases we developed our own stories based on trends and events we thought we worth covering. We decided on a basic format, and made the formatting of text and content on each page similar. Overall, the largest hurdle was making the formatting of each page identical. We hope you enjoy our website (and get some fashion inspiration!).

Friday, November 12, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

and by that I mean not an ePub file... but rather this hilarious proposal to a potential publisher on McSweeney's.

Have a good weekend folks!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

EPUB editors - a recipe for consternation

Season and Debbie did a ton of work over the last couple of days to perfect our chocolate cookbook in the EPUB format. It's continually astounding to realize how much variance exists within a "standard" applied by so many platforms! As a group, we had devoted significant energy to determining how we wanted our content to present, and following through on that promise took a significant amount of back-end tinkering as well. After coming up with a lot of workarounds, we're up, fucntioning, validated, and looking good on a few platforms. Looking forward to seeing everyone's product tonight!

-Rob (for the ePUB Bees)

Old Mr. Toad Wasn’t the Only One Who Had an Adventure...

During the final stage of production, we focused on the completion of our product through the validation, proofreading, and packaging phases. Much like the previous week, we divided the work among the team members to complete tasks more quickly and efficiently. The first step was to finish the HTML coding and the accompanying CSS. We incorporated a variety of different design elements so that are final product would be easy to read as well as aesthetically pleasing to our audience. We also block displayed the images to ensure that they did not run over any of the text. Next, we cleaned up the HTML files to ensure that our document was well-formed. Once this task was completed, two team members tackled the validation of the HTML file. In the final phase of production, we packaged our files and tested them across different programs.

Overall, the production process ran smoothly, though we did experience a few problems during validation, particularly with the images. Once we were able to put the images in the correct class and replace all quotation marks and special characters throughout the text to display properly, we were able to package our eBook; however, problems still arose. We are able to view our ebook through various eReaders, but our CSS shows up inconsistently. We are unsure as to why this is occurring, but believe it is rooted in our CSS selections and their compatibility with different readers.

Although somewhat tedious and challenging at times, we feel that this project enabled us to evaluate errors and problem solve in the creation of a successful Epub file.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fallen Down the Rabbit Hole!

Luckily, we have had more success than Poor Alice. We have successfully uploaded an epub file (created in SIGIL/valid on threepress epub validator), a basic CSS file, and a cover image created by Corey that we have all made comments on. Prateeksha tested the epub file on Google Chrome eReader and Calibre and it works, so we are optimistic that our team work will lend itself to success on Yelba's iPad and Kindle.

The challenges we have had to face while creating this epub file have luckily been few, and we were able to address a lot of them in class as a group and by sending messages through BaseCamp. I am going to run through a final edit read before Tuesday's class to make sure our coding didn't go wonky as we noticed in earlier versions. The CSS looks good, thanks to Randy and Yelba's mad skills and has changed the look and feel of the original copy we pulled from Authorama making this particular edition feel more like a new and awesome work created by Team E. 

We are all looking forward to hearing feedback from the other teams about our ePublication of Alice in Wonderland as well as seeing what you've been able to create.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chocolate Recipe E-Book!

Currently, our e-book team (Season, Rob, Debbie, and myself) is working on editing/proofing the structure of the e-book's content i.e. reformatting recipes and so on (Rob has taken the lead on editing). We have completed our CSS, but will also make a final edit and then match it to our edited XHTML file to make sure it validates properly. Once this is done, we will again convert the edited pieces into the Epub and revalidate. We are also commencing our e-book device testing this weekend as well (test on Ipad, Kindle, etc.). As many of you may have noticed, everytime we place any changes to our CSS and XHTML files, we know revalidating is extremely necessary to continue any portion of the project to just note. Lastly, BaseCamp has been a useful communicative tool for our team thus far, and we are also using Campfire as a chat tool so we may collectively work via chat this weekend.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Question/Survey for the Cohorts

So since at least some of you are in STM publishing and/or are involved in operations where there are telecommuters (or off-site reviewers, or other people not physically in your work space) involved, I figured I would attempt to pick the collective brain about ways of going about tracking edits to content from many collaborators:

How do your places of work handle the workflow, especially with lots of collaborators/editors? Is there particular software in place on your servers (that is preferably less unwieldy than Word/Excel)?

Does your workplace's method rely on in-person/on-site contact? How well does your method work as far as the users are concerned?

