Monthly Archives: July 2011

eBooks and Education

So I made a pseudo-cameo in Joshua Tallent and Co.’s eBook Ninjas podcast! I had asked a question about how to prepare to enter the field of ebook conversions – I pretty much inquired about what to read, what to practice, etc. Joshua, Tobias, and Chris were kind enough to share their thoughts and advice. (To hear it, listen to the most recent episode, episode 41, about 10 minutes in. Needless to say, I was pretty giddy when they mentioned me, this blog, and my Twitter account!)

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they mentioned two things:

A) The date for the eBook Production Workshop(!) – September 19-21! If you’re interested in learning about eBook conversion and the like, check out this workshop. When I first learned about it, I knew I had to go – despite the $600 price tag. I’ll be booking my flight and hotel stay once more details are announced. I think what’s even cooler about this workshop involves who’ll be attending. I can’t wait to meet these professionals and learn about their work.

B) Near the end of the podcast, Joshua mentioned an interesting topic he and the fellow ninjas wanted to discuss within the next few podcasts: ebooks and education. While I’m mildly interested in the realm of digital textbooks, I’m more concerned about how ebook creation is being taught in schools.

With the number of times I’m asked about my current academic program by strangers and family members alike, I’m starting to feel like a poster child for the electronic publishing track at Emerson. I’m immensely proud of the track and believe it’s a fantastic avenue for students to get into the nitty gritty of online publishing. Emerson has taken an initiative in addressing the shift to digital among publishers; after all, it’s now required for incoming graduate publishing students to take an overview course in electronic publishing in the fall.

I have one year left at Emerson, and so far I’m looking to have taken at least four electronic publishing courses. These include the aforementioned overview, my thesis project (a forthcoming illustrated graphic novel I wrote/drew that I’ll be digitizing for view on the NookColor), a focused course on creating content for the web and e-readers (essentially, basic HTML and EPUB work) and a possible web development course. As a result of the web/e-readers class I took this past spring, I not only know how to create an EPUB file, but I understand how it works and know the limitations it can bring to certain texts.

The New York Times ran a piece about the famed Columbia Publishing Course, an intense program for students to learn the ins and outs of publishing. Inaugurated in Cambridge, Mass. at Radcliffe College, the course allows students to network with editors and learn about the trade; aside from attending lectures, students complete complex projects and proposals and present them to real editors for review.

Now, as ebooks have gained footing, the course has had to address their presence, ensuring its students to have the edge in the shifting industry.

But is the Columbia Publishing course teaching anything about EPUB? As far as I can tell, not really*, according to the second segment of the course, which involves digital media:

During the magazine and digital media workshop, student groups develop proposals for new magazines or Web sites, researching possible audiences, establishing editorial mission statements, designing layouts and wireframes, assessing competitors, determining potential advertisers and developing a Web strategy. By the end of the six weeks, course graduates have a greater understanding of book, magazine and digital media publishing than many people now working in the field. – CPC Course Description

Of course, my view of this course is limited because, hey, I’m not attending it. For all I know, I’m sure the word “epub” has been uttered a few times during a lecture or three. But I’m sure they’re not going into the details Emerson has begun to dig into with its epublishing track. There’s a difference between learning about ebooks and making ebooks.

Now, I don’t want to knock Columbia’s course; after all, I’m sure it’s an amazing opportunity for future publishing professionals. And let’s face it, you can only do so much within a few weeks! But while it’s very nice to gain an understanding of what ebooks are doing in the greater scope of the industry, I don’t think a future editor can genuinely understand what an ebook is until they catch at least a glimpse of how one is produced. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really work if you just read about it. There is a chemistry – a physiology, even – within an ebook, making it tricky to pin and analyze. Coupled with the nature of the ebook’s evolving culture and economy, many can find themselves at a loss to understand how it all fits together.

