The Future of Digital Reading: An Interview with Kevin Callahan

The Future of Digital Reading: An Interview with Kevin Callahan

With a growing number of startup publishers, mainstream publishing is being “immersed” in digital publishing. Established, traditional publishers are struggling to be quick, relevant, and adaptable in the rapidly changing market. In fact, present publishers have double responsibilities they had before. They now need to deliver quality content using the latest relevant technologies as well as do further research to survive in the future. Nowadays, it has been impossible for publishers to run their business without being updated with innovative software and relevant technologies. To learn how book designers and digital book publishers are doing their business while being relevant with technological changes, I had an interview with Kevin Callahan, owner of BNGO Books.

The books include literary and non-literary categories such as fiction, memoir, cookbooks, nonfiction, goofy joke books, and bedtime stories.

BNGO Books is print, design, and production company that designs books of all shapes and sizes. The books include literary and non-literary categories such as fiction, memoir, cookbooks, nonfiction, goofy joke books, and bedtime stories. There are three types of book designs that BNGO prepares. The first is a reflowable e-book, which is good for novels and memoirs. Fixed-layout, the second, is good for illustrated and picture books, and graphic novels. Almost similar to print books, Kevin says, design and content are tightly connected in fixed layout. The third kind of book BNGO produces is multitouch book, which is created with iBooks Author. Multitouch books are viewable in iBooks for various Apple platforms. These richly designed e-books have a lot of interactive features. BNGO Books also helps self-published authors. The book designing company provides cover and interior design for all platforms using the market relevant software and programs.

KevinBlogBNGO Books owner Kevin Callahan is a designer, speaker, writer, and teacher. He also edits epubsecrets.com, a site for creative publishing professionals. He teaches courses on creating fixed-layout e-books, which can be viewed on Lynda.com. “I got into the e-book development game when a typesetting client was seeing terrible results from their machine-made e-books,” Kevin recalls. “Content was garbled and the books were ugly. It was impossible to open a book and tell what you were reading. So it became my mission to create e-books that were nice-looking individuals, just like their print counterparts.” Since Kevin started, the publishing industry is seeing a sea change in terms of using publishing technology. Successful publishing professionals have been adapting and changing themselves with the latest technologies and software to address the market needs. Now, times have changed and newer programs and software in publishing have been implemented, with more being added all the time.

“I got into the e-book development game when a typesetting client was seeing terrible results from their machine-made e-books,” Kevin recalls. “Content was garbled and the books were ugly. It was impossible to open a book and tell what you were reading. So it became my mission to create e-books that were nice-looking individuals, just like their print counterparts.”

The major software and programs Kevin uses for his business workflow at present are EPUB and Adobe. Within Adobe, he uses Adobe Dreamweaver, a text editor that allows in-depth HTML and CSS editing. He uses Dreamweaver and TextWrangler to edit the HTML and CSS files inside the EPUB. He focuses on the importance of knowing and learning HTML and CSS for book designers, especially of e-books. “InDesign export is OK, but for any kind of extra work on an EPUB, whether it’s changing a design or moving content around, developers must be comfortable with HTML and CSS,” says Kevin, adding, “InDesign’s export has some flaws that can only be solved by opening the EPUB and making fixes.” Sometimes Kevin also uses Microsoft Word when clients send him manuscripts as a Word file.

In addition to Adobe’s Dreamweaver, Kevin uses many programs and various technology software from Adobe Creative Cloud. Kevin works in iMac and MacBook Pro to run this software, including Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver.

Adobe Creative Cloud offers different software that has become essential to designers like Kevin. Though Creative Cloud was first announced in October of 2011, the version of Adobe’s Creative Suite (CS) was released in 2013 and since then, future versions of this software have begun to be available only through the Creative Cloud. The Creative Suite (CS), used by graphic designers, desktop publishers, artists, photographers, and web developers, has now been changed into the Creative Cloud and can be purchased as a subscription-only suite from Adobe Creative Cloud. The major programs run under this software include many of Kevin’s favorites: InDesign CC (for page design and layout for print and digital publishing), Photoshop CC (for image editing and compositing), Dreamweaver CC (web and mobile design), Adobe Illustrator (for vector graphics and illustration), and Adobe Muse (for website design without coding), among others.

Creative Cloud is supposed to be the “highest customer satisfaction product in the creative space.” A monthly or annual subscription service is delivered over the Internet and multiple languages and online updates are available in the Creative Could subscription. The Software can be subscribed to for $49.99 each month for all programs of Adobe CC.

For his company workflow, Kevin has gone into the full subscription model and he uses whichever programs are needed as per the demands of his project. According to Kevin, many people’s favorite program for designing is Adobe InDesign. The reason is that Adobe InDesign has varieties of features. InDesign exports an EPUB, which is usable on Apple (iBooks), Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play platforms. The EPUB file can then be converted to the KF8/Mobi platform for Kindles. However, there is no export facility from InDesign to Kindle since Amazon stopped supporting it. So, according to Kevin, the usual workflow while working in InDesign is to export to EPUB, then convert to KF8/Mobi. Kevin currently works on the recent version of EPUB 3.01, though a more recent version of the EPUB (EPUB3.1) is still in the planning stage.

“One of the current issues in publishing is whether or not to bring books into browsers.”

Kevin reveals that attempts to bring books into browsers are undergoing by making EPUBs browser friendly. “Some of the big plans are to make EPUBs more browser facing, less of a closed document and IDPF is working on it,” says Kevin. IDPF is the International Digital Publishing Forum, a trade and standards association for the digital publishing industry, set up to establish a standard for e-books publishing. The IDPF is responsible for the changes and updates for the EPUB standards.

