Say goodbye to dusty store rooms full of unsold books!
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Digital publishing, or electronic publishing, is the process by which text and images are sent to electronic media. The growth of digital publishing has been powered by shrinking costs and greater online access. Basically, it is cheaper than ever before to publish professional work, and to make it available to a wide range of audiences, thus opening new income streams. And because work is more widely available, it also offers greater and more sustained dialogue between producers, cultural organisations and audiences. It is now possible to publish information or artistic works frequently, with depth, and offering a two-way dialogue.
Digital content can be accessible from anywhere in the world, at any time and via a number of sources. E-books, for example, can be offered through a large and diverse number of retailers, which exponentially increases the availability of the work, and thus (potentially at least) its sales opportunities. In theory, digital publishing offers a chance for anyone to gain visibility on the global stage, from an individual at a kitchen table to book commissioners at the largest art institutions. What matters is the quality, frequency, and timeliness of the content available – as well as making it easy and attractive to buy. Achieving this is clearly a question of resources, but the opportunity remains there for smaller producers to punch above their weight.
With the rapid increase in web-connected devices – including mobiles, laptops and tablets – digital content has undergone something of a re-examination since the years of slow connections, chunky PCs and degraded and fractured rich media content. Producers of any size can benefit from this. The opportunities have never been greater to offer original work, delivered in the right way, to an audience that understands the contexts, limitations, and opportunities presented by the networked environment. These opportunities are not difficult to realise, although they require careful planning and a full understanding of your current audience – and how they wish to interact.
There are three different product types in which to publish your digital content. In the first two, the content remains in a digital format for the purposes of consumption. These are e-books (electronic books) and the more sophisticated, interactive productions which are available within HTML5 and apps. In the third example, Print On Demand (POD) publishing, digital technology offers a more flexible process, but the end result is still a physical book.
E-books are essentially equivalent to printed books, only in digital form. The content can be read directly from a computer or via specifically designed hardware called e-readers. Preparing content for publication as an e-book depends upon the medium through which it will be read, but a popular format is EPUB.
EPUB is a free and open e-book standard from the International Digital Publishing Forum. Books that use this format can be read on a wide variety of devices. The latest version of EPUB is version 3 (EPUB 3), which offers an even greater potential for published work. EPUB 3 documents can include rich media and interactivity, a wider choice of languages, and improved metadata, where publishers and authors can attach pertinent information relating to the origin of the content. Version 3 also supports CSS3, an additional markup language which caters for typography in different languages and characters. It is important to bear in mind, however, that EPUB 3-ready devices and software are only recently starting to appear. You may therefore wish to offer your publication in an older version of EPUB for a broad audience, and offer a special EPUB 3 variant for those devices that can take advantage of the new developments.
International Digital Publishing Forum – EPUB 3 specifications
There are many software tools which enable the production of EPUB files from source documents in various formats, including Microsoft Word, OpenOffice and HTML (the Web's markup language). EPUB is itself a markup language, in that the content of an EPUB file is ‘marked up’ with formats and other information. This also makes it quite easy to learn, should you be interested in knowing how to make EPUB files from scratch, or how to refine existing files.
You don't necessarily need to offer EPUB files through publishers or aggregators. You could simply offer an EPUB file for download from your website. There are many tools to read EPUB documents on a computer. This means that the level of variation is not dissimilar to website development, where ensuring compatibility with a variety of web browsers is vital for building and developing an audience. The advantage of the EPUB format is that it is an open, industry standard. Many retailers such as the Apple iBookstore will accept EPUB files to sell, and many devices (iOS devices, Sony Reader) will read them. The conspicuous exception here is the Amazon Kindle, which will not accept them. Therefore, to maximise reach, it may be necessary to blend EPUB with other formats.
The Kindle is Amazon's device for reading books, magazines, and blogs and occupies the dominant position within the e-book market. It comes with a keyboard, is monochrome only, and has a direct hook into Amazon's online service. Therefore, consumers will need to register for an Amazon account before they can use a Kindle.
