Monthly Archives: October 2011

Ebooks: It’s Not Just Pushing a Button

Katie Sweeney, assistant marketing manager at Fordham University Press, attended an ebooks seminar recently, courtesy of Brenna McLaughlin of AAUP and Ted Hill, President of THA Consulting. I asked her to write up her notes for a blog post to Digital Commons. Instead of rehashing her notes verbatim, Katie came up with this clever assessment. I think she hit the nail right on the head. We have been having a lot of fun assigning names to the different types of people in our office. Enjoy!

If I was a Director of a small press and I attended the Publisher’s Launch Conference: eBooks for Everyone Else, I’m not sure I would have taken the leap to create an eBooks Program.  However, that’s why organizations have different types of people.

  • You need the “visionary”—the person who sees the big picture.
  • You need the “techie”—the person who is willing to learn the technology, or at least understand enough of it to make an informed decision on the conversion company to hire.
  • You need the “negotiator”—the person who can get a contract on the table, bargain for better terms, and sign on the dotted line.
  • You need someone who’s “OCD.” They’re the person who will care enough about nitpicking every tiny piece of metadata and scrutinize the finished eBook.
  • You need the “worker bee,” although an entire beehive would be useful. This will be the person who knows the theory of how the workflow should operate, but will actually execute it.
  • You need the “naysayer.” The one who hates change and will be taken kicking and screaming into eBooks. They will be a hindrance, but they will probably spot half a dozen problems that you didn’t anticipate. Foresight is key.
  • You need the “scrooge” to nickel and dime your budget because contrary to popular belief, eBooks don’t just appear from established content. They’re another production stream in their own right.
  • You need everyone else who makes a regular book happen, make it happen for an eBook.

Once you’ve identified these people in your organization, the best thing you can do is educate them because there’s a lot to learn.

Like everything, there are advantages and disadvantages to eBooks. There is 24/7 availability. eBooks are never out of stock and there are no returns. Publishers can experiment with price points, create enhancements to files, or rapidly respond to marketplace events. Bonus: there is no physical inventory to ship or store. On the flip side, the disadvantages include, but are not limited to dealing with DRM, the technical file delivery, piracy, quality assurance, fluid business models, and trying to compute royalties.

Another hurdle is the change in the editorial and production workflows. Will you use an XML workflow at the front end of the editing process? In simplistic terms, this means creating a template and guidelines that copyeditors will use for tagging the manuscript. Further down the line, this will rear its head in production. You are now focused on all things “e,” but can your printers accept these files to make a print book? It’s a give and take between the print business we still need to do and eBusiness we want to do.

Publishers Launch also included some great nitty-gritty topics, such as metadata for eBooks. If you shop on Zappos, you know the importance of locating a perfect kitten heels in black patent leather in less than 20 seconds. Finding your book needs to be that easy.

Books covers were also a source of discussion. Traditionally, a great cover was thought to draw people from 20 feet. Today, finding a good book online is more about search and discovery. A book cover may be the size of a postage stamp. For publishers, this might mean creating a cover for a print book and creating a cover that is smaller, yet still distinguishable online.

Digital Identifiers are also expanding. Besides ISBNs, there is the ISTC —the International Standard Text Code that is a unique identifier for text. That means it belongs to the textual work, not the edition of a book. It is assigned to related works of the same content. There is also the ISNI—the International Standard Name Identifier. It identifies public identities, such as authors making it easier to locate all titles that an author may publish, regardless of the publisher.

And, once you’ve got your eBook made, you’ve got to figure out how to distribute it. Are you doing it all inhouse? That means you need to make sure you have the right type of file and negotiated agreements with every company you want to sell to. Are you hiring a distributor that will take one file and send it to their existing distribution agreements? The variations on these questions are endless. You need to explore you options and find the best fit for your organization.

The bottom line is that creating eBooks will touch all areas of your organization. It infiltrates editorial, production, marketing and sales. It’s not a simple task. One person doesn’t make it all happen. It’s a coordinated group effort that requires a strong leader and a dynamic team. Always have meetings to regroup. You might get frustrated, but you can always improve. For a small organization it can be a challenge. Some days it’s Survivor: Fordham Press, but every once in a while you hit tropical island status. That’s the day you hang up your hammock and take out your Kindle, your Nook, or your iPad and just read.

Posted by Fred Nachbaur, Fordham University Press


When you think of standards, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s a few bars of “Autumn Leaves” or “Star Eyes” or any number of other great jazz compositions from the early 20th century.

However, in the coming weeks I’ll try to put a new spin on standards in the AAUP’s Digital Digest. Starting in the next couple of weeks, The Digital Digest will feature a new series of blog postings that will present overviews of standards for digital content and metadata. As our businesses move increasingly online, university presses are being required to become conversant with the standards for both digital content and metadata that are currently driving the growth of the various digital sales channels. Our colleagues who work (or have worked) for presses that have journals businesses may have already had to dip into the arcane language of digital standards and the acronyms that accompany them. (NLM, DOI, MARC, COUNTER—where does the alphabet soup end?!) But, for books, the current situation is still somewhat unsettled.

The first of these posts will be an interview with Carol Anne Meyer, the Director of Business Development for CrossRef, which is the DOI (digital object identifier) registration agency in the United States. For future entries, I plan to focus on ISBNs (with particular emphasis on digital ISBNs) and the newly unveiled EPUB 3 standard for e-book content. The aim of these articles is to give a manageable overview of some of these complicated issues for those with passing familiarity and to give those who at least know what the acronym standards for a little bit of a deeper understanding. I will try to do each of these in a Q&A fashion with members of other industry associations, outside vendors, and our trading partners.

While digital standards are admittedly not the sexiest topic in the whole world, they have a deep impact on the discoverability and marketability of our content. While many of our partners are still using a mix of proprietary and standards-based mechanisms for ingesting and distributing content and metadata, many have either adapted current standards or are migrating towards a standards-based approach. Digital standards issues have fairly broad implications for publishers. They can impact everything from how contracts are worded to how you run your royalty systems to how you manage your production workflows. So, it’s absolutely critical that we all become conversant in the language of standards. I hope you all find this series useful, and please leave a comment, if you have suggestions for future topics and/or interview subjects.

Also, thanks to the Digital Publishing Committee for allowing me to use this blog as the forum for this series.

Posted by Erich Van Rijn, University of California Press