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June 21 2012

Depth and immersion give static print images new digital life

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

Today's ebook landscape is mostly filled with nothing more than quick-and-dirty conversions of print to digital. There's not a lot of imagination, and we're certainly not taking full advantage of all the capabilities of our digital devices. This includes not only the text and how it's presented, but also the images that accompany the text. We have an incredible opportunity to take those static images from print and bring them to life in digital format.

Laura Maaske, a medical illustrator I met earlier this year at TOC NY, is someone who understands this opportunity and is creating digital imagery like you've never seen before. I recently reconnected with her to discuss the move from print to digital and how publishers need to adjust their thinking.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Imagery begins with a metaphor — Laura has used layering techniques so that users can easily explore the depths of the object, in this case, a human hand. It's the first step toward a 3D rendering that lends itself to even more immersion. [Discussed at 1:58.]
  • It's not just about medical imaging — Look at all the static images in your own products and consider the option of adding depth or immersion to them. The possibilities are endless and can be applied to pretty much any topic. [Discussed at 3:38.]
  • Is "digital first" the best approach? — Perhaps, but publishers should also consider how they might utilize their vast libraries of existing images that weren't originally created with layering in mind. "Before" and "after" images are excellent candidates, for example. [Discussed at 4:32.]
  • New skills are required ... including programming — The core illustration skills are critical, of course, but digital imaging professionals need to go further. Knowledge of HTML and even a good foundation in scripting or programming is very important as well. [Discussed at 7:12.]
  • Choose your tools wisely — Laura carefully chooses her tools by avoiding proprietary software and using license-free options. [Discussed at 8:10.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at


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  • May 25 2012

    Publishing News: Kindle Fire and "your ad here"

    Here's what caught my attention this week in the publishing space:

    Kindle Fire home screen may be for sale

    Kindle FireRumors flew this week saying Amazon plans to launch an ad campaign in which it will sell ads on its Kindle Fire home screen. Jason Del Rey at AdAge reports:

    "Amazon is pitching ads on the device's welcome screen, according to an executive at an agency that Amazon has pitched. The company has been telling ad agency execs that they must spend about $600,000 for any package that includes such an ad.

    "The ad campaigns would run for two months and also include inventory from Amazon's 'Special Offers' product. For $1 million, advertisers would get more ad inventory and be included in Amazon's public-relations push, according to this executive and an exec at another ad agency.'"

    Del Rey says that "[b]oth agency executives have so far declined to participate, citing several concerns. For one, Amazon isn't guaranteeing the number of devices that the welcome-screen ads will reach, telling agencies that it hasn't decided whether the ads will start popping up on devices that have already been purchased or just on new devices."

    O'Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert assessed the situation on his Publishing 2020 blog. He says this is just the beginning and that other ebook retailers are going to suffer:

    "Given that Amazon's goal is to offer customers the lowest prices on everything, what's the next logical step? How about even lower prices on ebooks where Amazon starts making money on in-book ads? Think Google AdWords, built right into the book ... At some point in the not too distant future I believe we'll see ebooks on Amazon at fire sale prices. I'm not just talking about self-published titles or books nobody wants. I'll bet this happens with some bestsellers and midlist titles too. Amazon will make a big deal out of it and note how these cheaper prices are only available thru Amazon's in-book advertising program. ... Imagine B&N trying to compete if a large portion of Amazon's ebook list drops from $9.99 to $4.99 or less. Even with Microsoft's cash injection, B&N simply doesn't have deep enough pockets to compete on losses like this, at least not for very long."

    Wikert concludes by asking: "Why wouldn't Amazon follow this strategy, especially since it helps eliminate competitors, leads to market dominance and fixes the loss leader problem they currently have with many ebook sales?"

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at

    Apple calls foul on the DOJ

    Apple this week filed a reply to the Department of Justice's antitrust lawsuit that was filed in April against Apple and five major publishers. PCWorld reports:

    "Apple's reply to the court is in line with a statement issued by Apple in April after the DOJ filed its case, in which it said that 'the launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon's monopolistic grip on the publishing industry.' The company added: 'Just as we've allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore.'"

    The filing, entitled "APPLE INC.'S ANSWER," opens:

    The Government's Complaint against Apple is fundamentally flawed as a matter of fact and law. Apple has not 'conspired' with anyone, was not aware of any alleged 'conspiracy' by others, and never 'fixed prices.' ... The Government sides with monopoly, rather than competition, in bringing this case. The Government starts from the false premise that an eBooks 'market' was characterized by 'robust price competition' prior to Apple's entry. This ignores a simple and incontrovertible fact: Before 2010, there was no real competition, there was only Amazon.

    Reuters reports that in the filing, "Apple also denied that the government 'accurately characterized' the comment attributed to [Steve] Jobs." The DOJ's complaint (PDF) states:

    "77. Apple understood that the final Apple Agency Agreements ensured that the Publisher Defendants would raise their retail e-book prices to the ostensible limits set by the Apple price tiers not only in Apple's forthcoming iBookstore, but on and all other consumer sites as well. When asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter at the January 27, 2010 iPad unveiling event, 'Why should she buy a book for ... $14.99 from your device when she could buy one for $9.99 from Amazon on the Kindle or from Barnes & Noble on the Nook?' Apple CEO Steve Jobs responded, 'that won't be the case .... the prices will be the same.'"