There are a number of ways to create an e-book for the Kindle. It accepts popular file formats including Word (.doc) and text (.txt). Amazon's guide to e-book creation from Word can help with getting through it. It also accepts HTML in zip form (.zip) and a format for ‘native’ electronic publishing work. PDFs are also accepted, but are not recommended due to their complexity. As mentioned, it does not accept the EPUB format.
Amazon's guide to e-book http://forums.kindledirectpublishing.com/kdpforums/entry.jspa?externalID=553&categoryID=7
In order to publish to Kindle, you need to create a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account, although if you already have an Amazon account, then you can use KDP from there. Log in to Amazon KDP. Click 'Add a new title', and follow the steps. You will need to consider pricing and royalty regulations, so read Amazon's pricing and royalty guide before starting.
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing http://kdp.amazon.com/
Amazon pricing and royalty guide https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A29FL26OKE7R7B
Formatting and publishing your document can be undertaken within KDP. However, some users of Amazon KDP have implied that it is not as easy as it looks. The native file format for the Kindle is AZW, which – so it is suggested – is best produced from HTML. So, if you can produce your work for HTML first, you might be saving time and hassle.
Publishing magazines and blogs requires a different process to making a book. You will need to request to become a beta publisher, and Amazon has to approve you, which normally takes 24 hours.
Amazon Beta Publisher Program
Amazon requires certain information from you as part of this process.
- Publication details, such as the publication’s title, publisher’s name, and publication type
- An image to display in the Kindle store, usually a cover image
- A product description, which will be displayed to customers in the online Kindle store
- Masthead image – the title logo image
- XML feeds – your publication content in XML: specifically, RSS2.0, NITF or XHTML format (most blogs automatically provide RSS 2.0). The feed must be full-fat (full text and images)
- Contact details
- Publishing frequency
- Pricing details – for magazines, this is the revenue minus delivery costs x 70%, where the delivery costs are dependent on file size and a complex set of further variables. Bloggers receive 30% of the gross revenue. See: https://kindlepublishing.amazon.com/gp/vendor/kindlepubs/common/get-content?id=200492750#RSTC4
For books, you can choose a royalty rate of 35% and 70% for selected territories. You then have delivery and tax deducted from this royalty. For example, in the UK, 20% sales tax is deducted. You can then enable price-match, where your sales price gets pegged to the lowest competitor price for the digital book, but obviously this is a dangerous game to play...
Expect to wait a month from the start of this process until your work ends up in the Kindle store.
iBooks are what Apple calls 'published works' and they are managed through the iBookstore, which is to books what iTunes is to music. Although in the media much of the focus has been on iPad apps (individual applications), it is possible and relatively easy to get your work into the iBookstore through the iBook submission form. Services called iBooks aggregators, which hold works on behalf of Apple, are available and can often be the quickest route to getting your work into iBooks. The downside is that the aggregator takes a cut, which can be around 50 to 60 per cent.
iBook submission form https://itunesconnect.apple.com/WebObjects/iTunesConnect.woa/wa/apply
iBook aggregators http://www.copyblogger.com/publish-in-ibookstore/
iBooks is available for all iOS devices, meaning that your work will be available through the iPhone and the iPad.
Submitting to iBooks takes more work than to the Kindle store. You will need:
- An ISBN-13 number.
- A US tax ID. This can be arranged through the IRS (the equivalent of the HMRC in the UK) and shouldn't take long.
- The ability to upload EPUB files which are compliant with EpubCheck 1.0.5.
Example: Artists’ eBooks
Artists’ eBooks is a project by James Brindle of [], which explores the possibilities of e-book platforms specifically for art books. Through Artists’ eBooks James seeks to develop partnerships with writers, artists, publishers, galleries and organisations that are interested in developing experimental new ways to incorporate audio, video, text and images into their publications. Guides and resources are also available through the site for those who would like to publish onto e-book platforms independently.
