By Colleen Cunningham, Senior Book Designer, Adams Media
Digital books are going to be a big part of the future of publishing. Everyone in publishing knows this, and many of us are embracing the opportunity to reach more readers in whichever formats they prefer.
For the print book designer, it’s an exciting, if somewhat scary time, as eBook production is being added to our workflows, and the variety of formats and digital platforms pose new and unique challenges. The fonts we choose, the grids we build, the design we cultivate — they’re all skills we have developed and refined in order to help make the meaning of the words come alive for readers.
“Export to PDF” has faithfully preserved our design choices in a static layout and stable context, but PDF eBooks are, for the most part, meant to be viewed on large, four-color screens. Good design, however, is being redefined in this new digital age, and as designers, our focus needs to expand to include the myriad ways readers might access our content beyond the printed page.
Are they reading on their computers, laptops, or tablets like the iPad? If so, a PDF eBook remains a good option as our original design can be preserved and displayed as we intended.
But, what if they’re reading on an e-ink device, eg: Kindle, Sony Reader, or Nook, or via Apple’s iBooks app? This is where it all becomes murky for designers.
Should our design-driven books be simplified to fit the constraints of the ePUB format?
Publishers have to ask themselves if they have the skills, time, and resources to invest in reworking their content in-house, or if an outsourced solution should be retained.
And if an outsourcer is retained, is there a quality control process in place?
Savvy publishers will produce two versions of their books – PDF and ePUB – giving readers the option to choose their preferred format. PDF eBooks are still the format of choice for design-driven books, but with e-ink devices and iBooks commanding a lot of attention these days (especially since the Kindle and the Nook are driven by established book retailers), publishers must also consider putting resources behind the ePUB format.
When faced with this challenge (or opportunity — is your glass half-full?), print designers must quickly develop the skills that will enable them to produce a high-quality ePUB file that is accessible over a wide range of devices.
For print designers this creates a problem, because ePUB files are, in a way, self-contained websites. When we choose “Export to Digital Editions” in InDesign, we’re translating the content into HTML, and as every web designer knows, a web page is all about presenting content that can be accessed via a variety of web browsers.
With ePUB, our challenge is to produce an eBook that can be read on a variety of eReaders, with its information hierarchy intact and intuitive navigation that makes access to the content quick and easy, no matter what device it’s being viewed upon. It’s a significant shift in thinking, and the designer who wants to make the transition from print to digital must be able to let go of some design control and put content first, before design.
Adobe and InDesign have given print designers the ability to expand their skills to the digital realm with the “Export to Digital Editions” option. In our own experience in the Production Department at Adams Media (a division of F+W Media), we’ve welcomed this opportunity to bring our ePUB production in-house for a number of reasons, not the least of which is for better quality control. We’re also saving money by reducing our outsourcing budget, increasing our in-house digital capabilities, and becoming advocates of best practices within our own company.
However, the challenging side of this opportunity is the additional time it takes us to troubleshoot.
When a highly-designed book enters our print production schedule, we have to evaluate 1) whether it’s worth the time to create an ePUB file, and 2) how to manage the design and layout to facilitate the ePUB production process. Simply tacking a digital workflow onto the end of an existing print workflow is not efficient and there is no “easy button” for exporting a clean ePUB file. Ideally, when a title enters the publishing list, both print and digital formats should be planned out at the same time — content and design can be optimized every step of the way in order for the digital export to go smoothly.
In future posts, I plan to explore the various challenges we have faced in everyday situations in transforming our InDesign print workflow to include an ePUB export process, and share the results and any best practices I uncover.
A few important notes up front:
- Our print workflow is based on InDesign CS4, so that’s where our ePUB production begins. Galley edits are made into the print InDesign file and to preserve the edits, our ePUB export must be done from InDesign.
- Our ePUB toolkit consists of: InDesign CS4 to export, Springy Archiver to open the ePUB file, Dreamweaver to edit the CSS, Adobe Digital Editions to preview.
- We are not coders by trade; we are print designers and print pre-press specialists, and are excited to incorporate digital production into our roles.
- Our production schedule is tight, so our standards for what makes an ePUB candidate are narrow — straight text and minimal floating elements (sidebars, art) are preferable to highly-designed ePUB eBooks.
- All of our books are exported as PDF eBooks, but only about 75% are considered ePUB candidates due to the design considerations discussed above.
- We are concerned with deadlines, storage, transmission issues, and eReader limitations; therefore, we create one ePUB that is lightweight and content-driven, intended for every platform from the Kindle to the iPad.
That being said, we are open to challenging the limitations of ePUB and are hoping that technology will only make this process smoother, and that the design capabilities of ePUB will eventually be supported by all eReading devices.
Please join us as we explore “real world” scenarios that crop up as this print designer tries to export print files to ePUB. The case studies that will be presented are taken from actual print files, and we welcome any questions and feedback.
The workflow for digital production is being created as we go along, and no one has the perfect, one-size-fits-all solution or all of the answers. Groups like #ePrdctn, hosted by Lindsey Martin (@crych) on Twitter, are working out digital production issues as we go along, and that group is the inspiration behind this column.
You are welcome to join us for the ride!
Colleen Cunningham is the Senior Book Designer for Adams Media, a division of F+W Media.