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BookCamp Toronto 2010

By James Caldwell | Published: May 17th, 2010

My initial thoughts about the day were: “Okay so it is supposed to be the first nice day this week and I am going to BookCamp Toronto 2010 to sit inside Robarts Library all day and listen to and participate in various discussions.” I was conflicted, I really needed a sunny day and I wanted to be outside but thankfully the weather wasn’t nice this day as it turned out to be overcast and even threatened to rain.

Welcome to BoockCamp 2010

Welcome to BoockCamp Toronto 2010

When I arrived at Robarts I wrote myself a name badge, gathered a schedule and walked over to the main auditorium for a welcome speech by Hugh McGuire. All around me was chatter but the one conversation I picked up on was a person explaining why his iPad was not such a good thing. He was upset at Apple’s closed ecosystem and limited standards.

Hugh started to speak. He explained that all the sessions were to be one hour in length. The first 15 minutes being an intro of the topic by the guest speaker and the final 45 minutes being a participatory discussion which would include everyone in the room.

Note: these are my thoughts on each session that I sat in on. I believe I’ve accurately paraphrased what was said in these groups but I am sure that others interpreted the sessions differently. I sat in on a total of six sessions.

Session One: The Shifting Role of Design in Publishing

Ingrid Paulson of Ingrid Paulson Design

Ingrid had the following thoughts on the state of the industry:

  • eBooks are poorly designed, reasons are many including poor technology, and a limited number of typefaces
  • Book jackets are a big question for the eBook’s digital future
  • How are publishers going to build an electronic brand without an actually physical presence (i.e. a pBook is a physical object)
  • The ePub format is currently really limited, it compares well to early web browsers
  • Designers are not involved in a proper manner. Most publishers are trying to mass convert pBooks but the technology is not quite there and ePub books are full of errors and not well designed.
  • Too often publishers are thinking of the size of the files and the formats for their eBooks and that restricts creativity
  • On the plus side there are no physical page restrictions with eBooks
  • Customers will not need so much shelf space for their book collection as their eBook reader will contain hundreds of books represented by only a small icon referred to as a pseudo cover

The audience wondered if:

  • the future book cover will be more informational or more akin to artwork
  • designers will become less valued

After writing my synopsis of the day’s events I finally made it to Ingrid’s website. Her work is wonderful and unlike other people who claim to be designers or care about good design, she does care and is a damn good designer. Please visit her site to understand what the difference between design and ‘technologists with templates’ is all about.

Ironically the shifting role of design in publishing was shifting all day.

Session Two: Digital Workflow

Sharon Balley of Anansi, and John Maxwell of SFU

Sharon started this talk and John, who was a last minute pairing, chimed in occasionally but tried to keep his dialogue separate from that of his presentation later in the day. Immediately questions were raised becuase print production has been the same for decades with only minor differences and evolutionary steps due to technology. But how would that change with the advent of electronic publishing?

  • Where does the epublishing fit into the traditional publishing workflow?
  • How does this added responsibility affect the traditional editorial and production workflow?
  • How will the roles of designers, marketers, editors, sales, distributers, etc., and other departments change with electronic publishers?

Sharon’s company, Anansi, converts printed books to ePub documents using Oxygen as a tool for ePub conversion and they have learned a few things along the way (John also participated):

  1. Third party converters make unfortunate judgment calls and the indexing is spotty
  2. MSWord to printer doesn’t work well at all. (note: MSWord was roundly criticized as a helper production tool but no one seemed to realize that authors like to use it for writing because it is the most robust tool and that they are already comfortable with it) In fact they believe that they have to get a printer ready document into an in-house style guide slightly before the print version because it usually takes about 4-5 weeks for a print book and 2-3 weeks for ePub version.
  3. Agile work flow allows for both print and electronic versions at the same time and perhaps it is best to create PDF, XML and ePub formats specifically for flexibility and mass print conversions

Issues affecting conversions are that publishers have to notify authors if a conversion is going to be made due to the growing authorship/copyright legalities. And for the moment retailers are signing only short term agreements for electronic publishing because the landscape is changing so fast.