Image: A Porky Prime Cut, Tony White
Authors such as Tony White and Kenji Siratori have already produced a series of new titles in collaboration with Artists’ eBooks, which are freely available via the site in a range of eBook formats. Niven Govinden’s new L’histoire de Bexhill Baudelaire is an example where the format has gone a little further in bringing in other media, e.g. a soundtrack has been incorporated into the text through a series of YouTube videos.
Apps and HTML5
Apps (applications) are small software programs which undertake a specific function. Many books are available as apps, as apps allow for a greater level of interactivity, and can use specific functionality from the device, such as a camera or GPS. They can be much more expensive to develop (although the cost varies widely), but revenues generated from an app, if it is popular, can be significant.
There are many reasons as to why publishers have opted for apps. Commercially, they can be sold through ‘app stores’. Formerly the exclusive domain of tablets, app stores are now becoming available on domestic computers, meaning that useful and interesting work can now attract a wider audience. However, it is also the level of sophistication inherent in apps that make them so appealing. When considering turning your work into an app, think about how your work can be made into something richer, with a greater level of multimedia content, and more interactive.
Such a level of sophistication is also becoming possible in HTML5, which is the latest version of HTML – the markup language that tells the browser how to display a web page. HTML has come a long way in a short space of time, and the level of interactivity now available in a web page is way beyond what was possible just ten years ago.
HTML5 offers a level of interactivity which is broadly consistent with an app. It even offers location awareness and, for the first time, the ability to play audio and video straight from the web browser, without any plugins. The trade-off is that not all web browsers display rich HTML5 content (although the volume is increasing), so you may wish to offer special HTML5 services that compliment your mainstream offering.
HTML5 and apps are not necessarily an either/or issue. Because HTML5 offers free access, certain rich features can be available to everyone with an HTML5-compliant browser. The effect on considering apps is to then think about how an app can generate specific revenue for a specific purpose. Can you build a game around your content, for example, which you can then sell through an app store?
Pug Pig is an open source project that uses native source code and HTML5 to enable producers to publish interactive books to the iOS, Android. They have created a template – a structure to place your content in – which is available for free to run on OSX. They have also released the source code on GitHub. Pug Pig have taken an efficient and smart approach to App making by using HTML5, so that you can use your existing skills and also re-purpose existing web content in your Apps. This contrasts with the present App authoring convention, which has been for expensive, custom coded productions that don't sit within any sensible workflow – no matter what your budget is. Pug Pig also have a responsive development team that are available online and take part in a wide number of development events and user group meetings.
Xcode template http://pugpig.com/downloads/PugpigTemplate.pkg
Source code https://github.com/kaldor/pugpig
Example App http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pugpig-guide/id441715052?mt=8&ls=1
Print On Demand (POD), including short run printing
Digital technologies make the process of print publishing much more reactive. With print-on-demand (POD), it is possible to make exactly the right number of books that you need, and to manage your costs more effectively. Gone are the days of bulky minimum orders. Now you can publish a very small number of books, and it's as easy as sending a document to a printer.
POD is a process in which new copies of a document – such as a book – are not printed until an order has been received. POD and short-run press allow for the quantity of a print run to be determined by the author (or publisher). They have a variety of applications, including:
- Building a commercially viable publication where investment is focused on printing only the amount that is necessary, based on projected sales volumes
- Printing in bundles, and offering the work at different price points in order to attract interested consumers. For example, the first edition might cost £7, the next £8, the next £9 and the regular publication £10
- Global printing and fulfilment – since books are printed around the world your freight costs are greatly reduced, opening up foreign markets
- Making special or first editions available, where particular elements have gone into the manufacture of the book, such as a special type of cover or some other artisanal element
POD is therefore a cost-effective solution to a number of issues brought about by volume publishing, and its costs are competitive. A quote for a PDF file consisting of 108 pages, with a height of 229 mm, and a width 152 mm, was £380 to set up, and worked out to £2.28 per unit. The setup fee included an ISBN number allocation, bibliographic data management, file-checking, and printer liaison. An additional £150 would have given basic EPUB conversion, with the author receiving 80 per cent of the net receipts on sales.
