Grove Street Media: New Media Production

Today we say farewell to the #DLL13 series at OICPS; Digital Lunchtime Lectures 2013, I bid you adieu.  In our final expert-led romp into the land of digital we were visited by Tom Scholes of Grove Street Media, a new media production company which  specialises in eLearning products.

From the start, the talk was informal; the opening line being ‘Well, I have a beard’ – excellent. As I have written before (in my entry about Osprey), I enjoy informal and personable presentations, they’re easy to listen to and often enjoyable. This was no exception.

Grove Street Media originated 10 years ago. This year it is about to earn its millionth pound and it is not difficult to see why. Their remit is to design for and communicate through screens, a task they appear to meet well if what we were shown today was anything to go by (take a look at e-Bug, a prime example). When talking us through how the company works with its clients he stressed the importance of simply talking to people, showing them what you can do and how you can help them. Communication is key in any business, not least when they’re paying you a considerable amount of money.

The changes in technology also effect the way that they work with clients, a lot of their work has been on CD-ROMs for publishers like OUP but as technology advances new problems arise when it comes to meeting the clients needs. He used the example of the icons they use in a lot of their work: on a computer you can hover over an icon and it will tell you what it does, this makes users more comfortable with clicking on something that looks unfamiliar but with the rise of the tablet the ability to show button functions by hovering is diminishing.

However, it is not all doom and gloom, Grove Street Media caters for most if not all platforms, as Tom said ‘if it has a screen we can develop for it’ (paraphrased but the meaning is the same). Their focus is on interactivity, their products are rarely flat designs and can be for anything from the web to kiosks in stores like Ikea. When asked, he describes them as a UI/UX company, user interface/user experience; they want to make user experience barrier-less.

Not only do they want the best for the user but they want the best for the client as well; if a client wants to make an app which would work just as well as a website, be much simpler to make/commission and cost a fraction of the price the urge to make money does not override the urge to create the best product they can. I find it incredibly warming that some companies are willing to do this despite the current financial climate – kudos, Grove Street Media.

After explaining the anatomy of a digital media offering (great content, attractive graphics, good layout) and the components involved in making them, we were given a live demo! Tom set to work creating a simple web-based chasing game. After some suggestions from the audience and a little bit of an argument with the coding we were met with a spaghetti western in which Kim Kardashian and a giraffe had a race. Kim won. The demonstration illustrated that something which looks complicated may not be that complicated at all.

The talk ended with a few lessons:

  1. Plagiarism happens. You have two things content and brand. Content can be copied, especially from the web and there’s nothing you can do about it, it is the brand that matters. 
  2. Copying isn’t always bad, there is nothing wrong with looking at the competition and using their ‘best bits’ to influence the betterment of your own design.
  3. Innovation or Usability? It is possible to do both! But when it isn’t always go for usability.
  4. Testing costs a similar amount to development in both money and time – always budget for testing.
  5. When requesting a quote precision is key, precision will enable you to get the best deal and save you from the wrath of the developer should they find out you forgot to tell them something. What takes a few moments to say can take weeks and large amounts of money to create.

So that was the last of the Digital Lunchtime Lectures, and perhaps the one I enjoyed most. I will miss my Wednesday leaps into the well of digital but this will not be the end of my digital blogging adventure – never fear. Keep an eye out on my twitter for a link to my official blogging treatment for the OICPS website!

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Without Exception: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Children’s Books

The thing I love about OICPS is the variety of speakers that we have the pleasure of listening to, I may have said this before (probably on Twitter) but it holds true and today was no exception. Today’s session was on diversity and difficult topics in children’s publishing. Beth Cox, of Without Exception and Inclusive Minds, talked us through how publishers can be more inclusive, what is being done and how she, and we, can help.

The session started with a word association exercise, which really got us into the inclusive brainspace. We were given four words: traveller, girl, gay and disabled. I have to admit that the exercise did make me feel like a bad person, every word that popped up in my head affirmed a stereotype – I class myself as a pretty open person, I don’t like to rely on stereotypes and prefer to get to know a person before I make a judgement but this exercise didn’t show that. I think everyone felt the same. This led into Beth’s talk really well. Her first point: Authors and Illustrators have unconscious bias just like everyone else and this may be reflected in their work.

