How Ebooks Have Changed Book Production and Workflow

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Much has changed when it comes to producing books these days and ebooks and new production technologies have been the catalysts.

Here is an overhead view on some of the biggest, most-sweeping changes from Matt LeBlanc, director of digital workflow at F+W Media (which owns and operates Digital Book World).


Related: Join Adobe and Digital Book World for an entire day of ebook production and workflow workshops at DBW 2014! Learn more here


Digital Book World: How has the rise of ebooks changed production workflow for publishers?

Matt LeBlanc: It has forced publishers to completely rethink their legacy print-centric workflows and fundamentally change the content development process, from the ground up. It’s essential that today’s workflows are output-agnostic. Content must be tagged and structured in such a way, so we can quickly access and adapt it, in order to publish to all available channels, both print and digital.

 

DBW: What is the future of book production workflow at publishers?

ML: While XML based workflows are not new to publishing, they have become more affordable and accessible over the past few years. I feel we have reached a workflow tipping point. In order for publishers to maintain cost effective production processes, when publishing across a wide range of digital channels in today’s market place, they must move to an XML based publishing workflow, separating content from form.

 

DBW: What is the most important thing for authors to be concerned about when it comes to ebook production workflow in the ebook era?

ML: Educating themselves about the core differences between static content in a print or PDF format and flowable content, such as the EPUB standard. Authors and publishers lose a lot of control over the styling and presentation of their flowable content, with today’s myriad of e-reading devices. That said, there are many ways we can successfully control this and set our readers up for a positive digital experience. The key is not trying so hard to force or replicate a static print layout and instead embrace the digital environment, where the reader has more control over how they wish to consume the content.

 

DBW: How is designing covers and interiors for ebooks different than for print books?

ML: For covers it’s really about thinking through all the various digital “bookshelves” to make sure the cover concept and design translates well across all forms, not just its print form. Sometimes this could mean alternate covers for different channels. For interiors it’s also about understanding the core differences between flowable vs. static and how ebook specifications and e-reading devices effect the content and consumer experience. Supporting industry standards and implementing strong quality assurance processes within your digital workflow is key.


Related: Join Adobe and Digital Book World for an entire day of ebook production and workflow workshops at DBW 2014! Learn more here


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11 thoughts on “How Ebooks Have Changed Book Production and Workflow

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  4. I knew digital had become important to my workflow when I realized that I was changing how I did print versions to make them more adaptable to the dreadful limitations of ePub.

    In my latest two books, chapters break to a new page immediately followed by a picture. That prevents those ugly situations in digital where the text breaks mid-page because the picture won’t fit on what’s left of the screen. ePub readers should understand that intelligent reflow means to insert inline pictures on the next page where they fit, not just mindless break pages to place them.

    What’s wrong with digital publishing is quite simple. Those developing it have treated it as a primitive sort of webpage. ePub is crippled HTML5. Ebook readers are crippled browsers. But ebooks have far more in common with print books than webpages. They’re far longer than webpages. They typically have fewer graphics. People page through them rather than scroll–hence that page-break-for-pictures problem. And because of their content, they have typography and layout demands that are different from webpages. New standards for digital publishing should come from experts in typography and design with the web-obsesed software developers only called in to code what’s needed.

    I saw that in a recent online conversation about how to tweak ellipses to make them look better, particularly in books where authors use them a lot. In print, it’s quite easy to tweak the appearance of that string of dots, moving them the tiniest fraction of an inch closer together. In ePub, they’ll just be a string of periods that are likely to look ugly in some randomly applied font and break confusingly in the middle because ereader are as stupid as sticks.

    The answer is simple. Those designing the future of digital books should ignore what webpages are doing (that multi-media distraction) and focus on giving digital books the ability to do the sorts of things Gutenberg could do with his press 500 years ago. Get that down and maybe, just maybe, the multimedia stuff might begin to matter. For now, the main problem with the print-to-digital transition is that it is likely to end up so ugly a third-grader can spot the problems.

    I’m not sure XML is the answer to multi-platform publishing for any but the most complex technical books or largest publishers. The learning curve for XML is quite steep for what good it does. All that really needs to be done it to tag text with paragraph and text styles that say what is is rather than just how it looks. I’m quite happy with the abilities Adobe is adding to InDesign to make it easy to port a print book to digital without forcing those doing layout to enter the grim world of XML. I want to write. I want to edit. I want to layout. I want the ability to make a book look good. I do NOT want to code. I do not want utterly stupid standards and ebook readers making trash of a book.

    The plus is that digital’s ability to display beautiful color has made me include color pictures in books where appropriate, as both my hospital books, Hospital Gowns and My Nights with Leukemia, illustrate. And InDesign is so clever, I can replace the some 50 color images for the digital versions of those books with their carefully Photoshopped B&W equivalents in about 30 seconds.

    I’m also sticking with the same covers for print and digital because I suspect different covers will confuse potential buyers. I’m just keeping those covers simpler and with larger text. That’s no real change. Given that retail is moving online, the cover already needs to be one that looks well reduced in size for a retailer’s webpage.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

    • “I want to write. I want to edit. I want to layout. I want the ability to make a book look good. I do NOT want to code.”

      You want someone to code the perfect program that will allow you to write, edit, and do layout, like InDesign will do for a pdf. Eventually it will come…but It will take a lot of hard work from programmers, and still it will not be perfect. When you bring reflow into play, you bring in an unlimited amount of possibilites where things can be placed.

    • Thanks for the comments.

      In a well designed xml based content management system, content creators are tagging their content and writing xml code, without even knowing it. One of the big benefits with XML is the ability to separate your content from form/style and store it, so at the end of the day you have a more cost effective way to access, adapt and push your content to any available channel or output . . . not just the ePub standard or a print layout. You are also setting yourself up for the future. We can debate and speculate about what the future holds for digital publishing, but having your content in xml prepares you for whatever lies ahead, so you can quickly adapt and react to any new formats, channels or consumer trends.

      Adobe is doing a great job refining InDesign’s ePub export. Even within an xml based workflow, we will still need tools like InDesign.

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  8. Thanks for the comments.

    In a well designed xml based content management system, content creators are tagging their content and writing xml code, without even knowing it. One of the big benefits with XML is the ability to separate your content from form/style and store it, so at the end of the day you have a more cost effective way to access, adapt and push your content to any available channel or output . . . not just the ePub standard or a print layout. You are also setting yourself up for the future. We can debate and speculate about what the future holds for digital publishing, but having your content in xml prepares you for whatever lies ahead, so you can quickly adapt and react to any new formats, channels or consumer trends.

    Adobe is doing a great job refining InDesign’s ePub export. Even within an xml based workflow, we will still need tools like InDesign.

  9. Pingback: How Ebooks Have Changed Book Production and Workflow | Learn About eBooks

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