It is worth pointing out that POD does not mean submitting your work to a dull and unimaginative finish. In fact, POD is perfect for artisanal bookmaking. While POD can handle the printing of your book's pages, you can still take care of the binding and art. This is a great way to make a craft-driven process more cost-effective, and it provides further possibilities for revenue. For example, you could offer ‘standard’ versions of your printed book for £10 on your website and/or through an online retailer, and sell artisanal versions through eBay to the highest bidder. Such a blend of revenue-generation possibilities is likely to sustain interest in your work through an emphasis on higher-value productions.
Example: Don’t Panic: Organise!
Mute magazine, OpenMute’s sister project, is an online and print publication dealing with topics in culture and politics that relate to developments on the internet. Mute has long since held a light to the benefits of print-on-demand, having used POD and short-run press technologies to produce its magazines and specially commissioned book titles from 2005 onwards. Don’t Panic: Organise! is a collection of articles dealing with issues in and around international education struggles. As the movement seemed to be gathering speed, Mute decided to release the material in print and offer it free to groups who were staging an event or demonstration against the government cuts. The format was easy to assemble (as the articles were already in a PDF format), fast and cheap to print. What was produced was a professional looking pamphlet that enabled the quick distribution of knowledge.
Image: Don't Panic: Organise! cover artwork
Some more practical considerations
Making choices in digital publishing requires a great deal of thought and clarity as regards what a publisher or author might ultimately want. From a commercial perspective, one of the most important considerations is the trade-off between reach and revenue. In terms of books, while selling through major retailers such as Amazon or Apple grants the availability and reach producers might desire, these retailers are likely to take a significant cut of revenues – somewhere between 22 and 60 per cent for POD, 30 and 60 per cent for e-books, and around 30 per cent for apps. So, if your chosen route is to sell through the major retailers, then keep your costs low, and don't expect to turn a massive profit overnight.
Alternatively, you could decide to sell your own digital content. Many website content management systems (CMSs) offer ‘shopping cart’ functionality – the ability to hold a product in the system, and for the customer to pay for it through a well-known service such as PayPal. Here, the customer would visit the ‘online store’ of your website, select their ‘product’, pay for it, and then either download it as a file (typically PDF or EPUB) or wait for their POD book to arrive in the post. However, while in this instance you get to keep all of the revenue, the downside is that making your content available across a range of devices will be harder work, and you will need to do your own marketing.
Having said that, the greater reach enabled by using an online retailer will not necessarily increase your audience size either. Publishing work exclusively in digital form increases the onus on a producer to devise a strategy of audience awareness. This could be through your website and associated online presence (Twitter, Facebook, email newsletters, etc.), or various news media, such as arts publications. As a marketing strategy, it is also not uncommon for authors/publishers to make some of their content available for free. For example, a poet may wish to give away a handful of his or her poems online, in the hope of persuading the audience to buy the complete book from Amazon or Apple.
Example: O/R Books
O/R Books offers a compelling example of how to dodge multiple problematic distribution channels. Bucking the trend of disintermediation, O/R opts to be both publisher and distributor, luring custom away from the likes of Amazon and other dominant intermediaries, whose inexhaustible drive to consolidate direct relationships with expanding customer bases has permanently altered the book selling business. O/R restrict the distribution of print copies, only allowing direct purchase of their books through their site, ignoring the big players both on and offline by making available only a modest list of titles to retailers/bookshops. This practice allows a higher percentage of profits to go straight to the publisher and author, a well as setting O/R's prices at very reasonable levels (and thus perhaps driving sales that way too).