Children are open, children do not carry the biases that we gather as (young) adults via the media. As such, these stereotypes and unconscious biases should not feature in children’s literature and it is (or should be) the job of the publisher to ensure their books are bias-free. Having bias does not make you a bad person (we are not bad people because we engender stereotypes in a word association game, but if we try to spread that bias, well, that’s an entirely different board game). It is important to ensure that the work produced by authors and illustrators (illustrators especially in regards to younger children) does not promote stereotype. Visuals are incredibly important to young children, it is essential for a child to be able to see a character that they can relate to.

Beth commented that a lot of the publishers she talks to tell her that they do not publish issue books but diversity in publishing is not about issue books, it is about inclusion. It does not have to be a main feature it just has to be there. We were shown some brilliant examples from picture books, in one image there were at least two same-sex couples (one of which had a child), various different races, a wheelchair user and more. None of these characters were mentioned in the text but just by being there for a child to find, the book is showing children that they are normal.

The problem with inclusion comes when the ‘not average’ character is made too special, in Wonder, which is a book I love, Auggie is given an award not because he is exceptional but because he has a disability. There is a risk of going too far. Every main character is made special in some way (it is the nature of being a main character) but even in fantasy settings authors must be realistic. It is in writing that sentence that I have realised a sad fact: it might be realistic. A child in a ‘normal’ school when they, themselves, are not the average student may well be given such an award in real life. Not because they did anything worthy of recognition but because they are different, often all these children want is to be seen as normal (to themselves they are  normal). There are exceptions of course but the point is: characters, people, children should be the treated the same way regardless of whether they are disabled, ill or of a different race.

Another problem that arises is the tendency to ally disability with evil wherein all good characters are perfectly healthy; bad characters with deformities, unlike-able characters described as ‘crazy’, ‘mental’, ‘lunatics’.

She then went on to talk about young adult literature, wherein some issues are resolved too quickly and publishers/authors are sometimes unaware of restrictive judgements about gender. An example of a series which does not restrict gender is The Hunger Games with strong, female Katniss and sensitive, cake-decorating Peeta; it is not assumed that, because Peeta is interested in cake decoration, Peeta is gay. Quite the opposite, he is in love with Katniss. 

I hope that I can enter the industry and bring with me some of the messages we were given in today’s talk, I hope to be part of a future in which there are children’s books which deal with difficult subjects effectively and without bias (there are some that do this fantastically but, arguably, not enough), which present non-average characters as normal human beings, not something that should be tip-toed around and coated with bubblewrap.

It is with that thought that I leave you and offer you this link to a TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie, which we watched during the talk, it’s brilliant and I highly recommend watching it. Later, I will be blogging more on difficult subjects and how they are explored, watch this space.

Electronic Enlightenment

Old marketing material but I liked the design

This week the Digital Lunchtime Lectures resumed (though there is only one left now, boo!) and today’s lecture was delightfully technical; we were visited by Mark Rogerson, the technical editor of Electronic Enlightenment, the ‘most wide-ranging online collection of edited correspondence of the early modern period, linking people across Europe, the Americas and Asia from the early 17th to the mid-19th century’ (in their own words). It is distributed by Oxford University Press and sounds fascinating.

The project not only has keyed versions of the letters but some of the manuscripts as well; I am a sucker for letters and handwriting so the idea, to me, sounds perfect. The project is available on subscription (due to the copyright on some of the letters) and Universities from around the globe are already utilising it.

Mark is the only technical staff at EE, it is a small operation with only the project management, himself and freelancers.

The project takes the form of a website which takes collections of letters from about 1610 to 1840 and brings them into a web system for access online. Along with the copyright, the subscription has another purpose, EE have an aim to make a sustainable model for this type of content as most distributors put it online for free and then fade into obscurity as they lack the funds to continue the work. However, the letters are not the only content this project provides, the whole project is made up of:

  • correspondence and related documents
  • images of manuscripts where possible
  • biographies of authors and recipients
  • critical apparatus
  • source information
  • annotations

The sources of the letters is often critical editions (printed books from over 30 publishers which are normally copyrighted), Mark explained the digitisation of these often hardback books and I have to admit, the first step made me wince. Books are taken apart, spine first to enable scanning, each letter/page is scanned to PDF and then sent to India for keying. He emphasised the importance of keying when it comes to old texts, OCR would not work in this context due to the difference in language between that period and this. All of this results in XML, which is the backbone of the process. The process being going from print to digital to the web for subscribers.

