KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Publishing

Pinning down the oily fish: ebooks, publishing, and content management

by Imogen , November 27, 20123 Comments

Photo credit: rcoder

The only editors who haven’t heard about the rise of the ebook must be those who live and work on tiny islands. Specifically, islands that have no access to the internet, libraries, media, messages in bottles or telepathic individuals. The rise of the ebook has been, after all, quite hard to miss; two major publishers (Penguin and Random House) have become merger casualties, a result heavily influenced by rising ebook popularity. Big technology companies are also paying attention to consumer demand. Microsoft predicts that it will take until 2017 to grab a 51 per cent market share in the US ebook market, and only then because of technological issues. In terms of digital devices, Apple’s iPad has given some considerable boost to the consumers’ familiarity with digitised reading, while Amazon claims to have 950,000 ebook titles in their catalogue.

The confusion around a clear definition originates with both the ambiguity of an ebook’s parameters, and the fact that most modern-day publishers still operate within print-book friendly production systems. An an ebook is, by its own definition, a taciturn, confusing beast, which means that researching what to do about accommodating ebooks becomes a matter of constantly trying to reach shifting goalposts. But in terms of a simple definition, ebooks can, for example, be used on a range of devices (iPad, Kobo, Kindle), within a range of formats (such as mobi, epub, and Kindle-friendly files), and display the gamut of book types.

Given the increasing popularity of ebooks, it’s important that publishers adjust their processes to ensure optimal production of book ebooks and print books. This area of the discussion centres around a publisher’s content management system, or CMS. Transitioning a publisher from a book-centric CMS to an ebook-friendly one has several steps involved in the process. The challenge in modern-day publishing is to find a CMS that can produce content for a project, digital or print, in a manner that makes the content easily adaptable and available for use within the parameters of almost any other format.

Still, there are risks inherent in change, which is perhaps why the publishing industry, particularly the commercial element, has been so slow to act on improving production processes that may benefit both print and electronic elements of publishing. The negatives are clear: failing to get a system flexible enough to withstand ongoing technological development could mean gaping, long-term production inefficiencies and ultimately, wasted expenditure compounded by a failure to maximise profit. It’s a process complex enough to justify the government establishing a Book Industry Strategy Group tasked with developing viable strategies for publishers transitions to an ebook-friendly production model. But such a process takes time, allowing technology to drift ahead of a publisher’s technological capabilities before it has even been able to efficiently exploit what was commonly available for consumer use several years ago.

But what do these changes mean for people central to the publishing process? To be an editor of an ‘ebook’, for example, is to be master of several different content-display systems, all of which have their own inherent quirks and layout challenges. The fundamental role of an editor won’t change, but this is still a simplified example of a larger, more fundamental change at the heart of what an editor does; that editors may no longer be editing ‘books’ but simply ‘content’. While some books might try and resemble the ‘look’ of a book (such as those produced for iPad), print and electronic books are about as similar as an en and em dash. Both serve a similar communicative function, but the content within them is manipulated in significantly different ways.

For starters, ebook devices make it incredibly difficult to avoid instances where one word is left ‘hanging’ on its own line at the start or end of a paragraph. How, for example, can you reliably eradicate these in an ebook when the user can customise font size, and thereby re-flow the layout of the text themselves? Checking that an ebook works in both landscape and portrait mode can stretch an editor’s checking time, as can checking for poorly-interpreted fonts, dud or missing links and, in the case of an adaptation, checking that all the text from the original print book has been correctly translated to an onscreen, usable format. This, on top of the regular ‘book’ editing that applies to both print and electronic products.

Whatever happens, it will be fascinating to watch how the publishing industry in Australia develops and implements convergence-friendly CMS. For editors, the challenges appear to be wide-ranging but ultimately fascinating. Ebooks, in whatever format they take, will allow editors to literally test the boundaries of what is possible in this field. Even then, the boundaries will continue moving outwards as technology develops new and better ways to present content on electronic devices.

Siobhan Argent works as an editor in educational publishing. She is currently completing a Masters of Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne, with a minor thesis on ebooks and their effect on editing process within Australian publishing. On occasion, she also reviews and blogs at www.ausink.wordpress.com.




