6 Questions with DBW 2017’s Peter Costanzo

Peter CostanzoPeter Costanzo is the digital and archival publishing manager for The Associated Press. He is also an award-winning book producer and he teaches the “New Media Technology: Formats and Devices” course at New York University.

Peter is also a speaker at DBW 2017, where he will discuss new approaches to some old ideas in book publishing.

We spoke with Peter about his session at DBW, what he sees as the future ebooks, what the role of apps is, and much more.

You are currently the digital and archival publishing manager for The Associated Press. What does your role entail?

My primary focus is identifying topics that The Associated Press has reported on and then determining if there’s potential to present that coverage in book form. Such projects either end up as an informative biography, a personal memoir or a collection of stories, all written by current or former AP journalists.

Good examples of this are titles like Dwight D. Eisenhower, My Time with the Kings and Divided America. The AP’s corporate archive goes back to its founding in 1846, so I have access to an incredible wealth of articles, artifacts, video and photography for use within each book we publish. It’s a real privilege to be able to mine that content and work closely with those who’ve paid witness to pivotal moments in history and get to help tell those stories.

Much of your work has focused around ebooks. Where do you see this format going?

Well, the last time I checked my crystal ball, the view was a bit cloudy. For people like me who’ve been working with ebooks since early 2000, there have been a lot of improvements in terms of the production process, standardization, design and basic functionality.

In the early days, we saw some god-awful ebooks that were converted from files with no thought to what the digital reading experience should be on the various devices that existed at the time. I’m talking pre-2007, before the introduction of the Kindle. But even then, between the challenges of producing files for Amazon’s proprietary Mobi platform and EPUB for everyone else, I think it’s fair to say there wasn’t a real focus on delivering ebooks that were on par with their print counterparts.

And that was a disservice to consumers that slowly, but surely, has improved. So I’d say the industry has come a long way in appreciating that ebooks require some basic must-haves in terms of formatting and functionality, as well as attention to the quality of photos, charts, graphs, maps and more, whether read on a dedicated e-reader, tablet or smartphone.

Will ebooks evolve or be “improved?”

I guess you’re asking me this question because of my time producing highly interactive or “enhanced ebooks” for Perseus, F+W Media and NBC that received some attention a few years back. Frankly, I’ve not much to say about the topic that I haven’t already shared with DBW readers in this blog post from 2014, other than to say that if enhanced ebooks ever have a rebirth, it’ll be because Amazon Publishing decided to create such products tied to their original TV programs, movies and perhaps non-fiction titles in categories like cookbooks, history and so on. But I highly doubt it’ll happen any time soon, if ever.

But if we’re talking about basic functionality, formatting and integration of features, such as social media and more, there’s no doubt that the Kindle team has introduced improvements and simple innovations that have made reading on Kindle a real pleasure. You could always find ebooks that looked and functioned great in the iBookstore, provided the publisher spent the time and effort to make them so, but since Apple hasn’t really communicated to the masses in a big way what you’d find in their shop, it hasn’t really mattered much, sorry to say.

I’m comfortable that we’re at a point where both Mobi and EPUB allow for producing great ebooks for straight reading. The next hurdle is making it so both those platforms do the same for cookbooks, photography books, and coffee table-sized projects. There’s still work to be done.

What about apps? How do you see their role in the book publishing space?

Definitely not what we thought they might be six or seven years ago. If you look at the App Store, the vast majority of the top sellers in the Books category is dominated by interactive kids titles. And I guess that makes sense, right? I do suppose publishers can still use apps for informational purposes and as complimentary products that might present additional content just not possible to feature in print or ebook editions, but generally, most publishers don’t have the funding, or the stomach, to invest in such projects anymore.

But if you’ve got the programming chops and/or the budget, apps are still viable as a creative option, especially when thinking about selling ebooks direct to consumer.

Your session at DBW 2017 is titled “Old Models Made New.” Can you give us a preview of what you’ll be discussing?

We’ll be chatting with a few innovators, both in traditional and non-traditional publishing, about new approaches to some familiar ideas. For example, editors Trish Daly and Laura Fazio from Little, Brown will provide details about James Patterson’s highly successful “Bookshots” program; Maris Kreizman runs a very popular book recommendation blog called Slaughterhouse 90120; and Molly Barton, founder of Serial Box, delivers stories like episodes that unfold in similar fashion to how we binge-watch on Netflix.

What made you want to be involved in DBW 2017?

I’ve been involved with DBW from the beginning. I’ve appeared on panels, shared my perspectives via the website, and also served as a judge for the Digital Book Awards. It’s been so interesting to see how the industry has changed since the conference’s launch in 2010, and how things just keep evolving. For me, January means DBW. It’s a couple of days to meet up with like-minded digital pros and start the year on the right path. I’m definitely looking forward to it.


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One thought on “6 Questions with DBW 2017’s Peter Costanzo

  1. Michael W. Perry

    If the AP has sense, it’ll spin off this book division and avoid, like a plague, any mention of its parent company. Few will want to read articles back to 1846. Nor does the AP of recent years inspire confidence, having become little more than an appendage of the Democratic party.

    My sense, having talked to people who work for AP, is that, driven by declining newspaper circulation, its reporters are now paid so little, only those with ideological axes to grind will take those jobs. The Internet hasn’t helped matters. It’s driven the AP and newspapers to demand even more output from their reporters, further increasing the attritution rate among serious reporters. Faced with a deadline, reporters with an ideology have it far easier than the more responsible ones. They need not investigate, gather the facts, and present them fairly. I regularly see articles in which the reporter gives no evidence of seeking out the other side in a dispute.

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