There’s something in the air, and it smells like open publishing

Pie In The Sky, by Luis Prado (CC BY 3.0)

Pie In The Sky designed by Luis Prado from the Noun Project (CC BY 3.0)

A number of disparate things that may be adding up:

At the IDPF’s Digital Book program at BEA at the end of May, Sanders Kleifeld, the director of publishing technology at O’Reilly Media, gave a talk on Open Source for Publishing.

The call for proposals for Books in Browsers V is now open, and the theme for this year’s conference is Advancing Open Web Standards and Digital Publishing.

Over the last couple months I’ve come across a couple open, web-based art and museum publishing projects that I hope you’ll be able to read more about here soon: The online art books of the Art Canada Institute; and a free digital magazine called Curious Quarterly from the Royal BC Museum.

And of course there’s the Off the Press conference and Digital Publishing Toolkit project I posted about here previously.

For my part, I spoke at the National Museum Publishing Seminar in June on web books and open publishing as part of a panel that looked at digital publishing from EPUB to App. I’ll also be moderating and speaking on a panel at the Museum Computer Network conference this fall in a session called The Future of Digital Publishing is GitHub.

If anyone else has been coming across other interesting open, digital publishing projects or tools lately—O’Reilly Atlas, HPUB—I’d love to hear about them. Drop me a line @geealbers, or post a comment below.

The Book That Makes More Books: The Stedelijk Museum Highlights App


As part of the Off the Press conference, Loes Sikkes, a designer at Medamo, presented a Digital Publishing Toolkit project she’s currently collaborating on with nai010 publishers and PUNTPIXEL developers. The project (still in development) is a collections app for the Stedelijk Museum, stemming from two print publications—Highlights and Reflections—which offer respectively, a broad strokes overview and in-depth essays on the museum’s collection.

The interesting thing about this app is that it rather than just being a fixed publication, it actually functions as a publications platform for its readers. Within the app, users pick out what’s most relevant and interesting to them, and then output that collected information as a single epub or pdf. In Sikkes’ design sketches for the app, there’s even a place where users can title and subtitle the book’s cover, and pick out a color for it. As she says in her talk:

“Our ambition was and is to develop a tool which allows the user to influence the composition of the content of their own digital publication. In that way the user can decide for himself how much information gets stored in his epub depending on the level of depth he desires.”

Sikkes talks about the app as a tool for users’ “personalizing and filtering”, but I think the fact that they can also package and take away that collection (even if only digitally) is even more meaningful. I imagine this personal publication process will engage users with the content at a much deeper level than if they were reading a more traditional, static publication and merely skipping over the information that’s not of personal  interest. Further, the app gives users more information about the artworks than they’ll see in the app interface alone. Again from Sikkes’ talk:

“Beside basic information on artworks, extra information is offered. This could be, for example, scientific publication on the subject, an audio fragment, an interview with the artist, a lecture, or additional pictures belonging to this artwork as a starting point.”

From what I gather, the app is still in the conceptual and developmental phase, but you can watch the video and download the slides from Sikkes presentation, or read a little more about it on the Digital Publishing Toolkit blog.

Off the Press – Loes Sikkes: Highlights, ePub personalized from network cultures on Vimeo.

Every Other Summer, Somewhere in the Museum Publish-Verse …

When I wrote about my first trip to the National Museum Publishing Seminar two years ago on this site, I addressed the reasonably new task given to publishers of managing digital content without being any less of a print publisher.

Much as happened with the three times I attended Digital Book World and Tools of Change (my reviews are here for DBW 2013, TOC 2013, and the later whacking of TOC), conferences seem to have a set conversational style: even if the substance changes, it’s more like Mad Libs than Socratic debate. If at my first NMPS I was new to the conference game, wide-eyed about the discussion over print and digital while still believing it was more a matter of workflow and willpower than technology and money, this time around I was more attuned to the willingness of institutions to experiment on their own terms, to find a style of publishing that matched their sense of mission.

Greg Albers of Getty Publications detailed last week the excellent panel he moderated on digital publication technologies, and the chart he presented and ensuing demonstrations by iBook Author maven Tina Henderson, Elisa Leshowitz of DAP/Artbook, and Edyta Lewicka of Potion design, is a thorough primer on many of the options available to get content out into digital spaces.

But if Greg’s panel represents “EPUB 101,” particular approaches to creating digital publications, there was no shortage of other platforms described to audiences over the two days of meetings. Among the highlights:

  • Harvard Semitic Museum Egyptologist Peter der Manuelian in the opening keynote presented a 3D rendering, complete with cheap red/blue glasses, of the Giza plateau during its antiquity heyday, made by French company Dessault Systems.
  • Museum professionals from the Met, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, presented digital-first projects aimed at connecting directly with audiences through social and admissions programs.
  • A panel on guidebooks feating Scala Art Publishers, Smithsonian Books, and the Museum of Modern Art ran the gamut from walking tours to trade guides and a wide range of digital walkthroughs.
  • The MetGuggenheim, and MoMA detailed varied approaches to keeping backlists alive through digital means.
  • The final day’s opening Pecha Kucha (yes, folks, it’s a real thing) slammed out five presentations in a series of 400-second blitzes. I had to miss that first morning session but heard a lot of interest about the Hirshhorn’s multi-channel publication approach to their Ai Weiwei show and the Albright-Knox Gallery’s crowd-pubbed Anselm Kiefer catalogue (links to their unique takes on publishing, sadly, are hard to find).