Along with those sourced from critical editions, there is also born digital content which is created for them in Word with their style guide, converted into XML. They are currently working on web-based tools, like zoomable images of the manuscripts so that subscribers can really inspect the texts (and perhaps so they can cut down on the amount of annotations on the typed versions).

We were given a behind-the-scenes look at the database used in the editorial process and, to be honest, it was a little terrifying; it’s all because of the dates. Due to the age of the correspondence they are dealing with some function on different calendars, not only this but some of the dates are un- or partially-known, as such there are over 70 fields involved just to input the date. Another issue meaning that they need such a complicated database is the names – the long names.

Another behind-the-scenes type insight we were given was an explanation of the make up of the website itself, which I found particularly interesting and particularly helpful for NPD. (Miracles do exist and they exist in the form of guest speakers.) Something they are looking into at the moment is responsive design and I will be interested to see where they go with it.

The Phoenix Comic: Marketing in Children’s Publishing

The Phoenix is a new weekly comic for children, it was launched in January 2012 and finds its home in Oxford. Its origins lie with The DFC, a comic from David Fickling which is no longer being published, but the creative team still exist (at the heart of The Phoenix).

We were joined by Ross Fraser, a fairly recent OICPS alumni, who is now Head Marketing Manager at The Phoenix Comic – a fact which, in itself, is comforting; he was in our figurative shoes about two years ago. Ross talked us through The Phoenix, what it is, the magazine and how they market the comic itself. Each issue contains serialised stories (like the popular The Pirates of Pangaea storyline); recurring stories, which do not necessarily follow a set storyline (like Bunny vs. Monkey); Phoenix features, stand-alone story specials (Ghost Ant, The Princess and the Peanut Butter Sandwich); puzzles; and non-fiction (like Corpse Talk, which Ross described as ‘in a nutshell Horrible Histories crossed with Parkinson’ much to the amusement of the class).

He split the current children’s magazine market into negatives, which included

  • cultural belief that comics are inherently worthless and carry with them stigma of geekery
  • lots of competition
  • effects of global recession still being felt
  • phenomenon of children getting older younger
  • high churn rates

and positives

  • the current trend for comic book related movies internationally
  • increase in the perception of literary value in comics
  • increase in sales via subscription models
  • 8-12 year-olds are on the whole too young to move to other forms of entertainment
  • increased recognition for ‘visual literacy’ in both schools and libraries nationally

Going on to talk about the challenge faced by The Phoenix to create a culture of comics in the UK, while countries like the US and France already have considerable weight placed on comic books the same cannot be said about the UK. To enable them to do this, he explained, they had to look at their existing platforms and how they could improve them – what else could they do. Brand loyalty is important for such an endeavour, especially when it comes to comics. We were led through the various things The Phoenix does to encourage brand loyalty in both its readers and their parents (including the successful Phoenix competitions which always receive many entries).

The comic is distributed through various channels; he mentioned an event at the Oxford branch of Waterstone’s back in November, I remember seeing the vibrant window displays and wishing I had time to go and have a look – I was either going to or coming from my internship at Berghahn. I was interested to learn that the digital version of the comic is created in Tokyo by a company that has not before dealt with fiction.  A lot of emphasis was placed on the nurturing of independent bookshops, their integration with the community is paramount to the success of The Phoenix.

Finally, before taking questions, he explained why The Phoenix do what they do: passion and a love of stories; he said something very poetic about story culture and how stories are inherent in everything, which I wish I had written down.

We have a lot of speakers at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies and they are all incredibly interesting, I was much impressed by the design of the slides in today’s talk, most speakers come with standard slides from their company (which is brilliant for the purpose) but the slides from The Phoenix were all uniquely designed and laid out much like their website (with little hints to what awaits in the comics). A thoroughly enjoyed and engaging talk.

Tomorrow in #DLL13 we are being joined by Mark Rogerson from Electronic Enlightenment. Keep an eye on the blog for a write-up.

Educake and JISC, Digital Lunchtime Lectures

I’m playing catch-up this week as I didn’t have time to write one last week. Today you get not one but two Digital Lunchtime Lectures in one blog post, a rogue blog post as it was dubbed by Helena Markou on Twitter (@helena_markou). I should probably explain, these lectures receive the official blog treatment from other MA students over at the Brookes Publishing website (though the posts themselves are proving to be elusive…), I, then, am a sneaky blogger. A rogue. A vigilante blogger, if you will.

