Wednesday, March 6, 2013

An interview with Dan Zedek, The Boston Globe's design director, on the newspaper's eBook publishing projects

The Boston Globe last week released its thirteenth eBook, 68 Blocks, which originated from a five-day series the newspaper ran about the Dorchester neighborhood of Bowdoin-Geneva (see last week's post on the new eBook here).

So few newspapers have become, what I like to call, serial launchers – real publishers rather than merely newspaper companies. Digital media offers that opportunity through not only producing eBooks, but also through mobile media, tablet editions, etc. The Boston Globe, which sadly has been put up for sale by The New York Times Co., The Boston Globe may becoming an exception as the publisher has been very active in experimenting in the eBook publishing area. Yesterday I spoke with the paper's design director, Dan Zedek, about their eBook efforts.

"I would love to say it was months of planning and focus grouping," Zedek said. "But, in fact, when iBooks Author came out... me and one other guy, Javier Zarracina, the graphics director, were really interested in the program. So we said 'this is pretty cool let's try this out,' and we both went home over the weekend, downloaded it, and built an eBook."

That eBook, on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, never saw its way into the iBookstore, but Zedek said "we were impressed by the possibilities."

"On Monday morning we pitched it to the editor-in-chief at the time, Marty Baron. 'We'd like to try doing some eBooks' and we just kind of dove in."

In addition to working with Apple's iBooks Author, a free download inside the Mac App Store, the Globe has also been working with freeware and other solutions. These include Calibre, Sigil and Vook. One of the 13 books released, Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice, came through working with an outside vendor.

From the get-go the mission has been to make any eBooks produced available on as many devices as possible, in addition to becoming available for free to Globe subscribers. Because of this, the design team has used iBooks Author to produce interactive books for the iBookstore, as well as to export a PDF for downloading. The ePub editors then produce products for other platforms, such as can be seen with the newest eBook, 68 Blocks (iTunes link).

The Globe's series, which was called 68 Blocks: Life, Death, Hope whne published, was the result of the efforts of a five-person team of reporters who immersed themselves in the Bowdoin-Geneva area in the summer of 2012. The stories generated ran in a five-part series that appeared in December on the Globe's website, as well as in the paper.

"We had this really elaborate five-day print project, that was the print iteration of it. We also had a very rich multimedia digital presence for it," Zedek said. "So we were starting with tremendous source material, and we were looking at what we wanted to incorporate (into the eBook), keeping in mind… that there is a lot of different devices, and we want to be a good experience on all those devices."

"So we kind of went in two tracks: we used iBooks Author as a way of display the multimedia – we could have done even more actually, but I think it was a pretty rich presentation as it was; at the same time we used Vook to create eBooks that would work on the NOOK, that would work on a Kindle; and we also used iBooks Author to produce a PDF."

Zedek said that two-thirds of the downloads so far have been from iOS eBooks or PDFs created using iBooks Author, "so it is capturing most of the market for us."

The planned publishing schedule is to produce one new eBook a month on subjects like the Boston band Aerosmith, or on the photography of David Ryan, who has taken shots of the city using a helicopter.

"But at the same time," Zedek says "I'm really interested in pursuing a slightly different approach at the same time, which is to just kind of pop out instant books on topics of immediate interest. Because I think with the metabolism that a newspaper has we're used to working that way, and we can provide a lot of original content very, very quickly.

"I imagine we could do a pretty great book with a really quick turnaround on the day people are thinking about this and looking for more depth and context of the news. How great would it be to have an eBook available for them?"

Zedek used as an example the upcoming conclave to elect a new pope. The Globe, Zedek, has written quite often on the subject and would be able to produce an eBook immediately upon the new pope being identified.

"This whole thing was started as a lab for us, a place for us to experiment with content types, with production types, with different reader groups, and we want to keep pushing that," Zedek said. "What really excites me about it is continuing to see what we can do to bring value and interest to our readers."