I've been temping (mostly copyediting and proofing work) for the last month or so and I've been to several sites over that time, and there seem to be quite a few publications departments out there that are looking to streamline their content systems so that they aren't anywhere near as chaotic in tracking multiple editing passes and the like; does anyone's workplace have a particularly good way to manage this?

Like I said, I'm particularly interested in the STM folks and the telecommuters (my background is in directories where we did a lot of our work and content generation on-site), but if anyone's got something that works, I'd be interested to hear about it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Dubliners

So, The Dead is actually a story within the Dubliners... but you get the picture. We are working on this ebook of all the stories, and I think it's getting kind of confusing. Although, it might just be me. I am having problems with the CSS! Also, I really do not know what files need to be included. When we looked through the zipped folder of an epub a few weeks ago in class, there were all these elements that I remember each epub had to have... certain file extensions and containers telling the ereader the type of content, etc. However, I do not know what all those elements are, nor do I understand how to create those elements! My group is going to talk about it more tomorrow night in class. Nevertheless, I can actually view our ebook in Calibre, and that's pretty neat!

Oh, Alice!

Great minds think alike! Group D, "The Dementors," (Amy, Elizabeth, Kat, and Lindsey) chose Lewis Carroll, as Shelby's group did. We chose the Through the Looking Glass portion of his classic book though. We chose this book because both the text and the original illustrations are in the public domain. We also got our html from authorama.

We've had a lot of success using zoho for our project management. As you will hear again in class tomorrow... we have compiled all the html chapters into one file and are currently working on validating it. We have been having lots of problems with the "pre" tag, which the validator doesn't seem to like. The "pre" tag is quite important though, as it allows us to retain the line breaks and white spaces in the various poems that are in Through the Looking Glass. Currently the poems appear exactly as they do in the printed books, and we would like to keep them this way if possible. So we will need to find out how to replace the "pre" tags with something that validates.

Additionally, we've got a preliminary CSS design and a cover image chosen. All that's left is to finish validating, link to the images, design the cover image, and test the ebook on two different readers.

The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad

Group A (Devon Carter, Brooke Morris, Heather Norton, Ryan Reeh, and Sarah Weisse)

Our group began by developing a project plan based on specific goals and division of responsibilities.

We first determined our criteria for selecting a title. We agreed by vote that we would like to work with a book that contained images, dialogue, block quotes, and chapter divisions. We decided to develop the CSS based on classes for styling chapter names, chapter numbers, chapter introductions (block quotes), and illustration presentation. Further, as a group we made the basic style decisions regarding fonts, colors, and location of images in relation to text.

We then listed the tasks involved and split up the chapters among group members, giving each member four to five chapters to create according to the style decisions. As a group, we decided that the best way to organize our work and share ideas with each other would be to use Google Docs.

We divided the project plan into four stages: file development, file packaging, proofreading, and validation.

At this point, we have completed the first stage, and we are working to combine our work in order to package the files for the next stage. We will then move into the proofreading and validation stages.

"Chocolate" anyone...

Currently, our e-book team (being myself, Debbie, Rob and Season) has been collectively working to smooth out the structure and layout of the e-book we chose through Project Gutenberg (“Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes” by Miss Parola). Our group decided to utilize Basecamp as an online project management tool that Season helped us create. Basecamp has been a useful tool for our team as were able to see any team member’s suggestion/feedback in one clear-cut medium. We all have taken on specific responsibilities to construct our e-book. Deb is working on the TOC, Season is managing/organizing out the team’s efforts, Rob is working on the editing/proofing of the e-book’s content, while I have taken on the CSS. We have basically finished up our TOC, and are working on our CSS at this time. We then plan on editing the HTML and making sure everything is validating within the next week. These are the updates thus far…. :)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Dead

I'll leave everyone to make their own zombie jokes.

Our group of four--Adena, Catherine, Eileen, and Shauntel--chose James Joyce's series of short stories Dubliners, which we got from Project Gutenberg. There are fifteen stories plus the table of contents, so we've split the stories up into four sections and are using Zoho to pool information and track our progress. We discovered by happy accident that you can edit .rtf or .doc files online without downloading, like Google docs. Each story has been given it's own html file and one of our week long tasks is making sure each file has the same opening and closing tags, and that all the files validate. We're also working on overall design and layout, our css file, and choosing our cover image.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

For our Epub Infrastructure class, our group (comprised of myself, Randy, Yelba, Corey and Prateeksha), we chose a version of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland that includes some very cool illustrations (courtesy of Authorama). Yelba set us up at Base Camp, and we have all been assigned various duties to complete by our next meeting on Tuesday. Prateeksha uploaded pdfs of the images, and we will each be adding the 12 chapters.  Corey is going to be putting together the Table of Contents as well as designing a cover, while Randy and I will  compile and validate the book to prepare for Yelba who will be taking on the duties of CSS.