I am getting carried away. I should get on with the blog entry now.

Educake

Educake is a new start-up aiding teachers with the teaching of GCSE Science, with the hopes of expanding across other courses. Last week we were joined by Charley Darbishire, the founder of the company, who took us through the process of creating the product (both the what and the why). We were given an inside look at how it worked as well as some of the costs involved.

Not only did he detail the start-up but his career before Educake and the transition between being employed and working for himself, he also gave us some juicy tidbits about getting into publishing. (Always a plus!)

See the official blog about this talk here.

JISC

Today we were visited by Paul Harwood from JISC and were brought up to speed on the ever-growing world of Open Access. As far as journals go, I know a little but not a lot, my knowledge of Open Access before this talk was essentially that it exists, as well as a few highlights I’d read from the Finch Report. (I am a terrible Publishing Enthusiast for this, I know, but I am learning!)

I was, however, familiar with JISC before this lecture (very much because Ruth is currently an intern with them) so I do not fail on all accounts.

The lecture detailed the problems facing publishers with the growth of OA, particularly with focus to the Finch Report and the move by the Government to ensure that all research which is publicly funded is available to be read by anyone without needing a subscription. This is creating all sorts of publishing models to ensure the best result for both the publisher and the author (and in part the institution the author belongs to).

He spoke at length about the Gold model (points which I will summarise in an edit of this post as I idiotically left my notes at home – I am not at home) but less about the Green model, which I gather is more of a move away from publishers. (Do not quote me on this.) I can only assume that this is because the Gold model is perhaps newer than the Green.

Harwood’s lecture focused mainly on the UK implications of OA with a small mention of Europe. It summarised the UK’s position in terms of research (how much of the global research pool was/is provided by Britons) and I was surprised to see how great it was (compared to our share of the world’s population).

Anyway, as I lack my notes I can’t say much more on this but I was much impressed by this lunchtime’s Digital Lunchtime Lecture. Look out on Twitter next Wednesday for the next in the series (follow #DLL13).

Osprey Digital Publishing

Photo by @karlymshort

We’re back in Digital-land this Wednesday (and will be in Children’s-land tomorrow or Friday, as I got a bit too carried away with installing WordPress on my website to do it yesterday – more on that later…), for another lunchtime lecture.

The second of the term’s Digital Lunchtime Lectures (#DLL13 on Twitter) focused on the XML Work Process and Digital Production at Osprey.  Led by speakers Steve Meyer-Rassow and Ben Salvesen, we were taken first through the XML Workflow (courtesy of Ben). What I found really interesting about the way that Osprey work is that they begin the process in Microsoft Word, rather than going straight to InDesign like I assumed. The Editors apply styles to the text, which is then copied and pasted into their CMS and from that goes into InDesign. The whole process seems a little bit mind-boggling to me but it’s definitely something worth researching further. (There might be some tweeting going on later!)

Following this, Steve took the floor to explain Digital Production within Osprey, covering what they do with their backlist while Ben concentrated more on the frontlist. I was surprised to learn that PDF versions of their books have proven to be popular, I had been working on the assumption that people preferred e-readers on the whole. It’s comforting to learn that publishers are putting at least a little bit of emphasis on PDF ebooks – I currently have neither an e-reader or an iPad so being able to buy and download books to my computer would be and is really helpful (especially when I can’t get out and buy the print book). But I am digressing.

Steve took us through some of the issues relating to PDF ebooks, including how they deal with piracy; they often find discs of their PDF books being sold on ebay, for example, but this is soon curbed by the legal team.

Unlike most speakers we’ve had during our time at OICPS, Steve and Ben relied more on their own presentation (even giving us a sneaky peak at their CMS) than the use of slides. It really helped the seminar seem informal and conversational, which is something I appreciated.

Next week we have Charley Darbishire coming to talk to us about Educake, a new digital publishing start up – watch this space.

Digital Publishing, a view from an Educational Publisher

This lunchtime, before the first of my lectures from the Digital Media Publishing module, we were visited by Liz Marchant, the head of Science Publishing at Pearson. The talk was the first of this semester’s lectures on digital publishing, all of which will feature visiting speakers from the industry.

Due to a tight deadline, Marchant’s lecture moved from last week to today and was a really good way of getting into the digital mood before my session in the afternoon. The talk walked us through the process of publishing a digital product from conception to delivery. It was focussed specifically on the scientific educational market but the theory and thought behind it can be easily applied to all.

