Browse Tag by e-books
blog

So You Want to Work in Digital Publishing: Getting an Internship in eBook Production

It’s that time of year, when a couple dozen eager publishing students are released from Humber’s Creative Book Publishing program and begin hunting for an internship in the wilds of Toronto’s publishing industry. Digital publishing has become a more and more popular option as the traditional avenues of editorial and marketing positions become scarcer. Digital publishing, although it has stabilized in the past few years, is still a growing aspect of the publishing industry, and some of the more exciting changes in publishing are happening here. It seems pretty natural that keen young publishing students, with strong grasps on social media and technology, turn their prospecting eyes to the semi-uncharted waters of e-publishing. Maybe that’s just how I felt when I was a new graduate, as I felt that my publishing school education had sort of skimmed over some of the important aspects of digital publishing when I began looking for internships. What are the components of an epub? How do you QA an epub? What is metadata, really? Whatever brief lessons we had on making epubs (with Sigil lol) didn’t seem like it actually translated into helpful experience when I was job-hunting. I did, however, have experience with coding and eReading, and all sorts of other computer skills.

Via Kobo on Instagram
Via Kobo on Instagram

I landed an eBook Production internship at Random House, a Publisher Operations internship at Kobo, and later a full-time job wrangling ebooks and metadata. My knowledge skews heavily towards the retailer end of ebooks, but I also have some experience with the publisher side; I’ve worked with ebooks at every stage of their lifecycle, from conversion to epub to deactivating out-of-print titles. Now that I’ve been working with eBooks for over two years and have been on both sides of the interviewing table, I have some advice for breaking into eBooks. I’m going to avoid basic job application and interview advice, such as doing your research on the company and asking knowledgable questions, and stick to what you should know for ebooks in particular.

Excel

My number one piece of advice: Get some excel skills. Like, don’t just say you know how to use excel if you’ve opened up a spreadsheet once or twice. You don’t need to be an expert (I use it every day and I’m not!) but hands-on experience goes a long way. Learn how to use fomulas. Learn how to do a vlookup. Learn the glory of a pivot table. Filters are your friends. Chances are you’ll be working with spreadsheets with lots of data on a daily basis, so get comfortable with the features of Excel. If you had called me up when I was in university and told me I would have favourite Excel tools (Text to Columns and Compare, fyi) and never use Word documents in a professional setting, I probably would have thought you were crazy. As an employer looking for an intern, show me that you’ve got some solid excel experience and I will swoon.

eReading Experience

Needless to say, probably one of the most basic things you can do if you’re hoping to work with ebooks in publishing is to actually read ebooks. Ideally, if you have a specific retailer or publisher in mind, you should read their ebooks, and be familiar with their devices and apps. What kind of ebooks and devices/apps are they selling, and what sort of features do they have? What kind of features do you wish they had? If you come to an interview without having ever read an ebook, or mention that what you’re actually more interested in print books, or not know the difference between a Kindle and a Kobo, you are not proving yourself as a strong candidate.

Metadata

Metadata is great. It’s the core of ebooks and you can do a lot of cool stuff with it; more complete metadata pretty much means your book has a better chance in hard-to-browse ebookstores. I’ll let you in on a secret: no one likes working with it. ONIX is the industry standard and it’s the worst to look at, unless looking at rows of impenetrable, always-different, non-standard lines of code is really exciting to you. Pro tip: you’ll never have to build an ONIX feed from scratch, no matter what your publishing teacher tells you. You will have to crack open publishers’ ONIX feeds and poke around, though. Know what a composite is, what the difference between ONIX 2.1 and 3.0, and what sort of information is transmitted through metadata. Take a look on booksellers’ websites and see what kind of information they display for a book – there is a 99% chance that information came from the publisher’s metadata. Each ebook retailer also has a proprietary, non-standard Excel-based metadata sheet (see, I told you that excel knowledge would come in handy) that some publishers use in place of ONIX.  Editeur, BISG and Booknet all have good ONIX resources. In lieu of actual experience with metadata feeds, experience with coding (XML, CSS, and HTML are all good; mine was in HTML and TEI (lol)) can make up for it.

