The conference, whose moderator was Arturo Di Corinto (journalist at La Repubblica), was conceived as an opportunity to take stock of digital publishing through discussion and exchange of ideas, without neglecting the debate on issues related to current events and the latest developments of the ebook market.
The first speech was made by Alba Carella, production manager of WAY TO ePUB, the first Italian research platform dedicated to the new kinds of interaction between paper and digital.
Alba Carella gave an overview on the latest innovations of the format and presented the results achieved by the project in regard to illustrated books and comics published as epub: this branch is still largely unexplored, but it has a great potential.
In particular, the reflection affected how the digital sector could – or should – change the publisher's role as well as the author's one: the process goes towards a greater involvement of the author in the making of the ebook, along with his or her clearer awareness about the possibilities offered by digital technology. Thus, he or she will be able to design his or her works at their best, intended, from the beginning, to the electronic edition.
As a concrete example of this new work method, Carella gave a short preview of a product made by WAY TO ePUB which will be released for Christmas. It is an epub version of Canto di Natale (A Christmas Carol), by Charles Dickens, illustrated with drawings by Giorgia Marchetti. The ebook is animated and interactive. She also presented an example of "Smart Comics", meant to be accessible to readers with disabilities.
In conclusion of her speech, Carella presented the educational offer of WAY TO ePUB, which from the beginning has focused on training as a key to promote research and spread awareness about the potential of the digital book. Among the new projects for next year, Carella announced the inauguration, in spring, of a Master Degree in digital publishing and eproduction, at LUISS Guido Carli University. It will be organized in partnership with WAY TO ePUB.
In the same circumstance, the book Dal libro all'epub (From the book to epub), published by Carocci, was also presented: a practical guidebook on the making of ebooks in epub format, in which Alba Carella poured the results of her work and her experience in the field. Besides, there was a speech by Roberto Scano, founder of IWA Italy (the Italian association of professionals in the digital and web): the speech was about two important subjects, such as education and investing in human capital and on the high competence of the industry.
Later, with the participation of some representatives of the institutions (among them, the deputies Antonio Palmieri and Enza Bruno Bossio), there was a debate on the most topical issues related to the ebook market, with particular reference to the matter of VAT equality, recently promoted by the trend initiative #unlibroeunlibro (#abookisabook).
The conference was closed with a valuable speech by Cristina Mussinelli, the only Italian member of the IDPF Board of Directors and AIE consultant for digital, who highlighted prospects and potential offered by the epub format in order to spread a free and accessible digital publishing, especially in relation to the – technical but also "ethical" – limits of proprietary formats. In particular, the focus was on accessibility, a key element to let the epub make full use of its potential, so that it could not only manage to be the digital alternative of paper book, but also stand out as something different, with distinctive features. It was not by chance that the hashtag that characterised the conference was: #convertitevi (#convertyourselves).
#CONVERTYOURSELVES. GIVING SENSE TO THE DIGITAL BOOK
First of all: why digital? Before you wonder if and how the ebooks are taking root in our country, before blaming the market and the delay in innovation, and rather than ask whether the smell of the paper will survive, we need to understand if readers and publishers have good reasons to convert to digital. The answer is that there would be good reasons, but many have the impression that digital books can't hold the candle to paper ones, because actually the ebooks' potential is still little known and widespread.
So, why digital? What can an ebook offer more than the paper book? The portability of documents is apparently not enough, or, at least, not any more. The experience of reading is changing, and this is what the digital book must face.
In other words, as long as the ebook will be a copy, and also not so beautiful, of the paper book, as long as it will be an accessory left in the bottom of the publishing industry, its market will hardly take off. There must be something more, and here professionals and research come to help.
Professionals, because if on one hand it is reasonable to think about a unified workflow that enables a rich production of books, both paper and digital, on the other hand it is unthinkable to leave ebook creation to software or automatic production platforms, to large foreign companies without publishing experience or even to web languages experts without the slightest knowledge of the dynamics of publishing industry.
Research, because only by working closely with publishers, and looking for the most appropriate solution for each book every time, you can achieve a degree of quality and accuracy worthy of a technology that has been perfecting for millennia (the book, in fact).
So, what to ask to a digital book? First of all, it should respect the standards of typographic quality that every publisher puts in his books, from the collection awareness to aesthetics and content control of the texts, regardless of their destination and complexity. At the same time, the publisher's capacity to control should not conflict with author's freedom and digital format's flexibility, so that the ebook is always easily accessible.
