New home

•September 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After nearly 10 years of lurking around online without establishing myself anywhere more than a permanent account on LiveJournal (which still exists, it’s just that none of it is visible to anyone other than myself now – some things are best left to history), I have finally taken the step of registering a domain and hosting my own blog. So, hop on over to Digital Transference and make yourself comfortable.

I think I also need to expand my horizons from purely digital publishing, because if I don’t, I fear that my content will stagnate. So it’ll still be digital, just a broader approach.

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Down the open road

•August 10, 2010 • 6 Comments

I’ve seen a couple of comments recently discussing the fact that if Amazon continue to take an ‘Apple’ stance on their formats, while managing to have a large share of the market, it could sound the death knell for open formats. (See An American Editor and the final sentence of this Bookseller story).

It seems to me that whatever else, we need an open format for trading ebooks. I don’t own a reader, but if I did, I don’t think I’d buy a Kindle, i) because I want to be able to read epubs since that’s the current industry standard and instead the Kindle uses mobipocket (ii) because I don’t want to be limited to not just buying, but also downloading, my books through Amazon, & (iii) and this is purely a personal opinion, having seen our office one, I don’t like the design of it, particularly the fading in/out of the pages when you ‘turn’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with the distribution of ePubs freely and without DRM security attached except where the titles are out of copyright, but I do agree with everyone using the same file format.

Leaving out the issue of DRM, it’s like .wma vs .mp3 for music. I can open my mp3s in iTunes and in Windows Media Player, but I can’t open the .wma files in iTunes and it’s really, really frustrating. Because I don’t want to spend extra money on a conversion and yet I use iTunes to catalogue and listen to my music files. I do this because I use my iPhone to listen to music, and so being able to access all my music, even that which hasn’t been purchased through the iTunes store, is convenient.

In the same way, say I buy a Sony eReader. Now, I’ll probably buy my books through Sony’s store. But it might just happen that I want to be able to download a copy of On The Origin Of Species (being the ex-History of Science post-grad that I am, this is the first thing I downloaded as a test on my iPhone in Apple’s Bookstore), which I can get for free in a variety of places. I want to be able to import that file onto my eReader and take it on the tube with me. But if I have a Kindle, I can’t do it. I can only do this if I download it through Amazon. And this is bad. Many people who buy a Kindle now, with the launch of the UK store, may well end up with a library of ebooks that they find can’t be exported elsewhere. They will have been tied into Amazon without their knowledge. Obviously, this is what Amazon want, but I can’t imagine it’s what the consumers want.

Imagine if you bought an entire bookshelf, only to be told that they have to stay in the house you were living in when you bought them. What’s that, you want to move house? Fine! But you can’t take your books with you.

We need an industry standard format, and we need to fight to keep things open.

The Kindle has landed

•July 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Indeed it has. Amazon have managed to grab just about everyone’s attention in the UK ebook world this week with the launch of the UK store, and the new Kindle, finally for sale over Here (as opposed to over There).  Even the BBC have got in on the act. Of course, we all knew it was coming. The part where we had to re-price all our Amazon ebook titles in £ rather than $ was a particularly fun spreadsheet to fill out (seriously, spreadsheets containing metadata are the bane of my life).  The interesting part of the story personally was the fact that publishers won’t be setting their ebook prices. Pricing seems to be the big elephant in the room that people occasionally look at and then decide that actually they don’t want to deal with just now. I’m very lucky in the fact that I don’t have the responsibility for any decisions of this nature, and I’m so new to publishing that I really wouldn’t want said responsibility!! I’m quite happy to sit back and just learn as much as I can for now. I spend awful amounts of time at work sat at my desk, realising that I’m totally out of my depth when it comes to the publishing industry.  I’m beginning to wish that I signed up for the mentoring scheme I had the opportunity to join earlier this year.  It would be great to have somebody outside of work, but inside the industry, to ask questions of.  Sadly at the time I hadn’t actually begun working at ACB so didn’t feel that I could take the place of someone else (not that getting on the scheme was a given).  This may have been an error on my part, but it can’t be helped. I’ll carry on feeling a bit like a fish out of water and trying to at least give the impression that I know what I’m doing.

So while I find the story about Amazon pricing more interesting than the Kindle being launched in the UK, I don’t feel I have the authority to comment on the story.  Apologies if you were looking for insight, that I cannot provide! Anything I say will likely be either a) mundane, or b) wrong. And I wouldn’t want to be either.  Believe me, I’d love to have the experience to be able to give an authoritative opinion on this, and on the fact that Andrew Wylie is bypassing publishers altogether. I *know* these things are of import, and I can see the consequences, but I can’t write about them.

The other fact of note here is that I’ve never bought an ebook in my life so I have no personal investment in what the cost of them is. I don’t own an ebook reader (other than my iphone) and I have no desire to buy one.  I cannot fathom the appeal of reading something electronically rather than having a physical book.  Personally, it’s not for me.  I spend all day staring at a screen at work, and do plenty of that in my free time. I don’t want to eliminate the major activity in my life that doesn’t involve pixels.  I realise that, given my job, this is a bit ridiculous, but not owning a reader doesn’t mean that I can’t be enthusiastic about producing quality ebooks. It just means that I’m not a consumer of my product. Which is fine. When I produced exam papers I wasn’t a consumer of those either.  In a way, perhaps being ‘platform neutral’ is a good thing.  I have no preference for the Kindle, or the Sony eReader, or Kobo’s reader, or even the iPad and any other reader you care to name. For me they’re all the same – devices that you can read books on. I don’t have much of an opinion on the benefits of one over another.

And so, to what conclusion do these ramblings bring me?