So far, so good, and we are ready to fall further down the rabbit hole.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Amazon Strikes Again

So I saw this entry on one of my favorite author blogs.

It brings up an interesting question -- what happens to your marketing efforts when you don't really have a hard-and-fast "release date" anymore, if the eBook version suddenly drops unexpectedly early?

(N.B.: What I don't know is if this was in fact Baen's original plan, in which case it's likely more a matter of "it would have been nice to keep everyone in the loop" than anything else.)


Monday, October 4, 2010

Sports Illustrated for iPad Demo


I saw this last spring at a meeting I was at, so this might be old news to everyone here, but I thought it's such a great illustration of what magazines can do with the iPad. Since I don't have an iPad, I am not even sure if this is what an actual SI iPad issue looks like. Anyone know?

New books jump off the page with digital enhancements

Article about enhanced books for children

An interesting way to enhance books for children. Also brings up the interesting issues of the whether or not the add-ons will have value over time, as they may not last forever and that the book must be able strong enough to stand on it's own over time.

AP Circular App Coming to Help Print Compete With Coupon Pure Plays

I am going to post a few things that I thought I had posted on Diigo, but they don't seem to be showing up. I apologize if these are repeats for anyone.

AP Circular App Coming to Help Print Compete With Coupon Pure Plays

Interesting in that it reminded me to think about circulars as part of the newspaper, and what is going to happen to coupons and such.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

WSJ article on How Authors Feel the Pinch in Age of eBooks

WSJ Article

An interesting thing to note is that Trachtenburg was using a 70/25% breakdown instead of a 50/50%breakdown, as Publishing for Profit had as a sample royalty breakdown (so the author would make $4.54 instead of $2.27, and $.34 more than he would on a hardcover). Not sure which is more typical, but he obviously went with the one that is less generous to the author to prove his point.

Particularly interesting here are the two videos, one is an interview with Trachtenburg, basically reitereating what he said in his article, but the other one (down lower in the article) is a cute but brief history of the book (a sort of video Cliff Notes of our required reading).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Another Future for Books

IDEO has created three new kinds of Kindle/iPad/Sony Readers that manage to combine social media with the reading experience. It's an interesting twist on the future of reading.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Out for Work Conference (September 25-26, 2010)

For those of you who are looking (or looking again) for a job, there's a national conference for LGBT professionals and their allies. Workshops, forums, and lectures, as well as mock interviewing and instant feedback. It's 45 bucks for an individual rate for current students, recent grads, and grad students, including all conference materials and meals.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kindle ad

As someone who really really really wants an iPad but can only "afford" a Kindle, I found this ad kind of spoke to me:
Kindle Pool ad

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How's This For Social Media

The Washington Post marketing department is gonna have a hell of a time recovering Mike Wise's reputation after this one.

Seems that Mr. Wise thought he could prove a point about the demise of the media but instead buried his credibility (and nearly the WaPo's too). Amazing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The New Peer Review?

New York Times article discussing a new online alternative to traditional peer review for scholarly articles. Thought it was interesting considering our discussions in previous classes on the problems encountered in peer review as well as the use of wikis.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Digital Textbooks

Article in the WSJ about digital textbooks and how devices such as the iPad and a new version of the Kindle may help their use by college students become more widespread.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Embedding QR Codes into Print Books? What do you think?

A model for a hybrid print/ebook. What do you think? Will it work?

Article in the Wired section of the Chronicle of Higher Education posts the following report:

Purdue Professor Embeds Hyperlinks in Printed Books

(If that link doesn't work off campus try and login with your last name and GWID.)

Here is the video demonstration:

Around the World in 80 Days with 2D codes by Ubimark books

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's a Book!

Hahah... pretty cute little video featuring a techy donkey and a nerdy ape:

Donkey: "Can it tweet?"
Ape: "No, It's A Book!"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

DCist Looking for a new Editor!

Check out this little tidbit...