Some of the technology used is:

  • Adobe’s PDFXML Inspector is best used to edit the ePub format
  • oXygen is best used as a pure XML editor
  • Sigil is good for only tweaking ePub in XML files

Other thoughts on Agile publishing:

  • It starts with the Web and then gets passed to Adobe InDesign
  • After changing the extension of the ePub to ZIP and then separating the necessary information, one can import an unzipped ePub format into InDesign
  • IDML in InDesign is useful publishing cross format
  • One might want to produce templates in WordPress first the move to the pBook format

Of course with the ever changing landscape of publishing tools I would take most of this advice with a grain of salt. As various technologies evolve, the answers to the publishing workflow will change with them. John Maxwell’s session later in the day would prove to be only a temporary solution for specific instances of workflow only.

Session Three: Print-on-Demand Workshop

Rob Clements of Lightning Source Inc.

I didn’t know what to expect in this session, but I figured it might be a little marketing heavy and I was correct but never-the-less intrigued by Rob’s proposal. Rob works for Lightning Source which is wholly owned by Ingram, the largest book distributer in North America. Rob juxtaposed the way LSI uses digital printing to its advantage over the traditional way publishers currently print books.

  • Traditional Method (front loaded, many books printed): Many copies after the initial print run stay at the publisher’s warehouse then these books get delivered to the retailer and finally to the customer.
  • Print on Demand Method (8 hours to 3 days for a limited run of 1+): Publisher receives a request of (x) amount of books through an online web store, the publisher then requests the print on demand (POD) company for those books and for them to be delivered to the client of the web store. The POD printer holds the electronic files which consist of the PDF for printing, the printing rights, the native currency amount, the type of paper, the spine width, etc. And then sends them directly to the end client.

Someone in the discussion noted that currently the law states that a Canadian publisher/distributor must be sourced from a Canadian vendor but that this law may be changing. So this brought up the next question as to how Canadians protect our own interests? Is it more important to print the book in Canada or allow the book to become freely available to the world through digital publishing mechanisms? If we primarily choose the latter many of the existing POD companies have multiple print houses around the world.

Other interesting tidbits of information that came to light were:

  • 5 publishers own about 50% of the total market and another 16000-20000 own the rest
  • For books to be printed at many POD companies the author/publisher needs to get them an ISBN number

I found this session interesting because it’s tone and much of its content was self-serving but I still learned a lot. But for next year I hope that people who do directly represent companies give more holistic talks about their industry in general.

Session Four: eBooks: From Structure to Typography

Scott Boms (designer) and Joe Clark (author)

I really liked this session. I thought that although at times it was pessimistic it really encouraged the audience to see past the present day technology and tools and ask the tough questions that make us all want more from the electronic publishing world.

The point was made that we currently have web standards that can be used to create books online but that there is a conceptual shift from design to structure with eBooks that is going unanswered. Sometimes a complete restructuring of a pBook is required to place it in its electronic form, but at other times the book only needs to be repurposed. Knowing which one to choose is the challenge in front of us.

Currently regular linear prose books are the standard for eBooks on line and that they are the first of their kind to be reproduced without proper typography in mind. Many of these eBooks are getting mass converted and the quality of those conversions is poor without any human interaction whether it be from an editor or designer.

Some of the questions asked:

  • What then is the designer’s role for ePub eBooks?
  • What does a designer do when moving previously well known graphic type books to an eBook format?
  • How do the dimensions of the pBook, the colour reproduction, the type selection, the layout of singles vs. spreads and text within images affect the transition of the electronic version?

It is already apparent that although web standards can separate structure (HTML) and presentation (CSS) the ePub format still has lousy mechanisms for typography, pagination, etc. What is worse is that web standards today dictate that the user has the control over the display of their information, therefore reading devices dictate what a page looks like which is not necessarily in the best interest of the book’s brand.

Joe mentioned that we should all be using DAISY instead of ePub for the design of eBooks for “… any E-book that includes a reading of itself, as DAISY allows us to avoid reinventing the wheel.” DAISY has the added advantages in that it contains structural markup, it is speech capable, printed page numbers are preserved and the speech can be linked to specific sections within the eBook.

Towards the end of the session the big question was asked: What are the choices for heavily designed books that we want to translate into an electronic format? And the answers given were:

  1. Give up
  2. Use ePub
  3. Make them applications

After leaving this session I came up with one more answer which I think is the right one: Just don’t copy the original, instead make it an entirely new entity that challenges the reader on its own merits. But alas there is always the other plausible answer that not all books are meant to go digital.