Well, firstly, that I have the good sense not to comment on something before I’ve learned my trade, because there are far more knowledgeable people than me out there.  Secondly, that one device is much the same as another, but this will change if not all books are available equally. Thirdly, that I really should get on with checking that epub…

ebooks: ur doin’ it wrong

•July 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Actually, you’re probably not.

You might not being doing it right, but chances are you’re not doing it wrong.

The thing is, in my short career in the (e)book industry, the one thing I’ve discovered is that there is no right way of doing anything. There are frustrations, and problems, but also discoveries and solutions. I moved from an environment in which the work I did was very strictly governed. The process we followed was laid out to ensure the elimination of errors. Everything was checked, checked again, and then checked a third, fourth, and fifth time. By the end of it, you’d seen the same words on a page so many times that you might not even notice errors if they were there.

So I face my current role coming from a place which dangerously encourage my perfectionist tendencies. I find it very difficult to let go of anything that isn’t absolutely right. But with the way the current ebook market is, I’m beginning to realise that there’s no such thing as ‘absolutely right’. So I’m torn between my wish to produce the best books I can, and the need to get our books out there and available to the reader. There are some problems I’ve hit that it’s not yet even possible to solve for ebooks and this in itself is hugely frustrating. However, I do think the strictures of my previous role have been a help for what I was brought in to do at ACB. I’ve had a lot of files to go through and sort out. They’ve needed identifying, and categorising, and tracking – this is all stuff that I find easy, if not always enjoyable, and always time-consuming. I’m a great believer however, in the need to put in the background work before you can achieve anything. You wouldn’t write a dissertation on a specific topic without doing the necessary reading, so apply this to everything else. It always turns out to be worth it in the end.

Having the freedom to define my own process has been a fantastic opportunity, and I’m refining a system for our ebook production that I hope will stand us in good stead for the future, not just for the immediate period of ebooks being a new and exciting thing. Although, when I say ‘a’ system, that’s not quite accurate. Every different list within ACB seems to need a different approach.

Never let it be said that ebooks are simple.  And never let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

Evan Schnittman appointed at Bloomsbury

•July 7, 2010 • 1 Comment

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc announces today that Evan Schnittman has been appointed Managing Director Group Sales and Marketing, Print and Digital. He will lead Bloomsbury’s sales and marketing in the UK, US, and Germany across all divisions of the group.

Evan Schnittman comes to Bloomsbury after eight years at Oxford University Press where he was vice president of corporate & business development and responsible for digital partnerships and licensing across OUP’s various content divisions. Evan has over 24 years of publishing related business experience having held positions as Executive Vice President at The Princeton Review, Senior Editor at Little, Brown, and editorial and sales positions at FA Davis. Evan started his publishing career at Barnes & Noble’s main store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Evan is widely known in the industry as a thought leader – and is widely sought out to speak and write on the key issues facing content companies in a digital world – across Asia, Europe and the US. His blog, BlackPlasticGlasses, has become required reading for anyone wishing to understand book publishing in the digital age.

Nigel Newton, Chief Executive of Bloomsbury, said “I am delighted to welcome Evan to Bloomsbury. The creation of the role of a worldwide head of sales and marketing and the appointment of a highly experienced American with considerable digital experience reflect our view of the future of the publishing market place.”

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Exciting news! I’m looking forward to meeting Evan, and to the development of our digital marketing strategy in tandem with print books. I’m still so new to all this that I don’t want to start commenting on the impact this will have on me, because I don’t know. My ebooks have little to no marketing at the moment (excluding, perhaps, Me & My Web Shadow) but it’s exciting to see Bloomsbury taking the step forwards to bring digital more into the fold. And my apps will need marketing too!

Provide me with resources, and I’ll provide perfection

•July 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Is it better to risk putting out books for sale with a few errors, or make everything perfect and not have your titles out there selling? I am sitting on a whole load of epub files that could go out to our aggregators for sale, but I don’t have the resources to quality check them all. At the same time, I’m aware that we want to get as much out there and selling as we possibly can. Numbers have been mentioned, not by me, but I’m the one with the responsibility of meeting the figures.

I came across this blog post yesterday in the Telegraph which rather makes my blood boil. It’s not my fault that I’m a one man band. There’s this huge demand for ebooks, without the resources. The editorial teams here have been pretty great, but they can’t be expected to drop their day jobs in order to do ebooks full-time. I wouldn’t ask that of them. However, I can’t go through and check hundreds of epub files myself and get them all perfect. Especially when to get any amended I have to make a list of the errors, send this list and the epub via ftp to another company, and then wait for that company to make the amends. And with the complex titles I deal with here, the chances are that there’s a week or two delay just getting any amendments made. I’d much rather do it myself, but I don’t have the tools yet.

The tools will come, but until then, and I’m sorry to say this, but I expect the readers may have to live with errors for a little while longer.* I dislike like this as much as anyone, but please don’t demand that we do more than we’re doing, because we’re already doing an awful lot just to get the books out there in the first place.

*Yes, I know about Sigil. But it’s far from perfect and, as yet, isn’t responsive enough for the speed I want to work at, and the size and complexity of the books I’m dealing with.

Apologies

•June 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

My apologies for the silence here recently. Non-digital related stuff has been taking up all my free time and I’ve not been able to compose anything worthy of release to the web. The most interesting thing, from my rather biased p.o.v. is the release of the iPhone 4. Because I have one. I’m enjoying it very much and have experienced none of the trouble that has been so widely reported. The onscreen keyboard is easier and faster to use than my experience of the Android equivalent, thought I expect that is due to my having an 18 month old G1 rather than a flaw in Android. If anyone can tell me differently, please do.

Of course, there was a practical reason for my purchase, as well as simple indulgence. I’m co-ordinating a few app development projects at work and am very excited. Having an iPhone just means I get to play with what we produce, and allows market research.