  • http://annabelsmith.tumblr.com/ Annabel Smith

    In terms of formatting e-books still seem to be very much in ‘beta’ mode – my editor and I spent a lot of time working on fonts, glyphs etc for the hard copy of my novel, and when we saw what it would look like as an e-book, there was a collective ‘ugh’.

    It seems if you want any real formatting done you have to create an app. But who can justify spending (tens of) thousands creating an app in such an uncertain industry?

  • Pingback: Daily 12/02/2012 « READINGPOWER

  • Pingback: Pinning down the oily fish: ebooks, publishing, and content management « .ReviewMania.

West Bank

David Donaldson

Whitewashing occupation? Bill Shorten and the Israel Lobby

Racism and military occupation have no place in the modern world, and are certainly not something looked upon favourably by a majority of Australians. Yet while apartheid, for example, has become a byword for shame and racism, the Labor Opposition leader feels comfortable asserting that some Israeli West Bank settlements are legal. Read more »

Tony Abbott

David Donaldson

Abbott and Brandis’ culture war backfires

What is supposed to happen in a culture war is that conservatives use a controversial issue to drive a ‘wedge’ through the left, forcing a split between factions. In Australia, this usually means pitting Catholic unionists against their socially liberal colleagues in the Labor party. Read more »

climate change

David Donaldson

Australia is going backwards on climate policy

During the Howard years, it was usual for Australia to be awarded ‘Fossil of the Day’ by climate advocacy groups whenever it attended a climate negotiation conference. The award signifies the country that had done the most to hinder climate change negotiations, and Australia has won a pile of them. Read more »

Zoe Pilger

Carody Culver

Girls, eat your hearts out

Middle class hipsters, conceptual artists and third-wave feminists have long been easy targets for mockery, so I admit that I wasn’t expecting anything too groundbreaking when I picked up Zoe Pilger’s Eat My Heart Out, a satirical romp through contemporary London that reads like a surreal mash-up of Broad City, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Less Than Zero. Read more »

Laika, Astronaut Dog

Carody Culver

Houston, we have a fabrication

As someone who doesn’t have children, I’m no less resistant than any of my book-loving friends-with-kids to the charm of a beautiful picture book. So when I spotted Laika: Astronaut Dog by writer and illustrator Owen Davey, with its charming retro-style artwork Read more »

& Sons

Carody Culver

WASPiration: David Gilbert’s & Sons

As someone who’s always secretly aspired to being a WASP (before you mercilessly judge me for this, I should clarify that my desire has less to do with attaining elevated social and financial status than with being able to dress like a character in The Great Gatsby Read more »

American Pickers

Julia Tulloh

Eccentric junk collectors held high on American Pickers

The History Channel’s American Pickers, currently in its sixth season, is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable reality series on TV. It’s not a competition show, it doesn’t exist to objectify people and it isn’t particularly dramatic. So what’s the appeal? Read more »

Justin Timberlake

Julia Tulloh

Pleasantly forgettable: Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience

On 7 March this year, tickets went on sale for the Australian leg of Justin Timberlake’s latest tour, ‘The 20/20 Experience’. All five shows sold out in a few hours. The same day, five new shows were released, with most tickets for these rapidly selling out too. Read more »

BuzzFeed

Julia Tulloh

BuzzFeed quizzes understand me

If you use social media regularly – Facebook, in particular – you’ll have completed a BuzzFeed quiz during the past month. Don’t deny it. Even if you didn’t share your results online, deep down you’re still feeling smug because the ‘What Should You Actually Eat For Lunch?’ quiz confirmed that eating ice cream was, in fact, an appropriate meal for your personality type. Read more »

The Lego Movie

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Nostalgia and today’s family-friendly films