Whew. That’s a lot of takes on digital publishing. Is that a good thing, part of the problem, solution, both, neither? Two years since my first NMPS, digital publishing possibilities are exploding, but print-raised publishers aren’t explicitly in the possibilities business, at least not according to budget-conscious, admissions-concerned, merchandising-worried museum directors. Still, many of the museums presenting, such as the try-anything Guggenheim and the data-inhaling MoMA, are out there, collecting data on what works, seeing what gets downloaded, what makes money and what draws a big collective meh. So museum publishers are moving into try-mode, it’s just that answers don’t abound. Yet. Maybe 2016 in Chicago.

For me, an interesting meta-approach came from what was probably the least publishing-focused panel, on Creative Collaboration. Lynda Hartigan from the Peabody Essex Museum, David Small of Small Design Firm, and designer and Rhode Island School of Design professor Lucinda Hitchcock discussed wide-open creative ideation that seem to be exactly of design-school and improv-comedy methods which would be laughed out of any curator-driven institution. And yet PEM is doing it in regular curator meetings–and before you say, yeah, PEM is small, the Met worked with Small Design on its massive reworking of its American Wing a few years ago. For people who think that the process is as important as the product (okay, me on this site here and here), this is the kind of panel that really makes you think. And that’s a good thing.

From the Sub-Basement to the Imperial Ballroom, Digital Publishing is Moving on Up

Imperial Ballroom, Boston Park Plaza

At this year’s National Museum Publishing Seminar, I moderated and spoke on a panel on digital publishing. Joining me were e-book production artist Tina Henderson, whose current obsession is “dual-orientation multi-touch ibooks”; Elisa Leshowitz, who works with a terrific roster of client publishers and oversees the growing e-book program for ARTBOOK | D.A.P.; and Edyta Lewicka of Potion design who, with Yale University Press and the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation produced the amazing Interaction of Color app released with much acclaim last year.

We were given the Imperial Ballroom at the Boston Park Plaza hotel (pictured above), which was certainly the largest and grandest space in which I’ve ever spoken about digital publishing. Much more typical have been small rooms, in obscure hallways, in front of a crowd of a couple dozen, rather than the maybe hundred and fifty people we had in attendance in Boston. A good sign for the state of digital publishing in museums!

Then again, the title of our session was “Digital Publishing 101″. How (you might ask) could we be in such a grand space and yet still talking about such mundane and basic topics? How have we not progressed past the 101 stage in the seven years since the first Kindle, and four since the first iPad? I think, however, that the juxtaposition between the grandness and size of the space and the very introductory nature of our panel sums up the state of museum digital publishing perfectly: We’re really interested in digital publishing and we know what an important role it should play in our work, but we still have no idea what we’re really going to do to make it happen. Our task then was to give attendees some tools to that end.

Sessions on digital publishing tend toward the hyper-specific—practical talks about single projects using single platforms or formats—or the hyper-theoretical—inspiring oratories about the grand digital possibilities before us. What we don’t see often if at all is a practical overview of all the choices before us. So that’s what we aimed for in our session, subtitled “The Complete Picture from EPUB to App”. Elisa covered reflowable e-books; Tina talked about fixed layout and the e-book/app hybrid formats produced with iBooks Author and Adobe DPS; Edyta talked about custom apps; and I rounded out the group with web books. It was tight and a lot to get through, but somehow we covered the complete range of digital publishing options that museum digital publishers are using now, or might want to use in the future. Not bad for 75 minutes work.

We also created a handy chart breaking it all down as best we could. Well, it’s probably more overwhelming than handy at first, but hopefully it will ultimately prove useful. The whole thing is available to read and comment on at Enjoy!


Off the Press: Electronic Publishing in the Arts

A5_OFF_THE_PRESS_web_flyer_frontIn March 2013, The Institute of Network Cultures of Amsterdam University in Rotterdam put together a consortium of publishers, cultural workers and technologists in a research project called the Digital Publishing Toolkit. As they state it, they seek to answer: “In what way can a platform be created with new tools for open source-publishing, by which publishers in the art- and cultural sector can produce interactive e-publications by themselves?”

Last week, May 22–23, 2014, they held a conference, Off the Press: Electronic Publishing in the Arts, exploring their work so far and that of others in the field working toward the same basic goals.

Short blog accounts of many of the talks have been posted and it looks like there may be more to come, as well as some video coverage. I’ll update this post with that when/if it comes. In the meantime, if you’re interested in digital publishing in the arts, or in open and experimental publishing in general, you have some reading to do.

A wide-ranging and rather quixotic report of the conference as a whole was written by Arie Altena and is available for download as a PDF. What no EPUB?

UPDATE: Videos of the talks are now available.