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All Things Digital at Yale Publishing Course

Publishers and publishing have taken a lot of knocks lately, but here at Yale Publishing Course I'm feeling pretty optimistic. It's kind of embarrassing that our industry was a beat late to the online party, since we should have been the leaders there. But you know what? Now that we've taken that step, we are doing it really well. I'm seeing lots of examples of really creative ways publishers are re-designing their sites, taking on social media, and creating apps. Now that we're really embracing digital, I think we'll re-define what it's all about; we'll establish new beachheads and set new standards that others can only hope to achieve. No surprise, really--since we're all about content, words and images.
And that's what today is really all about here at the course. As course director Tina Weiner said, "Today is all things digital: workflow, design tips, selling and producing ebooks."
There's really something for everyone here. This afternoon we're talking about formatting for the various platforms. Liisa McCloy-Kelley of Random House spoke of using XML, EPUB, and PDF to move towards a standardized format for ebooks--a daunting task given the range of proprietary devices and lack of consistency in their own formatting. Josh Klenart of Clear Channel Radio spoke of using html and webfonts, among other tools, to create a legible and consistent format across browsers and across magazines.
Magazines have the benefit of a rich heritage of type choices and graphic identity, which is supported by webfonts. The catch 22, of course, is mobile--a whole new wrinkle in the formatting game. Publishers need to re-learn the task of telling a whole story in one line, one photo. Jeff Gomez of Penguin Group USA challenged the group to find a version of their sites that are appropriate for the mobile experience. Site visitors from a smartphone have less time to engage and of course the phone offers less space for content; the best approach is to net down to the most appropriate content for the mobile user. The iPad offers more space, so visually might not need reformatting; in terms of conent, though, it needs to have the functionality of mobile.
Which bring us to apps. Great magazine design translates to a good app design you reduce? reformat? or reinvent the magazine layout? Leverage a successful print franchise, Klenart recommends; choose the elements of your publication that are best translated into a multimedia experience and use your links and feeds to update. A dynamic app will move past the pdf and create a rich environment to house the content.
Kevin McKean of Consumer's Union was back with tips about using video to build reach, audience engagement, brand and revenue. Most of our group is doing video now; some with an entire staff devoted to video production and others doing it on a shoestring with interns and volunteers. McKean reminded us that video will provide an ongoing "pageview annuity," where people will continue to visit and view long after it's posted; regardless, it really is important to use video for branding and reach; it's essentially a cost of entry for the web.
Digital creates disruptions, which can also be opportunities. Leslie Hulse of HarperCollins spoke of the business tools you can pair with the disruptions to make sense of the madness. One disruption/opportunity that digital brings applies to portfolio publishing: creating digital and print packages to maximize the revenue of a single book. A traditional business tool you might apply to this opportunity is the P/L by package. And Corby Kummer of The Atlantic walked us through a digital startup, and the way in which it differs from a print startup.
Linda Ruth is a co-founder of Exceptional Women in Publishing (, She is blogging from Yale Publishing Course (, now in its second day.

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