At Emerson, I’ve been able to learn about ebooks through three lenses: in one, I’m the programmer, dealing with cold code and troubleshooting the issues that plague text when read on a device. In another, I’m the editor examining ebooks as a platform for marketing a product; and thirdly, I’m the reader, trying to understand what I want from my own user experience as I consume books. I think future publishing professionals need to take to a three-pronged view in order fully comprehend what ebooks are doing. Print books aren’t going anywhere, but ebooks are indeed here to stay.

Aside from this, The New York Times article also bothered me because of the dismissive approach it took to Cambridge/Boston in general:

Since it moved to Manhattan, students have been able to plug directly into the industry and mingle with editors at book parties in the evening, a far cry from the cozy isolation of Cambridge.

“Cozy isolation”? Did The New York Times miss a memo about how many publishers are in Boston, including

  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Bedford/St. Martin’s
  • Beacon Press
  • Pearson Education (Custom Publishing)
  • MIT Press
  • Candlewick Press
  • Shambhala Publications
  • Cheng & Tsui

and many, many others. Yes, they’re not the Big Six, and they’re not in the middle of the busiest city in the world, but the publishers located in Boston and the greater Massachusetts area offer valid experience and opportunities for students to become involved in work they want to do by supplementing their learning experience with hands-on work. And certainly, when it comes to digital publishing, it  goes way beyond the Big Apple to, well, almost any place with an Internet connection.

I used to believe I had to force myself to live in NYC in order to “make it” in publishing. Based on my experience at Emerson so far, that is no longer the case.

* If any CPC students want to let me know what the program has covered in terms of ebook production, please feel free to comment.

Thesisness: Quick snapshot/progress

So I’ve been back at my thesis (since it’s pretty much do-or-die at this point) and figured out the following things:

  • How to take screencaps with the Nook Color (push the home/’n’ button and the minus (-) volume button at the same time; small walkthrough here)
  • The actual dimensions for the NookColor’s display, in order to use as much screen space as possible
  • Calibre‘s conversion tools allow me to play with the margins of the .epub file, so none of my images will be  truncated (…for now)
  • Sigil is still annoying, but I can’t live without WYSIWYG (… for now)

Once I have more substantial updates with the thesis, I’ll post more of my progress to the appropriate page here. Finally getting work done, jeez!

Some quick links

Taking a gander at how to handle footnotes in ebooks (O’Reilly)

A study at Princeton (PDF); using the Amazon Kindle DX to reduce paper consumption and enhance the classroom experience (full report here, also PDF)

And Suzanne Collins discusses how to use Twitter to get a job in publishing – great read!

Standards & Amazon

Today’s DBW roundtable discussed standards – more specifically, a bunch of acronyms I need to begin to memorize, including ISTC, ISNI, NISO, IDPF, BISG, and GS1. (My head is spinning.)

An interesting point that I asked and had wonderfully answered by Todd Carpenter of NISO dealt with Amazon’s proprietary standard for its e-reader (.AZW) and how that would influence EPUB3’s development and use. Carpenter responded, essentially, that the value of EPUB stems from its ability to be used in different distribution channels. This in itself is valuable to publishers – you reach more devices through those channels, and in turn, contact larger audiences. Laura Dawson of Firebrand Technologies asserted that Amazon moving to accept EPUB on its devices is not happening anytime soon; Joshua Tallent agrees.

And why would it? This question boggled me because yes, Amazon is doing well without reading EPUB, and conversions from EPUB to .mobi/.azw can still happen through KindleGen. While I in general don’t particularly want a Kindle and don’t see myself using one in the future, the fact that it still doesn’t read EPUB bothers me. It bothers a lot of people because Amazon is ignoring a standard. But should we fault Amazon for ignoring what’s becoming considered a universal standard (as I see it) and creating their own?

This move bothers me as a reader (if I were a Kindle user) because I potentially have fewer options. I am limited to what’s available in the Amazon Marketplace unless I take to converting titles myself.

This move also bothers me as someone looking to become involved in ebook production because, hey, it means more work for me – work that is essentially unnecessary. But I suppose you can argue that work is still going to be there because, lo and behold, every e-reader renders an EPUB file in their own way.

