How Creative Tech Leaders Shape Publishing

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

With evermore new technical developments and innovations, digital publishing presents a real opportunity for creative tech leaders to shape the future in useful and interesting ways.

Andrea Colvin is one such leader. Colvin is Vice President of Content and the Executive Producer in the Book Division at Andrews McMeel Publishing (AMP). In this role, she oversees AMP’s creative team and directs both digital and print content development. Previously, Colvin was director of publishing operations at Open Road Integrated Media, executive managing editor at Abrams, production editor for the Penguin Group, and a freelance writer and copyeditor with the San Francisco Chronicle, Peachpit Press and Adobe magazine, among others. In addition, she has held editorial and writing positions with publications including Publish, Macweek, and Macworld.

Andrea Colvin is a member of the Digital Book Awards panel of judges. The DBAs recognize innovation, creativity and excellence in all aspects of digital book publishing. The submission deadline has been extended to October 15 — enter today!

To learn a bit about recent progress in digital publishing, let’s eavesdrop on an exchange between Colvin and Anne Kostick, the program director for the Digital Book Awards and a partner in Foxpath IND.

Anne Kostick: You’re in charge of digital at a company with such a wide range of content, formats, and subjects–calling it “non-fiction” doesn’t begin to describe it. How do you handle all the decisions and pathways involved in bringing these unusual content assets to digital life?

Andrea Colvin: Each book is a journey!

What we try to do, and we’ve gotten much better at it in the past few years, is to think about digital from the very beginning. Not necessarily “digital first,” but more like “digital at the same time.” We want to be very careful not to dumb down or soften in any way the design and visual impact of our print titles in order to make the digital conversion easier or more fluid, but we do work very hard to bring the design elements of the print book to the digital world in a way that makes sense. What this often means is essentially redesigning for e; and not just once, but many times so that we are confident that each title is presented in the best way possible in each format (be it for the iPad, Nook, Kindle, desktop PC, phone, or other device), so it’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of thought at the outset. (Luckily we have a great team here—led by Dave Shaw and including our great ebook designer Kristen Liszewski.)

So essentially we sit down early on in the process for each book and think, what kinds of digital features are out there that would really work with this content? And when we do that, we try to come from a place of thinking not so much about what we can do (like adding bells and whistles) but what should we do—meaning what feature will actually be useful to the consumer? And if those features have a whiz-bang feel about them, so much the better. We have some books that we don’t yet develop in e because the features available from the major platforms don’t yet support what we want to do with them (right now this is mostly puzzle books, and we’re working hard on getting these to work in e). Also, we’ve learned that with any book where the print format is either larger or in a format very different from your basic tablet screen, we’re going to have to think really hard about how to display that content in e. What we really try to focus on is the idea of usefulness. How do we make our content useful for readers who are finding it digitally?—if we can answer this fundamental question well, we can build readership for illustrated digital books.

AK: Any directions/platforms/devices you’re seeing that offer new or better or just plain great opportunities for your properties?

AC: Well I think the color tablets that have come from the major ebook retailers in the past couple of years have done quite a bit to move the illustrated ebook format forward. What’s both really fun and really frustrating as a publisher is seeing these retailers sort of egg each other on in creating better ways to display illustrated content digitally. It’s fun because there are always new technologies we can incorporate into our titles, and frustrating because, well, there are always new technologies! It’s a constant learning process.

AK: What’s really exciting you right now? 

CFTHcoverjkt05dm.inddAC: Two of our biggest categories are cartoon books and cookbooks, and it’s been great to see the swelling of support these formats are getting from book retailers, from the creation of new comics-friendly platforms to new functionality that can be baked into digital cookbooks. I think we’re really in the second wave of ebook adoption, where we’ve figured out how to turn, say, The Help into the perfect ebook, but we’re just in the beginning stages of figuring out the perfect ebook version of, say, Cooking from the Heart by John Besh, or the latest Pearls Before Swine collection from Stephan Pastis.

And everything is moving so quickly—I can’t wait to see where we are by this time next year!

The Digital Book Awards celebrate innovation in educational apps and ebook publishing. Submit your nominations today! Deadline October 15

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