Digital Reading: Talking to DBA Judge Drew Podwal About Progress, New Directions

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

Where are the great digital works of the year? I’ve been asking our Digital Book Awards panel of judges for their ideas and enthusiasms. Drew Podwal, founder of The Book Corps, gave me some intriguing new directions to investigate, along with a spoonful of medicine to help the sugar go down.

Drew Podwal,

Drew Podwal, Digital Book Awards Judge and Founder, The Book Corps

AK: Tell me about a digital work you saw this year that just blew your mind.

DP: First, let me say I’m excited for the EPUB3 specification’s dictionary and glossary working draft that started this year. Complex books such as heavy fiction titles like Dune, and A Song of Ice and Fire would benefit greatly from a dictionary and glossary. This also has a strong place in nonfiction as well.

There’s a small project brewing right now that I’m really keen on, called The Fictionary. Here’s a guy who, in his basement, started making specialized dictionaries, mostly for serial novels, with scraped, open-sourced content that he loads into his Kindle’s dictionary. It may not be too mind-blowing when you think about it, but he’s tapped into something important, and I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m curious to see more of it and explore where it can go.

AK: What in your opinion is the biggest development challenge facing digital book producers this year?

DP: I’m still seeing a ton of ebooks that are essentially print layouts with tacked-on, interactive element overlays. To me, these are clearly digital afterthoughts, what I call “developmentally challenged print-ovation” products. Good digital products need to be planned well in advance and strategized alongside the print book as a lateral product instead of a child product.

As an experiment, publishers should explore creating skunkworks teams to manage a handful of titles outside their current processes, leveraging the tactics, strategies and workflows of lateral interactive media industries. To me, this would be structured with an agnostic product owner facilitating development with print, digital and marketing stakeholders defining their individual product requirements.

On a more positive note, I’m finding more and more publishing houses have settled into their streamlined digital and print production workflows and now have efficient and expedient production for standard front- and back-list titles. This is a major step in the right direction because it frees up resources and opens up budgets. It keeps the bigger cogs turning and allows for the smaller ones to be inserted.

AK: Where do you see some important new directions in digital publishing?

DP: I’m looking forward to learning more about EduPub. E-learning needs better standardization in order to allow for schools to be able to simplify their technology support. As publishers, supporting multiple formats is a nightmare—so can you imagine the difficulty that regional school districts face in selecting and supporting students’ digital learning? Some of the solutions that they have are archaic and single-purpose. I think the IMS’s EduPub initiative is one that deserves more attention.

AK: That suits me fine, because this year we’ll be seeking innovation in the new DBA Education and Learning category. And I’m going to try out a Fictionary for my fiction. Finally, I’ll understand the difference between the Unburnt and the Unsullied!

The Digital Book Awards is open for entries. If you are the author, publisher, producer or developer of a great digital book, consider entering the competition. All the information you need is HERE. The early-bird deadline is September 2; the regular deadline is October 1.

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