O/R Books also produce all their titles using POD technology, avoiding the wastage incurred in traditional printing processes. Printing 'as and when needed' also cuts the costs of producing a new title, and spreads it out over the course of its retail lifespan. Overall, it increases the publisher's flexibility, speeding up the whole publishing process so that the physical object can be brought out with relative ease. O/R Books' founders are at pains to emphasise that, due to spending less on printing and distribution, they can dedicate more funds to advertising and marketing, developing creative ways to promote and circulate their books through social media and supplementary content such as video.
http://www.orbooks.com/ & http://vimeo.com/orbooks
IP frameworks exist to make these processes easier, but can come with compromises attached. Creative Commons (CC) for example is a global legal framework which is designed to enable a freer exchange of content. The framework has a number of parameters, including NC (Can only be used non-commercially) and ND (Can only be copied and republished in its original form). You may wish to enable Creative Commons licencing on your own work, whichever way you intend to make it available. The benefit of CC is its universal recognition; its compromises are more subtle and therefore difficult to identify. Firstly, CC doesn't address how value is created on the net – in that your non-commercial content still adds value to internet giants to which it will be connected (like Google and Facebook). Secondly, CC doesn't engage with the secondary purpose of IP frameworks, which is to benefit second level businesses specifically designed to exploit copyright and not the authors or creators. To consider these pros and cons and for further information on CC, visit http://www.creativecommons.org.uk
Other copyleft licences, like the GNU Free Documentation Licence, make provisions that any derivative works are also made under a compliant licence. Like with the CC licence, the objective is to ensure a free flow of information and knowledge. See: http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html
The GNU Free Documention and Creative Commons licences are both based in a US framework of constitutional rights and the freedom of speech. Additionally however, they are based in US endorsed conceptions of property and commerce – both of which encourage the free flow of ideas, while enshrining strong authorship principles.
Anti-copyright is the third school of IP. In using a variety of agreements to make arrangements for attribution, remuneration and exchange, but refusing relationships based on property, it rejects the current regime. Whereas Copyleft may seek to enshrine freedom through licences, Anti-copyright rejects the existing framework altogether, looking rather for formations which prioritise social justice over property.
Since the law has it that copyright can't actually be given up or disowned by an author, no matter how much s/he would like to, Anti-copyright artists tend to use licences to express their position. The US folk singer and song writer, Woody Guthrie, presents a unique early example in his recordings of the 1940s, which included the following 'Copyright Warning':
“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”
Image: Booklet of Woody Guthrie sheet music and lyrics 1945. See full image set on WikiPedia http://linkme2.net/rn
Sound artist, Mattin, also explores ideas around copyright in his contribution to the book, Noise and Capitalism. See: 'Anti-Copyright: why improvisation and noise run against the idea of intellectual property' http://www.arteleku.net/noise_capitalism/
Digital editorial content has grown up. Where it historically augmented print content in a supporting role – such as with Desktop Publishing – it now occupies a more primary position, being consumed in a bewildering array of spaces and ways and becoming enmeshed in people's daily lives. It is nonetheless worth bearing in mind that, from a consumer and producer's perspective, the availability of mass digital content is only a recent phenomenon, and that many additional forms and use cases will emerge in the years to come. It is highly probable, too, that these will permeate other domestic devices, for example the television.
These changes present opportunities for cultural organisations, even if they complicate the 'digital jungle' further. Digital media strategists often say, 'fish where the fish are' – that is, develop products that your target audience can access easily, using tools that they are already familiar with. The mass reach won by social media tools and popular online retailers makes this easier than ever, although it intensifies the imperative to stand out among the crowd. It is important to remember that digital publishing strategies cannot be separated from digital strategies generally, which in turn cannot be separated from overall cultural or business strategies. For example, if an element of your organisation’s business strategy is to increase audience participation, then your digital and digital publishing strategy should reflect that. Finally, it is important to spot the right trends when assessing exactly how publishing can play a role in your work. Ask your existing customers how they want to access your content in the future (an overlooked and often important point), look at what other arts organisations and producers are doing and, above all, don't be afraid to experiment.