Anyone want to be a full time Editor of a major news blog here in DC proper? Well, now's your chance.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wikipedia Offers POD Books

" As of today, a "Create A Book" button has been added to the Print/Export section of Wikipedia's left-side navigation pane, and the pricing on these books starts at just $8.90. Believe it or not, books can be turned around and shipped within 2 days..."

Read more here.

Interesting, eh?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

For Mr. Slater...

For those of you considering taking up Eric Slater's suggestion to carry on to Law School, you might want to check this out first... a HILARIOUS story about a guy who hated being a lawyer so much that he sold his law degree on Craigslist. No lie...

And in more Publishing related news... a clerk at a court house in Tombstone, AZ found some original court documents from the famous shot out at the OK Corral. How cool is that? They are in really poor shape, but the historians working with the papers are going scan them and publish them online... talk about open access.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rolling Stone Magazine's New Online Business Model

I think it seems like a pretty good deal to subscribers. I'm curious to see reactions from other magazine publishers and readers....

You can check it out here:
Rolling Stone's archive going online - for a price

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Remember that copyleft organization Prof. Slater mentioned in class the other day, the Electronic Frontier Foundation? Also, remember the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator in government we discussed in class? Well, the Coordinator asked for input from copyright holders and industries that represents these interests for input on how best to enforce IP in these times.

I'll keep this brief: the MPAA and RIAA (among others) put their two cents in. Here's their original comments. Highlights-
1. They point out that software exists to detect "infringing" files on personal computers.
2. They advocate that network administrators keep track (via multiple tracking methods) of who is responsible for infringement and where the infringement is happening.
3. They want to change customs forms for travelers to "educate the public" about the threat of piracy and pirated products.
4. They want the U.S. Govt. to keep a list of countries where piracy websites are and "target" these countries' individual copyright policies to better police content.
5. They want all this to be done on the federal government's dime: namely through the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

Here's the EFF's take on the issue. What do you guys think?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

E-Publishing Failure

I read a great article on The Casual Optimist that describes both successes and failures of experimental publishing... based on the failure of HarperStudio - a sister publishing house of HarperCollins. This is the gist of the post, but it is quite interesting, and worth a read.

"My point is not that we should not stop experimenting with new author contracts, transparency, formats, trade terms, or marketing — we need to try new things and be allowed to fail. But this should not come at the expense of consistently good, interesting (and inexpensive) books."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We've talked in class before about the challenges designers are faced with when creating publications for e-readers and hand held devices. Here is an article from questioning the impact the iPad will have on the publishing industry and the impact it will have on the publishing design industry. Enjoy!

Jobs Saves?

Man, Google can't catch a break...

Hmmm... With all the trouble surrounding Google, from Books to Buzz to China to YouTube, perhaps it's time to find another search engine.

Here we have yet another impending lawsuit... this time, photography. All in the realm of copyright infringement. Check it out.

Friday, April 2, 2010

More News on iPad's impending arrival...

It appears people are wary of purchasing yet another piece of Apple equipment... it seems a little excessive to some... at least in this article.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Design

A good point was brought to my attention, discussions that are not related to our work or class belong to another venue like this:

Apologies if anyone was uncomfortable.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

E-Books on NPR

I know, I know, I'm obsessed with NPR, but they cover so much! This story called, "No Ink, No Paper: What's the Value of an E-Book?" is a pretty interesting little piece on the e-book market.

"A revolution may be under way, but it is by no means complete." - Lynn Neary

It's short and sweet, but argues some interesting points about the worth of a book, and what will make readers go online.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Extending the Book: The Art of Extra-Illustration at the Folger Shakespeare Library

I honestly can't remember if a link has gone out to this yet or not (and if it has, please accept my apologies for the repeat), but FYI there's an exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library through May 25 that looks at "Grangerizing," a practice from a few centuries ago where book enthusiasts added supplementary materials to known texts to make their own editions (which sounds to me a bit like the idea brought up a few times in our classes where this sort of thing can be done digitally now, through linking and wikis and the like -- and nowadays we don't have to pillage other books to create the new compiled editions).

Admission is free; more details can be found at the Washington Post's web site or at the Folger Library site here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ethics & Bribery - Complaints against Yelp

Hi mates,

I ran across this article about some businesses teaming up with a lawsuit against Yelp. They are accusing Yelp of highlighting their negative reviews in a push to get more advertising. Because we discussed Yelp a lot last semester, and because we all have law on our minds, I thought you may find this interesting.

