The Craft of Making Digital Pages
Posted on February 17, 2013
At the rate technology has been rapidly evolving, it only follows that the very tools used to produce or convert a book into digital form have become increasingly accessible and available. DIY-publishing tools (such as Amazon’s KDP, Smashwords’ Meatgrinder, iBook Author, PressBooks) have been sprouting all over the place like cabbage—bionic, mutant cabbage with a hint of gremlin. In less than a decade, the process of getting published has turned from cred-heavy and labour-intensive, to just a few clicks on your own personal device. Many have lamented that it is the end of professional publishing. Is it? One particular publisher disagrees.
Located in Eastwood City in Metro Manila, Flipside Digital Content has been around since 1999 and is considered a pioneer in digital publishing in the Philippines. Formed as a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble under a different name (EPVI, or Electronic Publishing Ventures, Inc.), the company produced thousands of titles in multiple formats including OEB, Microsoft .LIT, Rocketbook, Softbook and Glassbook, and Print-on-Demand. After a few years of company acquisitions and some shuffling, the company re-organised in 2010 as Flipside Digital Content Company, Inc. and launched an all-Filipino e-publishing business to bring English titles from Asia to worldwide markets in the form of e-books.
Combined with a professional heritage in print typesetting, the group applies a meticulous, ‘hand-crafted and hand-coded’ approach to e-book publishing. This analogue philosophy is what makes Flipside stand out in this increasingly automated industry.
The company just returned from the 2013 Digital Book World Conference in New York City, and were listed among The Huffington Post’s top picks. I had the privilege to get some insider insights in the craft of making e-books, what it’s like to be an industry pioneer, and the perks of working with them.
On the name, Flipside.
For those who might not be privy to Filipino slang vocabulary, Flip is another term for Filipino, though not as widely used as Pinoy. However, the company’s name was not inspired by any nationalistic terminology. As the story goes, Flipside Founder Anthony de Luna used to joke that digital publishing is the dark side of book publishing, and that their move into the digital world meant moving—or flipping—to that other, darker side of the industry.
On the company’s philosophy.
Flipside takes to heart their belief in craftsmanship. As their taglines and website copy call out, they believe that book publishing is a craft—for both print and digital. They stand for quality, that the product entails careful considerations, hefty servings of extra thought, not to mention skill and an eye for details. This could well be attributed to their experience in professional typesetting and print publishing, or simply their basic love for books.
This is digital publishing. Isn’t an e-book as simple as just a few clicks?
Yes and no. There are a number of DIY-publishing tools like PressBooks that make it easy to convert a Word file into a formatted e-book, as well as several conversion companies that do this in a very rapid, automated manner. However, the end product is rarely as clean and seamless as what might be expected from a book in print form. This is noticed in alignment formats, how sentences are hyphenated, or that some elements are either unnecessary or lacking. This doesn’t mean that an e-book must be exactly like a printed one. In essence, these design considerations signify the human experience—the reader—as the central basis. It means putting the same considerations and extra thought into creating a reading experience that is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, as done in print publishing.
“The thing about design in books: sometimes, you may not be acutely aware of these details but something—perhaps intuition—will enable you to detect if it’s right or off.”
Though the reading experience for both platforms entails aesthetic appreciation, the work is surely not limited to it. There is a science, a psychology, involved in creating a book, regardless of its format. From the choice of typeface and typographical treatment, to spacing and punctuations, as well as the art and graphic design; these details have a significant value in the entire reading experience. And in the world of e-books; where the fundamental element of ‘the page’ has transcended the traditional two-page spread canvas and the act of ‘flipping’; creating a personal experience for content means redefining the physical boundaries of a reading device as we know it, and in optimising digital’s strongest asset—limitlessness of space—the link between reader and storyteller is not only narrowing, but is taking on a form beyond the spatial dimensions that we relate to the experience of reading.
Neither must this signify the death of print. The loyalty and preference for the printed book, and the common complaints on the digital book reading experience (eyes are tired more, battery dependence, additional anxiety in the presence of water), all boil down to the quality and comfort of the reading experience. Of course, its contents are another matter.
Chip Kidd, an American writer and graphic designer who is best known for his book covers, discussed (with much wit and humour) the art and business of publishing in one of the funniest talks from TED2012. His most-quoted thought puts the human experience at the core of his message:
“Much is to be gained by eBooks: ease, convenience, portability. But something is definitely lost: tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness — a little bit of humanity.”
On being an industry pioneer in the Philippines.
Though Flipside has been producing e-books for more than a decade, digital publishing is a still relatively young industry in the Philippines. There are a few publishers emerging, though few provide the same range and meticulous quality of services (producing books according to an industry-standard set of specifications for all formats; from reflowable EPUB and MOBI to fixed or highly enhanced layouts).
While being an industry pioneer in a country does have its perks, Flipside recognises the value of competition in facilitating the growth of an industry, and that collaboration is the way forward. “Working in technology, we would definitely want to see it [digital publishing] grow and mature in this country.”
So, what’s it like to work in Flipside?
Flipside is made up of book-lovers and the office is swarming with books, making it the ultimate space for book lovers. So, what could be the downside of being constantly surrounded by books? “It reduces the joy of the hunt, which most avid readers enjoy about books. There is joy in the discovery and spontaneous find of a good book. Sometimes, we barely even know where to start.” Sounds like a problem I wouldn’t mind having.
Check out Flipside’s website for more info.