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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

King of the wild frontier

Ania Wieckowski may not have a covered wagon. She may not wear a bonnet. But nonetheless, Ms. Wieckowski, managing editor at the Harvard Business Review, is nothing short of a pioneer—on the digital frontier.

Ms. Wieckowski and her team have recently been working on a new project for HBR: digital-only books. And they’re putting them out at record speed. The first of these digital singles, Heidi Grant Halvorson’s Nine Things Successful People do Differently, spent a mere five weeks in the publishers’ hands, from receipt of manuscript to finalized ebook. (Contrast this with the nine months it normally takes a publisher to produce a physical book after receiving a complete manuscript.)

Granted, five weeks might be “a little fast,” in the words of Ms. Wieckowski. Instead, she says seven weeks would be a more realistic schedule. The five-week experiment was a good way to feel out the production process, she says, and to identify the differences between producing physical books and digital-only titles.

“The jacket and title should have been done first,” said Ms. Wieckowski. “You can’t speed up that process.”

When a publisher has nine months to put out a book, jacket and title are finalized later in the process. But many production and promotion steps can’t begin until jacket and title are finished, both in digital and physical book production.

The design of the jacket itself was another challenge. For physical books, jackets are defined by the physical size of the book. For digital books, however, there is no physical component. In fact, elements like the spine and inside flaps will never be seen in a digital book.

However, there is no real protocol for designing digital-only jackets. Yet. For this experiment, HBR asked its designer to design a full jacket cover, the images of which would be used on Amazon’s “See Inside the Book” feature and on Google, Ms. Wieckowski said.

However, she also noted that HBR will need to develop a better process for this design in the future. Although physical books can be any size, there are some cover proportions that are more effective than others to display online. As HBR and other publishers continue to develop a digital-only workflow, Ms. Wieckowski suggested that “cover design” may encompass not only covers, but also app icons and other online-platform branding elements.

Quality assurance is another process that Ms. Wieckowski anticipates will change as the digital process becomes more established—and as publishers become more accustomed to the medium. Ms. Wieckowski hopes to incorporate stronger QA systems in the process, including opening and checking files on all devices.

“That will need to involve training—what to look for, what they [the files] should be,” said Wieckowski.

For now, however, HBR is at the beginning of this process. Ms. Wieckowski said they set out to do three digital-only editions at first, but they will likely end up doing closer to five or six as they finalize the workflow and continue blazing the digital trail.

About Leah Thompson

Writing and publishing professional in the Boston area.

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This entry was posted on December 6, 2011 by in Interviews and Events and tagged , , .

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