Yelp: Advertise or Else?


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Overrated / Underrated

The LA Times had a recent post about recent media trends (what's overrated and what's underrated), and I thought this was pertinent to our discussions:

Snap judgments and considered criticism of pop culture and beyond from the staff of The Hot List.

The iPad / Kindle wars: Now that two front-runners for the e-reader market have emerged (does anyone remember Barnes & Noble's version?), we're already tired of devotees to Apple and Amazon hotly debating which digital device is better. Calm down, you tech-minded ideologues. You both can take credit for killing the printed word, just as soon as you can convince us how this will be a good thing.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Interview with Archie Ferguson

I found a great interview with Archie Ferguson, Art Director at HarperCollins Publishers. I thought some of you might like it too.

Do you see yourself staying in publishing as the industry landscape is shifting so dramatically toward electronic media?
Certainly for now, I see myself staying in book publishing. After all is said and done, I really enjoy what I do. There will always be a market for real, bound books. The new, electronic mediums will still need some sort of "cover," if you will. Designing for books is and has always been about representing content, to a greater or lesser extent.

Check it out here: Design

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Casual Optimist's Thoughts on Book Design

Stumbled upon these Book Design Helpers. Thought in the midst of our Final Project, someone might find them useful.


Macmillan is introducing software that will allow for professors to edit, update, and customize e-text books for their classes. Not only will this allow professors to streamline the material in the text books to relate more directly to their course teachings (because lets be honest, how many professors actually taught us a course directly by the book), but the cost will be less for students.

Interesting copyright note:

"While many publishers have offered customized print textbooks for years — allowing instructors to reorder chapters or insert third-party content from other publications or their own writing — DynamicBooks gives instructors the power to alter individual sentences and paragraphs without consulting the original authors or publisher."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

iLearn to Read on the iPhone

Smartphone users a new market for electronic publishers of children's books
Some of you might've heard me talking about my involvement with the Washington Revels, and it was through that community that I came across PicPocket Books, spearheaded by co-founder and Publisher Lynette Mattke. PicPocket Books is an e-publishing venture out of Silver Spring, Maryland that takes children's picture books (aimed at ages 2 to 8) and makes them into apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, available at the Apple App Store for prices ranging from $0.99 to $8.99.* The apps also have the ability to "read" the book to the child and highlight the words as they are read.

Children are naturally curious about electronic gadgets and are really drawn to this sort of media -- why not produce something that will turn that interest into positive exposure to age-appropriate books and stories? As Mattke says, "Whether we're talking print or digital books, reading is an active mental process: something to encourage at every opportunity." She points out that reading, whether on the screen or on paper, can increase vocabulary, improve concentration and focus, and expand a child's horizons.

PicPocket Books' web site is quick to note that they do not intend these books to replace parents' reading to children, but more to make the reading experience more mobile as most iPhone-owning parents have their phone with them on a regular basis, whereas it might be inconvenient to grab the paper copy of Ruth Sanderson's Papa Gatto: An Italian Fairy Tale or Roseanne Thong's Round is a Mooncake on the way out the door.

"Many families are short on time and e-books can be read any time, any place," says Mattke. "We believe that if reading picture books on the iPhone means that more families are reading together and that more kids have more exposure to storybooks, then they are a great option for the tech-savvy families of today."

Transforming a book from paper to pixels "ends up being more of an artistic process than a mechanical one," says Mattke. "Some illustrations are double page spreads; some are conducive to cropping and others aren't so much, some need a border treatment, etc." Often, she says, PicPocket adds interstitial pages to a book when the text and illustrations take up more space than the screen allows.

I asked what the qualities of an ideal book would be for transformation into a PicPocket book app and was somewhat surprised by the reply: "Basically, we can handle any kind of illustrations and any size pictures. Even though the iPhone is small, it has great resolution and a back-lit screen. Even detailed pictures come through very sharp and clear."

She continues, "Our major focus in creating PicPocket Books is on the illustrations, so the whole formatting process centers on showcasing the illustrations, as well as the marriage of the text and images. Much of this work is already done by the authors and illustrators, of course, and our job is to be as faithful as possible to the original work."

While endeavoring to preserve the reading experience, PicPocket Books has added some extensions to their iPhone and iPod Touch apps that simply wouldn't be possible with paper, ink, and binding.

