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Expert Panel Discusses eBooks, Digital Books and Apps

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Last night, the NYC chapter of the Women’s National Book Association held a Panel Discussion on Digital Books, eBooks, Enhanced eBooks and Apps. The panel was organized and moderated by Susannah Greenberg of Greenberg Public Relations and Publicity chair of WNBA-NYC.

The panel was comprised of people dealing with digital books in a variety of different ways:

  • Peter Costanzo – Director of Digital Content for F&W Media where he develops eBooks, apps, and other digital products.
  • Andrea Fleck-Nisbet – Director of Digital Publishing at Workman Publishing, overseeing the eBook program for several divisions and the development of new digital products.
  • Ami Greko – Vendor Relations Manager in NYC for Kobo eBooks.
  • Evan Ratliff – Founder and Editor of The Atavist, a new digital publishing house producing long form nonfiction and journalism for mobile devices.

Peter Costanzo led by saying that a big part of what he does is identifying projects to publish in an enhanced format. He thinks that eBooks are still in an early stage. They are not yet given the same attention as print. Publishers need to focus more efforts on the quality of digital editions. This has just recently begun to happen. Peter also decides on what enhancements will work with which products. Examples of enhancements are including videos in a digital book or creating a book app. Transmedia products are much more interactive than novels and can work well with certain types of books, especially cookbooks.


Andrea Fleck-Nisbet told us that Workman Publishing digitized its fiction books right away because they were easy to do. Nonfiction is much more difficult because you often need to retain the design and make it searchable. Apple recently released a Fixed Layout Design which made it much easier for publishers to render the exact layout digitally, but it only works in Apple’s ibook store. Publishers are hoping that the next edition of ePub will have this feature. Workman is adding a line called Workman Shorts, short nonfiction books. They are easier to deal with because they don’t have to deal with searchability. They will sell for $2.99.

Ami Greko told us that the Kobo is an eReader, an eReader app that can be used on smart phones and iPads, and a retailer of digital books. According to her, we are in the midst of an ereading revolution. Kobo allows readers to have a social experience with the “My Reading Life” part of the app. They found that people who could share what they are reading spent 33% more time on the app.

Evan Ratliff, who was featured just a few days ago in the New York Times, discussed the new use for digital books that he created with the Atavist. The Atavist is a place for Mr. Ratliff and other writers to publish non-fiction writings, longer than a magazine article, yet shorter than a book, in digital form. Users can download a free app and preview stories that are available. Each story then costs $2.99 to download. Right now, these stories are available on the iPad, iPhone, iPod, Kindle Singles, The Nook, Kobo and your desktop PC and Mac. There are many interactive elements, in which readers can click on highlighted words and pop-ups appears with all kinds of additional information.

The rest of the panel was in awe of the Atavist and Evan for coming up with such a completely new idea in the publishing world. An audience member asked Evan if he thought that all these interactive elements might be too distracting to the reader. Even replied that they can be turned off, so isn’t it better that the reader has the option.

eReaders are able to collect a tremendous amount of statistics about reading habits which they can share with publishers. This is something that was not possible with print books.

Children’s books are thriving digitally. Barnes & Noble has a kids program for their color Nook, and Disney Publishing has more than a million downloads of Disney Book apps. Parents look having something book interactive and educational to keep their kids busy.

Many backlisted books may find new life in digital form. Depending on who owns the rights, this could be done by the publisher or self-published by the author. Digital books are drastically changing the world of self-publishing, making it much easier to do, especially for those that already have a following.

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