Session Five: The sBook – OCAD initiative

Bob Logan and James Caldwell (I was filling in for Greg Van Alstyne)

sBook can be best described as a cross platform for reading, writing and publishing. The goals of the sBook project are to develop a unifying information architectural framework for readers, writers and publishers that ties together emerging standards; and to invent new forms of functionality and interoperability to achieve our design vision. The name “sBook” refers to the qualities of the intended experience:
Simple: the pleasure and beauty of human readable pages
This would be an open format container which includes not only the book format, but also the information for it being printed anywhere in the world into any format with the book’s and its owner’s rights firmly adhered to.

Social: developing context and community through social media tools
Meaning that the author or authors could build a community around their published work, complete with granular commenting.

Searchable: the power and practicality of electronic text
For all images and text contained within or any other content that may arise.

Smart: intelligent recommendations both within and beyond the work
Capability to jump to other published works that are pertinent to the present work.

Sustainable: effective use of material and energy throughout the lifecycle
One open format that can be updated or change with graceful degradation.

Synchronized: can be updated by author and publisher
Editions and versions of author and publisher can be fully tracked.

Scalable: open platform supporting new products, services, experiences
Open and extensible format to ensure that the format of the sBook will be around as long as the traditional pBook. To the point, whatever the open format is, it needs to be open sourced and headed by a public governing body.

I won’t say much more here because I was directly involved. However I would like to criticize our use of ‘The sBook’ as the title in the session schedule. I thought it actually looked like a miss print because there was no further description given. We will have to change that for the next time because the points that we are trying to make are far more important to think about than what the title entailed.

Session Six: The Book of Mpub (An Agile Process)

John Maxwell (SFU)

A team of University students and their professor from Simon Fraser, John Maxwell decided to publish a book. At the outset they understood part of the problem but found that they wouldn’t understand all the issues until the end of the process.

To get started they used an Agile process adapted from Agile software development to create their pBook because it allowed them

  • Cheap fast prototyping
  • A cyclical, iterative and lightweight processes

John believes that the ‘Agile Process’ is how the web came to be and so his team moved from the traditional qualities of pBook publishing with linear change to an internet structure. He rightly understands that although books haven’t changed, the media sphere has and therefore the book has a different function starting in this decade.

Recounting the Mpub book he says that it was:

  • Born on the web and developed there
  • First started in WordPress and still exists there
  • Initially developed as a blog for the belief that the web is the best starting point for ePublishing
  • Collaboratively built
  • Produced with simple open web technologies like XHTML
  • Mechanically very simple to produce a pBook from the XSL translation from web to Adobe InDesign
  • Created with workflows that were cyclical
  • Engineered so that they could make editorial changes up to the last minute

During their process both the editing and production overlapped and even now there is no ‘final’ state to their book but it exists in multiple formats simultaneously that were all produced on a magazine type schedule. For marketing help they received feedback from various people on the web and these contributions helped a great deal during and after the launch. They allowed open permissions to those who wanted to contribute more and used InCopy within InDesign to edit the document at a more granular level when it came time to print the book on paper. Towards the end of the project they made print proofs at their in-house Espresso Book Machine.

John mentioned that the most difficult aspect of the process was the inventing and discovery curve.

To sum it all up

It was a long day, full of interesting people with great insight and thoughts about the publishing industry. At the end of the day Hugh McGuire thanked all the contributors, the volunteers and the audience for attending. There was definitely more detail this year and more specifics. The industry is moving quickly whether or not we have proper standards or not and whether or not anyone even agrees on what should be happening. The hype and forward momentum seems to have caught most people in a frenzy but because we are in the early years of electronic publishing there are still formats to be ironed out and procedures and process to be developed that will satisfy everyone’s needs.

I hope this event is held again next year, as I believe it is necessary to bring the community together.

Lastly I will say that I learned something very important today: my personal electronic publishing process could use a little reworking. Next time I will take my laptop to an event like this because transferring my notes from paper to final electronic form took way too long.


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    ( 4 comments )
    1. Joe Clark says:

      You mean “prose books.” I said DAISY should be used for any E-book that includes a reading of itself, as DAISY allows us to avoid reinventing the wheel.

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