    Apple's filing responds:

    Apple denies the allegations of paragraph 77. The Government mischaracterizes on its face the alleged statement of Steve Jobs to the press on January 27, 2010, which simply conveyed that a publisher would not have a particular eBook title priced at $9.99 through one distributor and $14.99 through another. Apple's MFN provision would allow it to require the publisher to lower the price to $9.99 on the iBookstore. Apple had no contractual rights to require a publisher to require that it, or any distributor of its products, charge more for eBooks than it chose in a competitive market." [Reference link added.]

    You can read Apple's reply in its entirety at Scribd.

    It's time to hack digital covers

    Hack the CoverCraig Mod (@craigmod) mused on book covers recently in a piece on his website called "Hack the Cover," which also is available as a Kindle Single. He says the way we search for and discover books has changed:

    "The covers ... on are tiny on the search results page. Minuscule on new books page. And they're all but lost in the datum slush of the individual item pages. Great covers like Mendelsund's design for The Information disappear entirely.

    "Why? Because — What do we now hunt when buying books? Data.

    "The cover image may help quickly ground us, but our eyes are drawn by habit to number and quality of reviews. We’re looking for metrics other than images — real metrics — not artificial marketing signifiers. Blurbs from humans. Perhaps even humans we know! And within the jumble of the interface, the cover feels all but an afterthought."

    Mod argues that since readers can approach a book from any number of entry points, the entire book should be viewed and treated like a "cover":

    "The covers for our digital editions need not yell. Need not sell. Heck, they may very well never been seen. The reality is, entire books need to be treated as covers. Entry points into digital editions aren't strictly defined and they're only getting fuzzier. Internet readers don't casually stumble upon books set atop tables. They're exposed through digital chance: a friend tweeting about a particular passage — and linking, directly, into that chapter ... To treat an entire book as a cover means to fold the typographic and design love usually reserved for covers into everything. Type choices. Illustration styles. Margins and page balance."

    Mod's piece is a must read this week.


    January 23 2012

    Responsive design works for websites, why not for digital comic books?

    In a keynote speech at the Books in Browsers conference, Pablo Defendini (@pablod), the interactive producer at Open Road Media, discussed responsive comics and the opportunities digital tools afford comic book design. In print, Defendini says, the page is the canvas for comics, but instead of being optimized for online consumption, digital editions are often merely static adaptations of print comics. How much richer could the reading experience be if they were designed with more responsive techniques?

    Defendini says it's important for writers and artists to consider the various digital formats and take full advantage of the possibilities. Highlights from his keynote (below) include:

    • Screen resolution is an issue for comics, and current mechanisms used to compensate can be detrimental to the story. [Discussed at the 2:05 mark.]
    • Web designers experience similar presentation issues on different devices of varying screen sizes and employ responsive design techniques as a solution. What if we did that with comics? [Discussed at 3:54.]
    • Defendini shows examples of a comic designed with HTML and CSS — "just a website by another name" — displayed on smartphone and tablet screens, and in iBooks as a fixed layout book. [Starting at about 5:00.]
    • Starting at about 10:34, Defendini addresses questions about designing the speech balloons in CSS, motion comics, and solutions for multi-language comics.

    View the keynote in full below.

    TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

    Register to attend TOC 2012


    December 20 2011

    Quid pro quo will define the author-publisher relationship

    In a recent interview, author and digital book producer Peter Meyers talked about what we can expect as publishing comes into its own in the digital era. He said customized book apps will largely go by the wayside, and HTML5 as a format will be a bit of a hard-sell to consumers. And using his own experience as a basis, Meyers said publishers aren't in danger of becoming irrelevant.

    Highlights from the interview (below) include:

    • Different kinds of books gravitate toward different kinds of formats — Meyers said the majority of books in the future won't be customized apps. The ones that will be apps will be the ones that require interactivity. [Discussed at the 0:19 mark.]
    • HTML5 is still a wild card — Meyers said HTML5's core question is transactional: Are people willing to pay for web-based content? Consumers have been reluctant thus far, but as HTML5 gets fully supported, we'll see more experimentation. [Discussed at 1:40.]
    • Amazon's Fire tablet will be a problem for B&N — Even though both tablets are similar in a lot ways, Meyers pointed toward Amazon's ecosystem and said B&N just doesn't match up to Amazon's content and service offerings. [Discussed at 4:54.]
    • Will publishers become irrelevant? — Meyers said no. Using his own experience as an example, he highlighted the fact that his publisher (O'Reilly) provides a platform to publicize his work and technological support to produce works in particular formats. What he doesn't get — and said few authors do — is hand-holding, individual attention, detailed line editing, cheerleading and so forth. Meyers said authors need to go in with the expectation that they'll have to do as much for their publishers and their books as the publishers do for them. [Discussed at 5:26.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    Meyers' new book, "Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience," will be released in the next couple weeks — you can nab a free preview copy now — and he'll host a workshop at TOC 2012.

    TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

    Register to attend TOC 2012


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