Hollywood has always known the adults are watching alongside the kids, and that to push a film into record profits (as Lego looks set to do with a global box office of $428 million and counting), you need to appeal to ‘kids of all ages’. Read more »

nympho-poster

Rochelle Siemiennowicz

Weirdos on screen: Noah and Nymphomaniac

There are some filmmakers you’ll follow into the dark, no matter how bad the buzz is about their latest work. For me, naughty boy Lars von Trier (The Idiots, Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Antichrist, Melancholia) and strange kid Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) are two filmmakers who can be loved or detested, but never ignored. Read more »

planes

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Notes from a plane

There’s an art to choosing the right film for every particular occasion, and as I nervously sit in a Qantas jet about to take off on a four-hour flight from Melbourne to Perth, the choice seems very important indeed. Read more »

tweet

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Web as an Empathy Machine

Ad hoc Twitter projects like #RaceSwapExp neatly draw together all that is terrific and all that is terrible about the web as a system. Depending on how it is used, the web can either allow us to retreat into callousness, cliques, and fixed ways of thinking or it can function as the world’s most sophisticated and effective empathy machine. Read more »

Samsung fingers

Connor Tomas O'Brien

‘Fooled’ by technology

As I browsed the web last Tuesday, something struck me: tech companies can no longer pull off compelling April Fools’ Day hoaxes because there’s no longer even the thinnest line delineating sincerity from spoof. Read more »

wifi

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Flight 370 and gaps in the internet

On Twitter the other day, sandwiched between a slew of links to articles about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, somebody tweeted a link to the website for Tile, a Bluetooth-enabled device that can be attached to physical objects, enabling them to be located within a 150-foot range. Read more »

Young Adulthood Books

Danielle Binks

The young adult books of my young adulthood

In March, Penguin Books Australia rereleased Melina Marchetta’s first novel as part of its Australian Children’s Classics series. Looking for Alibrandi was first published in 1992; the first print run sold out in two months, and Marchetta’s debut went on to win the Children’s Book Council of Australia Children’s Book of the Year Award. Read more »

When You Reach Me

Danielle Binks

A children’s lit prize of one’s own

Earlier this year, Readings Bookstore announced the creation of The Readings Children’s Book Prize. The eligibility criteria for the 2014 Prize was specified as ‘a work of published fiction, written for children aged 5–12’. Read more »

The Fault with a Sick-Lit Debate (1)

Danielle Binks

The fault with a sick-lit debate

American author John Green’s young adult (YA) novel The Fault in Our Stars has been a bestselling juggernaut since its release in 2012. Green’s book was somewhat inspired by his friendship with Esther Earl, whose posthumous memoir This Star Won’t Go Out was released in January this … Read more »

music theory

Chad Parkhill

Do music critics need music theory?

Canadian musician Owen Pallett – the man who arranged the strings on Arcade Fire’s albums, co-wrote the soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s Her, and has a bunch of wonderful solo albums – can now add another feather to his cap: that of an engaging music writer. Read more »

Tune Yards

Chad Parkhill

Drips, leaks, and spurts

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of perpetual excitement – musically speaking, that is. First came tUnE-yArDs’ new song, ‘Water Fountain’, a joyous, riotous explosion of colour and movement. Then Swans released ‘A Little God in My Hands’, a seven-minute epic of a track … Read more »

Grandma photoshop

Chad Parkhill

Singing out

My maternal grandmother, Merilai Lilburn, recently died in a nursing home in Katikati, New Zealand, of complications arising from pneumonia. She was 82 years old. At the time of her death, I and the other members of our extended family based in Australia Read more »

Community

Stephanie Van Schilt

Diary of a lurker: TV and Twitter

At the end of last month, global information provider Nielsen announced that Australia was to become the third country in the world with the ‘Nielsen TV Twitter Ratings’ service. According to a Nielsen Company press release, the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings are ‘the first-ever measure of the total activity and reach of TV-related conversation on Twitter’. Read more »

Broad City

Stephanie Van Schilt

Funny Broads

‘All comparisons between Girls and Broad City should be hereto forth banned from the internet.’ I agree with Katherine Brooks. Yet the comparisons continue, ad nauseam, mostly following one of two lines of thought. Read more »

The Carrie Diaries

Stephanie Van Schilt

‘Alive Girl’ TV: The Carrie Diaries

Get ready to feel old: it’s been ten years since the final episode of Sex and the City aired. I’m not talking about the first episode back in 1998, but the final episode – the one before the two questionable movies were released. Read more »