Even though there are more people using the Kindle than other readers, I still think EPUB has the edge. Though the question that still lingers in my head is, who really wants EPUB? I am guessing this audience is somewhat limited (among average readers); I doubt the average Kindle user knows what EPUB even is. Though I could be wrong on both counts!

Courtesy of TeleRead

This makes me want to cringe. Wait, no, I take it back – it make me cringe already. Would it kill someone to hire a copyeditor/any editor? Seriously. I would like to hear Miranda‘s thoughts on the matter.

It’s these little screwups that I think undermines the integrity of ebooks. Print feels more legitimate because it’s on paper – what could possibly have gone wrong? Isn’t it expensive to print things?

Yes, it is, but it looks ten times worse (in my opinion) when there’s a mistake. In an ebook, you fix some code. In the print world, you stop the presses.

I could feel Adin’s tears from here.

I Heart DBW.

I recently finished a short live-tweeting session for DBW’s WEBcast on workflows for editorial and production. I really gotta give mad props to Matt Mullin and the panelists he has featured; every time I listen in, I get very excited for what I want to do professionally. I feel like I’m beginning to understand who I am within that realm, even though I haven’t made much of a mark yet. All this talk about workflow and QA and XML – it just makes me tingly inside. It gives me a lot of hope for what I want to accomplish after I finish my master’s in electronic publishing, because I find this shift in publishing incredibly exciting.

And it’s fascinating to see how simple live-tweeting an event like that is (except it’s really not – it’s harder than it looks!), and how I instantly become connected with people in the industry as a result of a simple hashtag. I actually shifted around my schedule at work so I can live-tweet the roundtable happening this Thursday. Don’t forget to follow @epubpupil for coverage!

Google enters the e-reader war(!)

Say whaaaaaat? The plot thickens! Courtesy of Publisher’s Weekly:

The Story HD is an e-ink device with wi-fi connectivity and beginning July 17 it will be priced at $140 and sold exclusively through Target stores. (emphasis added)

No kidding. $140 to compete with one of Amazon’s cheapest Kindles on the market. So it’ll be out in the wild… next Sunday? That’s odd. I hadn’t heard of this e-reader until now – not even speculation (though there are likely many reasons for that). And wait, Target?! Target? Even odder! I can see the Story HD in multiple retail sites – but an exclusive agreement with Target? That made me do a double-take.

But let’s continue:

But while the iriver Story HD is priced competitively, its design (which resembles the Amazon Kindle 2) and basic technology may seem a bit dated to consumers. Google eBooks is releasing its own e-reading device at a time when B&N (Nook Simple Touch) and Kobo (Kobo Touch Edition) have both released smaller (5”) black and white touchscreen e-ink devices with increased processing power and with social reading software aimed at heightening the enjoyment of reading.

The device reminds me of a huge calculator designed by someone from Apple waaaaay back when. It looks… okay. I’m just surprised they hadn’t tapped into the touchscreen UI already, but I guess even Google has to start somewhere. The pixel density is nice, though:

It has a 6 inch screen and is said to have 63% more pixels than other e-readers, offering sharper, more legible text and images. The device is said to have a more powerful processor (faster page-turns) and iriver claims the battery will last more than a month (6 weeks) on a single charge.

Now that most of the e-readers out there are touting a battery life of over one month (move over, Kindle) it’s getting much more difficult to discern which one of the devices is the mightiest. I think it’s going to come down to whether readers want to solely read or be able to do other things like browse the Web, play apps, listen to music, etc. Not sure where Google’s entry lies just yet.

Networking

I’d kill to go to this. I mean, I’m sure I could learn most of the stuff on my own – there’s definitely references out there – but I’d love to meet the professionals attending. I’d love to especially learn about workflows. If they could set up a webinar for a fraction of the price, I’d totally pay.

In the meanwhile, anyone want to spot a graduate student studying electronic publishing $600?

Speaking of networking, I may attend this little thing next week, despite being incredibly nervous about it. At least I finally have business cards.