News for Authors

The Ever-Changing Landscape of Ebooks

by Liisa McCloy-Kelley|November, 2017

It turns out that unlike many other types of “old” media, the physical form of a book provides a really great user experience. A book has a good tactile feel and an easy-to-understand interface that has been around for hundreds (even thousands) of years. Print books are easy on (most) eyes and simple to navigate. So the choice of whether to read digitally or physically, with written words or spoken ones, is now a matter of convenience, access, or preference. Readers have lots of options, which is optimal for a healthy reading environment.

This fall at PRH, we are recognizing two big ebook milestones. In November 2017, Amazon celebrates the tenth anniversary of Kindle and PRH heads into our twentieth year of making the works of our authors available in digital form, as we remember the first ebooks we published, in 1998. It is amazing to think how far we have come in that time, and how much advancement we have seen in both devices to read on and how content can be formatted.

In 1998, the earliest e-readers, the Rocket eBook and the SoftBook Reader (pictured below), were launched. They were the first attempts to bring together written content from books, magazines, and newspapers on dedicated reading devices. Both were about the same size and weight as a hardcover, and held a few hours’ charge and about ten books. Their screens were pixelated, and they had to connect to either a computer or a landline phone to download books. The formatting was extremely simple: text with almost no design elements and no color. Even the first Kindle, introduced in 2007, was pretty basic in terms of what kinds of books and design elements it could support—perfect for simple fiction, but not great for anything fancier.

 

 

For publishers and ebook retailers alike, the last ten years have been a flurry of digital projects. We worked on backlist projects to make older books available digitally. We collaborated to develop industry format standards so we could make one ebook file format that could be sold to all the retail partners. We adapted as digital sales expanded with new partners internationally and across marketplaces like library and education. We tested new features like video- and audio-enhanced books, and what it meant to add in interactivity. We adjusted as more devices with new requirements were developed. We learned that the most important way to improve the ebook experience is to figure out how to enhance the story yet not remove the users from their engagement with reading. The best design is one where the content is clean and readable, so the reader forgets the device and becomes completely immersed in the story.

At this point, most platforms provide similar experiences that give e-reading a few advantages over print for basic books. These include features like allowing users to change the body font to one they prefer; to resize the text up or down and allow the book to reflow; and to easily navigate, highlight text, share passages via social media, bookmark pages, and take notes. As reading systems continue to advance, they are making it easier to “flip through” the pages, use fonts and “themes” better suited for digital reading, and give readers more control.

Our own data shows that e-reading is moving more to the devices that people have with them everywhere and every day—to tablets (59 percent) and phones (23 percent), with only about 15 percent still using traditional e-ink readers. That is great news, because it means readers always have a choice among a variety of reading systems and can always have a book—many books!—handy.

As we head into the next generation of digital reading, we’re embracing new challenges that maybe don’t seem so sexy, but are ultimately critical to our goal of making our ebooks available for readers everywhere. Our two big current focuses at PRH right now are formatting and accessibility challenges. Updating our coding methods for ebooks helps us address some of the complex needs of nonfiction books and allows us to take advantage of the variety of sizes, the resolution, and the color support on modern screens to use higher-resolution images and embed fonts where they don’t distract from the main body fonts that the user can control, but can help give the story “style.”

Improving accessibility means coding our files to ensure that those who are print-disabled can use an assistive reading system to read the book and immerse themselves in the story without missing out on anything. Accessibility is important both because many schools, libraries, and government organizations can only purchase content that is accessible and because it makes our stories easier for people to get quickly.

Here are some simple ways we are addressing these needs:

  • We need to support a world where a print book reader and an ebook reader can share a common experience. So we now put print book page numbers (“anchors,” as we call them) into our ebooks so that print readers can say “look at page 47” and that reference works to navigate to that same location in the ebook.
  • We are tagging content more consistently to allow footnotes to pop up in place, so the reader can quickly check a note and then dive back into the book.
  • We are changing the way we tag so that content that is styled bold or italic isn’t spoken at a higher volume for a print-disabled reader and so that the books pause appropriately for space breaks.
  • We are including higher-resolution images so that you can pinch and zoom and see detail beyond what you can in print.

 

As the ebook landscape continues to evolve, PRH remains at the forefront, working closely with industry organizations like the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to ensure that the needs of trade books and their stories are represented as standards get updated and improved. We continue to work through refining our processes for ebook conversion and quality control as we bring together the expertise we have developed making more than fifty thousand books. We work extensively with the engineers and teams of reading-system vendors to continue to push what is developed, based on what our books and authors need for their stories.

 

Liisa McCloy-Kelley is the VP and Director of Ebook Product Development and Innovation at Penguin Random House.

Behind the Scenes: Our Digital Video Team and In-House Studios

by John Clinton|October, 2017

Our in-house digital video team offers our authors and publishers the highest-quality state-of-the-art video presentations for the largest audiences. Now in our third year of operation, we continue to work with authors from all PRH divisions at our in-house studios, at major author events (BookCon, ComicCon, BookExpo, ALA), and on location for special projects. Read more

Our Continued Commitment to Print

by Annette Danek-Akey|May, 2017

It’s been well documented, after years of debate and concern, that print books are here to stay and can easily coexist with digital books. We have many successful digital imprints across Penguin Random House, but we also have a continued commitment to print. Read on to learn more about how our fulfillment teams support our print books and authors. Read more

Retail and Book-Buying Insights from the 2016 Holiday Season

by Andrea Bachofen|February, 2017

The end of 2016 provided valuable insights into trends we saw throughout the year, and a glimpse at what we might expect this year. Read on to learn about what happened across retail channels and in the book industry specifically, and what’s in store for 2017. Read more

Penguin Random House Publishing Highlights: 2016

by The Author Newsletter Team|January, 2017

As we ring in 2017, we look back on the previous year, which was filled with success for many of our talented authors. We look forward to working closely with many of you in 2017, and to celebrating many more successes! Read more

Introducing the Online Author Questionnaire

by The Author Portal Team|December, 2016

We’re excited to announce a major upgrade to the Author Portal: the online Author Questionnaire, which gives you the ability to submit information about yourself and your upcoming titles to help shape marketing and publicity strategies for your next book. We have also updated the Profile Page to make it much easier for you to update personal information in our records. Read on to learn more about how you should use these tools. Read more

Serialized Storytelling: The Comeback Story

by Alana Buckbee|December, 2016

Serialized fiction has had a place in the literary canon for hundreds of years—perhaps thousands if we consider Scheherazade weaving cliff-hangers night after night to outlast her husband’s cruel marital policies. Read more

Behind the Scenes: Designing Your Book’s Interior

by Andy Hughes and Cassandra Pappas|August, 2016

Nearly all books are still made of ink on paper, whether printed on a conventional offset press or the more recent digital presses. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: a book is still a book is still a book. But for each title we publish, the process of getting the book to press differs greatly. Read on to learn more about the interior design and print production processes at Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Read more

Book Publishing: Still A Stable Business

by Dave Thompson|August, 2016

People love to talk about the death of the publishing industry, but as we’ve shown time and time again, the truth is another matter. The AAP recently released its industry-wide annual report of 2015 data, and here are some key takeaways. Read more

Behind the Scenes: Designing Your Book’s Cover

by Helen Yentus|July, 2016

In all areas of production, a great deal of time and thought is put into how to attract readers and turn them into lifelong fans of your work. But authors rarely get to see this process. For this article, we interviewed Helen Yentus, art director at Riverhead, and asked her to guide us through the multifaceted world of cover design. Read more