ePubs

This is the standard (non-Amazon) file type for ebooks. It’s supremely helpful to know what’s inside one (it’s basically just a bunch of HTML files, images and CSS zipped up), so I’d suggest buying one and cracking it open to take a look. There are different kinds of epubs: reflowable and fixed-layout, epub3, ebooks with “enhanced content” like audio and video; be aware of these different formats and if your prospective employer makes or sells them. I know a lot of publishing schools have their students build epubs from scratch but it’s highly unlikely you’ll have to do that in your internship, as most ebook production is outsourced to conversion houses. The most I ever had to do as an intern was unzip, make a minor change, and rezip, so make sure you know how to do that. Find yourself an epub validator that you like (my favourite is Pagina). It’s best to know what a standard reflowable ebook looks like on the inside, and how to make changes, but if you can figure out what’s wrong with a broken ebook, I will be impressed.

All this might sound like a tall order, especially if your digital publishing courses were less than spectacular. However, employers know that it’s hard to gain practical experience with such specialized files, so if you can show them that you’re ahead of everyone else by demonstrating interest and experience, and the ability to learn quickly, it can give you a real leg up. It’s also important to know that your employer will train – it’s an internship after all! Do you have any questions about getting an internship in ebooks and digital production?

blog

Social Reading Revolution: What’s Next?

In Sean Prpick’s CBC article ‘Social reading’ the next phase of e-book revolution, he claims that e-reading is going to evolve into a social activity. The article mentions two types of social reading: Socialbook, an in-browser reader that lets you make comments, add marginalia, highlight text and more, while also allowing your friend network to see what you’re reading; and what are essentially hyperlinked web books, of which Hugh McGuire is a major proponent. McGuire’s vision is for books to be published online as their own websites, with hyperlinks peppering the text connecting to useful information such as photos and maps to enrich the text. The article mentions using a web book edition of Dracula to take a tour of the book’s setting in London. Both of these types of books and networks offer different and social reading experiences.

Social reading is new again. Via Wikimedia Commons
Social reading is new again.
Via Wikimedia Commons

The article asserts that McGuire’s vision of free web books is frightening to publishers because they “are in the business of selling access to that information in order to get you to buy a copy.” While this is for the most part true, I don’t think that free web books are necessarily scary to publishers – for example, Penguin UK has its own series of interactive web books called We Tell Stories, including one Google Maps-based version similar to the one described for Dracula. I also predict that free web books will work best for public domain texts, because websites for books do not offer the same kind of revenue stream that traditional books or e-books do, because there are no sales; website revenue is driven by ad sales, which would likely be undesirable on this kind of website. If publishers got on board with this kind of model, it would be just as but probably more expensive than developing an e-book: regular editing and marketing and some production costs would still apply, while the development and maintenance of the website (similar to building an app, I suspect), the research necessary to provide useful hyperlinked information and other costs, would also apply to this project. Unless the book was hidden behind a paywall, I don’t see how web books would be a lucrative channel for publishers; the paywall, of course, dashes McGuire’s dreams for open access content. (Side note: Hugh McGuire gave a talk similar in content to the CBC’s interview to my Public Texts class at Trent University last fall. It is interesting to note that his new book, Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto is available for purchase in traditional format as well as online in a free, hyperlinked web book. Even Hugh needs to pay the bills, I guess.)

As for SocialBook, I like that its creator links his service with the oral and social history of the book. In the CBC article, Bob Stein, SocialBook’s founder, connects it to the “pre-historic, preliteratre era [when] storytelling was communal, as tales were told around the campfire.” In fact, you don’t need to go quite that far back to find social reading as a part of everyday culture. Reading aloud was a form of entertainment as late as the 19th century, before silent, isolated reading became popular. While I agree with Stein that social reading is valuable and deserves a comeback, I don’t know if I would use his product. While I have not taken the plunge into e-reading on devices, I have tried desktop readers, and browser-based readers such as Zinio, Issuu and Flipbook. I do not like sustained on-screen reading. Additionally, I am not sure that I actually want my friend network knowing what I am reading as I read it via a social network (for that matter, I don’t want another social media platform to keep track of). Furthermore, Socialbook is also only available for Chrome and Safari, which excludes Firefox users like me, as well as Internet Explorer and other browsers. The ability to add marginalia is cool, but I think adding this feature to an e-reading device would eliminate SocialBook’s edge.