She put great emphasis on the publisher’s responsibility to the success of the product, while there may be many other agents involved in its creation it is ultimately the publisher who takes the responsibility for it. If it doesn’t work for whatever reason, the fault is with the publisher and it is beneficial to have that in mind when conceiving a product.

The talk was formed of five main areas (with several of these expanded further):

  1. Digital as a whole.
  2. Process overview.
  3. Translating the needs of your target market into an attractive solution.
  4. Digital Business Case (vs. Print).
  5. Success.

The views below are mixture of both Marchant’s talk and my own thoughts. 

Digital as a whole

The first part of the talk highlighted the differences between print and digital, and what consumers perceive about digital in comparison. An example used being that online material is perceived as either free or cheap. There was a lot of emphasis on the changeability of content; digital products are not fixed in the way that print books are, content can be experienced in a lot of different ways, the function changes, the product can be changed more easily after it has been released, you can interact with your consumer.

Another focus of this section was the change of relationship to the customers and the consumers, the ability to track usage of the product which is not possible past the sale of a print title. With this comes the need for the customer to re-purchase, a challenge introduced by the changing face of access, whether it be subscription based, one purchase only, licences for certain machines or certain members of each organisation etc. The relationship with the consumer is crucial in the digital world.

Process overview

Fairly similar to the process of creating a print product, the digital process was outlined as follows:

  1. Segment identification (who will buy this product?)
  2. Problem (what does the customer need?)
  3. Concept development (solution)
  4. Business case
  5. Delivery
  6. Ongoing support.

With digital products the last point is very important. Print needs little follow up but with digital you are required to keep your audience interested and keep them needing the product. Without support customers might choose to adopt something else.

In this section Marchant also delved into all of the roles involved in creating a digital project. There were roles on her list which I didn’t even know existed. I am not sure what assumptions I had about the process before the talk but I am now aware of the full weight of digital products. There are so many different people involved that things could get a little confusing, communication is key!

Translating the needs of your target market into an attractive solution

The best way of finding out what your market needs is by asking them. A simple concept that may sometimes pass by unnoticed. However, it is not just what they think they need that should be addressed but also what they don’t know they need. For someone like me, who is new to the bustling world of publishing, this concept is a little daunting. Predicting what consumers need before they know themselves is something that I think can only be developed by practise. The more you get to know your audience, the more you can anticipate their needs and Marchant’s presentation backed this up.

A big part of this process is the pricing strategy, as mentioned above there are a lot of different strategies to consider and the one you go for depends both on the consumer and the product itself. How much is it worth to consumers? How relevant are the features as a solution?

They key to this section is in the testing. Giving customers an early look is bound to build up excitement as well as iron out those creases you may not have noticed. Even with in-office testing, not all bugs will be discovered; digital products have different functions depending on who is using them.

Digital Business Case (vs. Print)

I have to admit, I wasn’t entirely sure what was meant by the terminology here. From what I understand, the Business Case is what is used to convince the rest of the company that the product is needed and worth investing and will be beneficial to the company. It also assess the risks.

Things to think about when creating the Business Case included:

  1. The wear of the product. Digital does not wear out and therefore needs to generate other reasons for repeat purchases.
  2. Pricing policy. How do you define users? Whole school vs. individual students.
  3. Security.
  4. Ability to attract its own revenue or support the revenue of existing products.
  5. Loss leading.

Success

What defines success? In digital publishing it is simply that the product:

  1. was delivered on time and to budget. (Especially important in the educational market.)
  2. created a high quality experience with clear benefits that match the needs of the consumer.
  3. was presented with effective demos.
  4. worked together with all other components (such as a print expansion).
  5. delivered what was promised and is easy to use without long-winded training.

This aptly marked the end of the talk where we were then invited to ask questions.

Before the talk, I was thinking about possibilities for our New Product Development module (NPD), particularly the digital opportunities therein and Marchant’s talk definitely gave me a lot to think about when forming ideas. Even with project work, which will not be released into the wild once it’s finished, it is important to follow these processes (which is something I think I need to do more in my own projects). While we may not have the resources to fully adhere to them, now is the best time to practise.

And with that triumphant return to the blogging world (hello, blogging world), I am off to warmer climes (which should be read as either, the world of creative writing or the world of research, I’ve not yet decided which). Until next time.