Raising the Bar on Digital Content: Q&A with Digital Book Awards Program Director Anne Kostick

It’s been an eventful year for digital publishing, to say the least. But it was sometimes easy for business-related news–like the Amazon-Hachette dispute and its recent resolution–to occlude less dramatic but noteworthy milestones in ebook technology and content development.

That’s one reason the Digital Book Awards exists: to recognize real achievement and quality in digital publishing, and to highlight key authors, publishers, and sectors of the market that have shown remarkable advances over the past twelve months.

Digital Book World sat down with Digital Book Awards Program Director Anne Kostick to talk about the recently announced finalists and what to look forward to as we head into the last five weeks until winners are crowned.

Anne Kostick, Program Director of the 2015 Digital Book Awards

Anne Kostick, Program Director of the 2015 Digital Book Awards

DBW: How do you see the Digital Book Awards (DBAs) bringing value to the ebook market, given the array of content that’s currently available to readers?

AK: As a consumer, I always pay more attention to a product that has earned an award, whether it’s a book, a toy or an electronic gadget. We know that it’s more difficult for customers in the digital reading market to see what they’re getting before they purchase something. Regular book reviews tell one part of the story, but they don’t address the complexities of the reader’s experience in digital books.

The DBAs are all the more significant precisely because of, as you say, “the array of content that’s currently available.” To be able to promote your product as a finalist or winner of a Digital Book Award tells the customer, “Here’s something that’s better than the others; here’s something worth your attention!”

DBW: What trends are you and the other judges seeing among this year’s crop of entries? How have they changed since the program’s inception?

AK: If I had to come up with one word to characterize this year’s entries it would be ‘maturity’–even in the children’s categories! I mean that the handling of formats has matured. We don’t see many badly made ebooks or amateurish productions anymore.

I think publishers have figured out how to make ebooks and other-platform digital books that earn a “satisfactory” or “very good” grade. The formerly low bar is higher now, but the high bar is still cleared only by a handful.

The judges have commented on what an impressive batch of entries the’ve been reviewing, and that in many cases it was a very tight race. And I’d add that the range of subjects and styles is broader than ever.

DBW: What led you to add the Education & Learning Award this year, and how would you characterize entries in that category?

AK: Last year we received a number of entries that would have been in an educational category, if we’d had one, rather than the general “children’s” subdivision of the ebook or apps categories. And because of my other work in children’s educational content I knew that some excellent digital work was being done there, but was passing us by for lack of such a category.

One thing I like about this category is that it is platform-agnostic. An entry may be an ebook, a dedicated platform, web-based or mixed. What matters is its educational value and impact, and its user experience for both children and adults. As with all DBA categories, it must accomplish its goal at a high level, whether that goal is to deliver a story, offer a library of discrete items or present a fully rounded subject lesson.

We were flooded with entries this year, which was very gratifying. They were, for the most part, engaging, imaginative and thorough. It was a very competitive category. And a side benefit was that it allowed our children’s categories in ebooks and apps to shine with some fantastic examples. In all, I’m happy about anything that surfaces more kinds and examples of great work in digital books and reading.

DBW: Has the judging process led you to any new conclusions, surprises or questions that you hadn’t considered before entries began coming in?

AK: Oh yes, there are always surprises. Although we try to be prescient, we have to refine the process itself every year as we react to something we just discovered during the past year. Here’s a conclusion that’s not new, but is reinforced every year: Good content is paramount. When you start with good content you can build an excellent digital book. But if you start with poor writing, thinking or structure, your digital enhancements or design may improve the product but will never transform it. And if you can’t tell the difference between good content and the other kind, you’re in the wrong business.

DBW: What’s the top reason ebook publishers should come to the DBA Gala at Digital Book World 2015 to celebrate finalists and winners?

AK: If I were an ebook publisher, with or without a book in contention, I’d enjoy the DBA Gala as a chance to meet top-flight designers, developers and authors. I’d be looking for inspiration in the Gala’s showcasing of their great work. And who knows? Maybe next year I could be their publisher.

I know that the judging panel is looking forward to meeting the finalists and congratulating them in person on their work. We’re already fans.

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