For instance, PicPocket is adding additional animations to some titles currently in production, such as snow falling or stars twinkling. These are subtle animations because PicPocket e-publishes previously published books that were originally designed for paper, rather than books explicitly made for the iPhone. The artwork is already there, and the intent is to remain faithful to the original work while simultaneously "[encouraging] curiosity by adding elements of interactive discovery to each title which the hot spots and subtle animations provide."

The other major feature that PicPocket Books adds to its products is a synced audio narration track that coordinates with a word-by-word "learn-to-read" highlighting feature to aid emergent readers. The audio feature uses voice-over artists and is recorded in a professional recording studio. Some of the titles have more sophisticated soundtracks, complete with background music, sound effects, and other enhancements. (Features such as personal recordings and greater interactivity with the text for early readers are currently in development.)

The images and the audio track are then incorporated into the actual app with their patent-pending custom software platform to form a finished PicPocket e-book.

In addition to adding neat extra features, Mattke is quick to point out another advantage of digital publishing: "There are also some huge benefits in the area of production and distribution of digital books in comparison to the traditional print world. Production cost and production time are DRASTICALLY reduced. Many traditional publishers are facing major problems with the cost of printing, storing, transporting and distributing, and displaying their print books for sale."

PicPocket Books are currently available only for the iPod Touch and the iPhone, but they are looking to offer titles on the iPad and other smartphones in the future.

Personally I think this is a brilliant idea, and one that taps into a new market as most e-books currently are aimed at adult readers. Two-to-eight-year-old children are very likely to have an adult with them, and at least from anecdote most smartphone (and iPhone) owners are likely to carry their phones on a regular -- if not constant -- basis. Though these apps should certainly not be used as a substitute for parental involvement, with some supervision this seems like a brilliant way to entertain and engage kids on the go without parents’ having to remember to take yet another object with them.

Special thanks to Lynette Mattke for letting me interview her and providing the pictures that accompany this post.

* It is also worthy of note that according to their FAQ, "Once you download a book, it is yours to play as long as you want."

One More Thing:

The company's blog, maintained by Mattke and editor Eva Jannotta, is an interesting read as it picks up some of the modern screen-reading issues that we too will have to confront as publishers, especially those of us who work with material aimed at younger audiences. It can be found at

Friday, February 12, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

As If Books Aren't Dying Enough...

FT Press Delivers has taken it one step further by introducing, "The Elements which the publisher has priced at $1.99, are stripped-down, 1,000- to 2,000-word versions of already-published books, while the Shorts are newly written essays of about 5,000 words, priced at $2.99." 

So now no one wants o read a complete work? The Publisher suggests that this version of reading is just like a "healthy lunch on the go." It just kinda makes me sad.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What We Think of the iPad

Arnie asked us in a recent e-mail what we thought of the iPad. For a group that seems fairly resistant to the Kindle and its various competitive iterations, I can safely say this about sums it up:

Personally, I think the iPad will have little to no effect on publishers. Tablet devices already exist and the tech consumer will vote with their dollars; publishers slap content into formats already viable for the marketplace and this is just another forum for it. Unless of course, Apple decides to make storytelling interactive, like those children's books with the buttons on the side.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The demise of traditional media?

Is Traditional Media Deconstructing Itself? Is NBC’s Failure with Leno Just Another Indicator?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Such a cute bookmark idea!

A friend whose an Industrial Designer sent my this link... too cute for a bookmark/cover!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Omikuji Project

I found this project the other day when I was web-surfing and thought it was interesting as a rather romantic concept of story-carrier-as-object, and that it was neat as far as the parallel electronic .PDF execution as well -- rather nicely straddling the line between the older and newer ways of reading, I think. I'm not sure how the design execution actually ends up working though, as I'm not a subscriber and there unfortunately do not appear to be examples up on the site. :(

From a more business-oriented standpoint, she also gets into an interesting profit structure, especially as she's announced on her blog (warning: some of her other musings are potentially NSFW, but the linked entry is fine) that later this year she will be condensing these into a self-published book on Lulu, which will serve to let more of her audience in, only later than the original subscribers, and have the side benefit of archiving them as well; subscribers still enjoyed the benefits of exclusivity and the actual objects for the past year or so, and what she'd be doing now is somewhat analogous to releasing a live album several months after a series of live concerts.

(For some background -- Ms. Valente is a fantasy writer in Maine with a solid-but-not-ubiquitous following, and she seems to have a pretty devoted online community with her blog and her site...and this project, obviously.)