Another of Kevin’s favorite Adobe programs is Dreamweaver, a popular website design program. He, however, does not use it for web design. He shares that Dreamweaver is great for working with HTML codes. “What Dreamweaver gave me when I was learning was a better understanding of how HTML code was supposed to look. It gave the ability to create an HTML page in the same way as one would create a document in MS Word.” Kevin has created a custom CSS that he almost always uses. “A benefit of using my own CSS is that I mentally separate print from digital.” He thinks that developing reflowable and fixed-layout e-books is a combination of design and technology. “Developers need to know how to build solid, semantic HTML documents, and how to wield CSS to create attractive, useful books,” says Kevin.

Along with the technological changes, Adobe InDesign has become the choice of many designers, like Kevin. He emphasizes that InDesign — the book-making application of choice for many — is the best route to take a print book into EPUB through InDesign’s export to EPUB feature (both reflowable and fixed-layout). Kevin recalls how book designers, including him, migrated from PageMaker to Quark, and to InDesign. He thinks that the first program, PageMaker, is now dead, while the Quark is dying with only a few people using it. “I only know 2 designers who are using it,” Kevin says, adding that those two old programs still had some good features, though not as good as the Adobe InDesign. “Each application had its benefits, but right now, InDesign has the most features that I need,” he compares before taking the side of Adobe InDesign. Kevin believes that Quark, which is supposed to be the competitor of InDesign, fell behind InDesign because it was not good enough to work with EPUBs.

Another program Kevin uses for his workflow is TextWrangler, a free but powerful text editor tool. Economically, Kevin finds this tool very useful: “Oh, and also, like the best things in life, it’s free.” One basic reason behind using relevant software and technologies is to make or save money. Kevin doesn’t reveal how much money he saves or makes from using the software he has been implementing. He, however, sees a lot of advantages from using them. “Cost and time-savings are most possible when using the applications to their full potential,” he shares. Another benefit of using the technology is the quality product. He says that the implemented application has given him a ‘big benefit.’ “Using technology properly and as it’s intended helps ensure a predictable, quality benefit,” he says. “And, of course, that means clients are satisfied.” Kevin does not forget to praise Adobe InDesign’s rich features such as style sheets, organizations, and navigations. “This has made the designing of a print and its e-book edition straightforward and predictable,” he says. Kevin further clarifies that it is also possible to extend the functionality of these applications by using third-party scripts and plugins (for example, using a script to add live index entries for the e-book edition; using scripting language to make document-wide global changes).

Even though the software Kevin implements has many positive sides, he sees some challenges. Referring to the technological complexities and lack of uniformities while working with Adobe programs for the e-book production, he says, “Clients are mostly frustrated because of the lack of uniformities in the e-book marketplace.”

“The problem with clients, however, is that the Apple market is much smaller than the Kindle market. This has created a lot of confusion and indecision for the clients. So, it’s a difficult decision for some clients: make a book with a lot of rich enhancements and sell only through Apple, or leave out the enhancements and have a bigger potential market.”

Like Kevin says, there are complexities which are obvious in e-book publishing. For instance, Apple devices are more capable and sophisticated than Kindle in media display. “The Apple devices are more faithfulness to the EPUB standard,” he says. “The problem with clients, however, is that the Apple market is much smaller than the Kindle market.” This has created a lot of confusion and indecision for the clients. “So, it’s a difficult decision for some clients: make a book with a lot of rich enhancements and sell only through Apple, or leave out the enhancements and have a bigger potential market,” says Kevin. The next challenge, according to Kevin’s personal experience, is the lack of education about e-books. “Clients should be instructed in the differences among the devices,” he adds. “Lots of clients want an e-book without knowing what an e-book is.”

Newer technologies have been advantageous because book designers can create beautiful quality designs to deliver their contents. Kevin, however, opines that the changing nature of technologies has created the worst challenges in book designing. “These days, we can do more as far as design and content are concerned,” he says, “but e-books behavior is still very different from device to device. This has created complexities among clients and designing professionals both.” He thinks that the large selection of Kindle apps and devices make it very difficult to design a fully functioning book that has consistent display and operation across the entire Kindle family. Moreover, new technical problems arise when trying to be innovative while still using the existing software. Kevin, for example, says that new problems are created when rendering all letter characters in various languages for creating bilingual e-books.

“I always try to future-proof my e-books, and for that reason, I try to create very clean, concise code for e-books.”

In short, the popular book design software Adobe Creative Could has helped for an improved workflow and quality products. However, the changing nature of technology has created complexities in workflows among designers and clients. Markets are divided into complex segments, as are the models and methodologies of digital publishing. Following the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)’s recent announcement, Kevin thinks that IDPF is probably going to merge with the W3C. Stating that EPUB standard will migrate to a browser-based application, he adds, “This is another indication that books on devices and books in browsers will merge.” Kevin, however, doesn’t think it happening soon reasoning that open-source distribution book market is not very realistic now. Moreover, he is hopeful that the future digital reading will steal many features of print books, such as paper feel, page turn, and visual cues. From the above explanations, different capacities of reading systems can possibly be developed in the near future. This is one reason Kevin focuses on using clean code. “I always try to future-proof my e-books,” Kevin says, and concludes, “For that reason, I try to create very clean, concise code for e-books.”

1 Comment

  • Hira Posted August 11, 2016 6:42 pm

    Great job, Ram. It’s an interesting article.

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