Digital Reading: Innovation Abroad and At Home

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

 If you’re involved with some excellent digital work going on in publishing, consider entering the2014  Digital Book Awards today. Deadline for entry: October 15, 2013


Matt MullinI had a chance to talk to Matt Mullin, Digital Content Manager for Barnes &, about what he’s seeing in the digital publishing landscape in his international travels. Matt recently joined (or rejoined) the Digital Book Awards judges’ panel, and this conversation came at a good time; now my mind is filled with innovative ideas for digital books. Here’s our conversation:

AK: Your position at Barnes & Noble as a digital content manager sends you all over the world to talk to publishers about their digital publishing programs. You must enjoy having a good excuse to delve into all these works from other countries, other cultures.

MM: Any excuse to explore the books of the world is a good excuse! I’m extraordinarily lucky.

AK: What are the most interesting things you’re seeing on the international digital publishing scene?

MM: Every publisher who acquires rights broadly wants to ensure that they’re publishing effectively to sell those titles widely. One concept that I think will become more prevalent is localization of the content, even within the same language.

We saw this with a publisher of big-name cartoon properties recently. They’re working on making special editions of their NOOK Kids picture-book titles for the UK market. Same title in both the US and UK, but the sync’d audio of each edition has a “this side of the Pond”-specific accent, so that it seems more familiar for a young audience in each country.

You might begin to see the same thing in metadata – publishers want to make sure that a title’s description fits for all of the territories where their content is for sale. The first round of that might be avoiding confusing or embarrassing words, so swapping “hoodie” for “jumper” or writing “ill” when you mean “sick.” That could become more sophisticated quickly, though: In some markets, the appeal of a Christian romance might be its religious aspect, but in another the same title might appeal for its chasteness. Metadata can be crafted to reflect that.

AK: Any other trends you’re noticing?

MM: Well, the largest thing to watch for is one we’ve been discussing for years: ePub 3.0. And as you know, Anne, much of the promise of ePub 3.0 is not in innovation, but access. I mean that both in the integration of DAISY, which is important, as well as in the book types that are just coming onto the market en masse.

While a lot of the titles that get attention in the trades are marvelous examples of animation or media integration, it’s availability that interests me. We’re starting to see a broader catalogue of picture books, comics, and textbooks. We are also seeing broader support for non-Roman character sets and layouts, which brings more global publishers into the digital realm. That’s fantastic for publishers, because they can now sell and experiment across all the categories on their list, and it’s amazing for readers, who can access an eBook store far larger than and just as diverse as their local book shop.

In international markets where many of the published titles are specifically geared towards literacy and pedagogy, broader availability of children’s books and educational titles should be applauded.

AK: Any upstarts for us to keep an eye on?



MM: Cream eBooks in Barcelona makes some beautiful stuff. And The Atavist is doing some fascinating experiments with ad-supported storytelling with Warby Parker.

While they’re not an upstart, Harlequin definitely deserves praise for going above and beyond to localize their content. In Japan, they partner with SB Creative Corp to produce manga editions of their popular romances, even while they continue to translate that content into regular text versions.

AK: You were one of the originators of the Digital Book Awards back in 2010 when it was called the Publishing Innovation Awards. Now you’re joining the judging panel after three years of development and growth in the industry.  Does anything strike you about the current work in the marketplace that you’d like to comment on?

MM: A few years ago, it was typical to see criticism of enhancements like integrated audio and video that said such titles lacked a compelling reading experience. We’ve all heard that condemnation, but I would say that the question most publishers should be thinking about is whether the enhancements help your marketing and publicity.

ShakespeareSonnetsFaber & Faber’s app The Sonnets is not only a delight, but their partnership with personalities like Stephen Fry and Patrick Stewart helped them get write ups in the Sunday Times, Telegraph, and Salon.

The videos that were produced for the release of Night Film made for a great introduction into the creepy world of Marisha Pessl’s new novel, plus they helped the publicity team garner additional coverage for the book in Entertainment Weekly.

TravelingSprinklerThat’s not to say that the more typical enhancements, like integrated audio, video, and visuals aren’t still relevant under certain circumstances. I saw a great example of that the other day with Nicholson Baker’s latest, Traveling Sprinkler. Baker performed, recorded, and produced 12 songs for that edition, and they’re just as whimsical and wonderful as the book itself. I highly recommend it, along with its predecessor, The Anthologist.




The Digital Book Awards celebrate innovation in apps and ebook publishing. Submit your nominations today!

5 thoughts on “Digital Reading: Innovation Abroad and At Home

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