Both of these new forms of e-reading raise interesting questions about the direction of e-books and publishing. Will offering different e-reading experiences increase sales or an interest in reading? I am not sure. People who use e-reading devices might not try out a new type of in-browser reading. As mentioned before, I don’t see how web books can be profitable enough for traditional publishers or authors to become mainstream, while the source of SocialBook’s online library is unknown. McGuire is suggesting a move away from publishers-as-gatekeepers and towards open access and self-publishing. I think that if SocialBook takes hold, it could be an interesting alternative to GoodReads (rest its independent soul) if a review feature were added, while web books might work for traditional publishing if they were paid content; otherwise I suspect they will be more popular with public domain and self-published books. Either way, I will stick to reading a codex or on an e-reading device.

blog

Pinterest and Publishing: Engaging Readers through the Last Social Media Platform

As far as social media platforms go, publishing hasn’t quite caught on to Pinterest yet. Pinterest is mainly used for posting standalone images, and is not friendly towards large amounts of text. As Marcello Vena for Future Book points out, just pinning covers is not enough to attract readers’ interest to a new book, and it’s not converting into followers. As a Pinterest user, I would not be interesting in following a publishing house that only flogged their own books. For one thing, Pinterest is not a place I look for new reads. For another, the platform does not offer me an innovative way of interacting with the pinned books – as demonstrated by Maureen Johnson’s coverflip project – covers are not always an accurate portrayal of a book’s contents. This leaves publishers searching for ways to engage Pinterest users with their content.

Publishers have varying levels of success with Pinterest. For example, Harper Perennial’s Pinterest is an example of one which does not attract me as a follower. With only 736 followers, Harper Perennial posts just covers with short summaries, while the clickthrough links don’t even go to the publisher’s book page, but the individual image page. This means possible lost conversions and an inherent misunderstanding of the platform’s potential. Random House, on the other hand, has successfully used Pinterest to post thousands of pins of anything to do with books and reading, not just their own books; providing a diverse mix of fun content has translated into over 1.5 million followers, one of the top Pinterest users, and more than double the number of followers @randomhouse has on Twitter. Still, of the publishers only Random House has achieved this level of success, likely because they are creating a good brand image with this platform. I would consider following Random House because they pin a variety of things without excessively promoting their own titles.

One Italian publishing company, RCS Libri, has done something innovative with their Pinterest. Last week they launched an e-book streaming feature, which allows users to read a sample of over 100 titles in-browser. RCS Libri pins the cover and a blurb about a book, while the clickthrough link leads to an external site called Flipbook, which allows the user to read an excerpt of the book. Currently they have 121 followers.

Stream Pier Bergonzi’s e-book here.
Stream Pier Bergonzi’s e-book here.

I think that RCS Libri has found an exciting way to bring more dimensions of books into Pinterest and an interesting way of promoting e-reading. They have found a way to connect Pinterest, one of the last social medias to be adopted by publishing houses as a marketing channel, to their content in a dynamic way. Used in conjunction with other social media platforms, especially Twitter and Facebook, this concept could both drive traffic to RCS Libri’s Pinterest page and boost their sales (or at least, put more attention on their content).

While I like this idea, I don’t think that this experiment will be successful unless all the major publishers on Pinterest start doing it. For one, a pin with e-book clickthrough looks just like any other pin when I am scrolling through my Pinterest dashboard. Nothing in the picture’s description mentions anything about being an e-book sample and the pinner of a photo is not always immediately obvious. To me, this means that I would probably skip over RCS Libri’s pins without realizing what I am missing. Unless users come to expect e-book samples upon clickthroughs for all books posted on Pinterest, I suspect that RCS Libri’s content will be lost in the mix. Another thing is that there are no links to purchase the book either on the Pinterest page or in the e-book clickthrough page, only an ISBN. Without providing a venue for readers to buy the book after sampling it, the publishing company loses out on potential conversions since there is no call to action.

Do I think that RCS Libri’s model is the best way to unite publishing and Pinterest? No. Random House’s method has proved more effective at earning followers, because it posts more fun content that is not obviously marketing-driven. However, RCS Libri’s concept fills a need in the publishing-Pinterest relationship that I can see other houses adopting. At present, RCS Libri is brand new, and it may be too soon to judge whether their model will succeed.