And here we come to the second point, the usability and accessibility. Compared to the paper, a digital book offers wider possibilities, in relation to the device and its features, as well as environmental and human conditions in which the reading experience takes place.
Finally, the strengthening of the experience itself: it can be putting animations and interactions in a fairy tale for children, or developed indexing tools in a university handbook, but in both cases what really makes the difference is a strengthened and widened reading experience, able to not stop at the text, but to make its center of it.
THE EPUB FORMAT: FREE, ACCESSIBLE, PREDICTABLE
In order to provide management tools to publishers and readers – tools in line with the complexity of thought that stands behind a book – over the years the epub format has consolidated as the worldwide standard of digital books. And although the proprietary formats are always around the corner, the importance of a shared and free standard is still felt on multiple sides. What does the epub offer more than other formats?
First of all, the fact that it is not a proprietary format allows extensive and shared research by insiders: in the same days of our meeting, in New York a summit on edupub was held. Edupub is an expansion of the epub format, meant for educational publishing needs, and this is just one example of how research proceeds better and faster in the presence of a free and open format.
Accessible, because the epub format is designed to suit the needs of the readers: due to its ability to fit the screen and users' requests, and to insert enriched semantics, the epub is a fluid format, able to adapt to the needs of a visually disabled impaired person, as well as to those of a student struggling with a bibliographical search on many volumes.
Predictable, because the epub is based on widely shared web languages, so that it gives producers a high level of control over content, both in structure and aesthetics.
But what does all this mean? What concrete possibilities does the epub offer? In her first speech, Alba Carella told and showed the results of research in this direction.
With the book Canto di Natale (A Christmas Carol), illustrated by Giorgia Marchetti, and the comic book Il piccolo principe (The Little Prince), it was shown how accessibility can go hand in hand with enhanced reading experience in the field of children publishing: with a little effort, an animated and interactive book can be usable on multiple devices, without falling into the trap of the most popular proprietary formats (iBooks and Kindle); comics can be made with vector graphics and live text, without scans that are not so accessible and weigh down the files; the media-overlay and the possibility to choose the font even in a fixed layout facilitate the approach to reading for those users who, due to age or disability, need a help in this regard.
THE ROLE OF THE AUTHOR IN THE DIGITAL CONTENTS CREATION
The more farsighted publishing is always the one that was created in partnership between an author and a publisher, both involved, everyone in his own way, in the creative process. And you may not think to go digital if just one of them is not perfectly aware of it. The digital must not be only a process of conversion: it must include thinking, rethinking or thinking anew contents that could still be complex and meet demands of a complex audience.
To do this, though, it is essential that the author is taught, so that he knows the potential of digital technology and get the right means to make good use of it. This is the only way, if you want books that really make sense in digital, and if you want formats, and in particular the epub format, to give their best, and not to be just a bad copy of the paper.
In this sense, the commitment by the industry insiders is fundamental to spread the digital culture, making the authors know how many things can be done with an epub. By the side of WAY TO ePUB, the involvement of publishers, authors and illustrators, along with the realization of "native" volumes (as the digital comic The Little Prince and the interactive epub A Christmas Carol) is just the beginning: the next steps will be the creation of a publishing brand, Landscape Books, and a series of events specifically designed for the authors and their training; but it could also be possible to take part in more complex projects whose aim, with the help of software and platforms, is to give authors the technical tools they need to think directly in digital and facilitate publishers' work in the content production.
NEW PROFESSIONALS: TRAINING AT THE SERVICE OF PUBLISHING
If you understand the full potential of this revolution, and in particular the potential of the epub format for the digital book, you should invest in training to make people know how to manage the transition from paper to ebook, or to create exclusively digital contents. It's not by chance that one of the reasons that make so difficult for a market to take off in Italy is the lack of commitment in putting forces and resources in the production of digital books: one has the impression that this is an ancillary phase of publishing industry, easy to be relegated to low-cost solutions.
But no book, both digital and paper, has ever been done with a single click, and that's why WAY TO ePUB insists so much on training: to spread the awareness of the complexity of this book format and to broaden research, in order to take it to newer and newer results.
And, beyond private courses and partnerships with universities and training centers, a great achievement in this regard was reached with the publication of the volume Dal libro all'epub (From the book to epub), published by Carocci: not a simple handbook to make ebooks, but a collection of tools to get the right direction through the clues of IDPF, in order to create products that are in line with the world standard of digital books and exploit the full potential of the epub format.
So, the training proceeds hand in hand with research, and widens to more forms, from publications (which will not stop here) to a platform continuously updated, collaborating with always new publishers, institutions and training centers to spread an accessible and shared digital culture.