The 2016 cohort has now dispersed to begin the personal projects or internships that they will be writing their project reports on. Students are spread across Canada, working at small presses like Arsenal Pulp and Anvil, large houses like Scholastic and Penguin Random House, literary and lifestyle magazines, content marketing agencies, and non-profits that are building new models and technology for publishing. But before they left, the cohort presented their magazine projects to their classmates and some members of the publishing community. This year the magazine project was combined with the tech project, to expand upon the digital possibilities of marrying print and tech, and to explore the future of magazine publishing in a digital world.
The groups presented to three panelists: Anicka Quin, Editorial Director of Western Living and Van Mag; Michal Kozlowski, Publisher of Geist; and Joanna Riquett, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Hayo Magazine. The three panelists weighed in on all aspects of the business plans and presentations, including the editorial tone and voice, circulation strategy, financial statements, and digital strategy.
The first magazine to present was Somata, a charmingly-offbeat food culture magazine that encourages you to “play with your food.” They kicked things off with a rousing game of “Mission Statement Mad Libs” which set the tone for their editorial style. They went into detail about their irreverent tone, events-based funding model, digital-first strategy, and in-depth social media plan in a lively presentation which included a PowerPoint that featured many gifs.
Next, Boundless, “the magazine for women wanderers” detailed how they planned to target backpackers as their main audience and differentiate themselves from other more luxury-focused travel magazines. They cited how millennials travel less often, but for longer periods of time, and crave immersive cultural experiences. While they are a print magazine, they have a thorough digital strategy, particularly with creating brand awareness on Instagram.
Lastly, START is a not-for-profit digital magazine that both serves and supports the emerging artist community in Canada. With a focus on art students, they provide an online space for a community of tomorrow’s artists to connect and communicate. Featuring webinars of art skills or career tips, spotlights on recent gallery openings, and a user submitted gallery of art, essays, classifieds, and events, START wants to be as indispensable to artists as sketchbooks.
The presentations made for a day full of entertainment and education, and each of the magazines illustrated the breadth of interest and experience of its group members, and of the MPub itself. This included the different ways publishers are using technology–from entirely digital first strategies to using social media to create brand engagement and awareness. And after the presentation, the cohort mingled with our valued industry guests, and looked towards bright futures in an evolving publishing landscape.
Join SFU’s Master of Publishing students as they present their final magazine media projects. This year we have combined the tech and magazine projects to expand upon the digital possibilities in marrying print and tech. Our students have created their own “maga” projects that explore the digital possibilities of magazine publishing today.
Friday, April 7th in room 2270 and running from 1:30 to 4:30.
Like, Tweet, Read: Exploratory Analyses of Social Media Data as an Indicator for Readership Behaviour in the Newspaper and Periodicals Industries
By Tilman Queitsch
MPub Project Report, 2014
Magazine and newspaper publishers benefit from readership studies conducted by large research organizations. They help publishing professionals keep track of readers’ habits and their competitors’ success. In most areas, surveys of readers and Internet users generate the findings that the publishing industry is interested in. In recent years, market research has developed a new approach combining such survey data with social media data. This approach offers new ways to analyze how social media audiences can be segmented, how readers choose between different media, how they use mobile devices, and how magazines or newspapers compare to their competitors.
Tackling each of these research scenarios, this report summarizes a series of analyses conducted at Vision Critical, a multinational market research technology company. By using basic functions in R, a freely available statistical programming language, the analyses show how this approach enriches results in a way that is useful for publishers.
Envisioning the Future of Publishing—Ambit Publishing, a student project from Pub401, taught by Juan Pablo Alperin—guest post by Holly Vestad, English major, publishing minor at SFU
It seems all student papers and year-end projects in publishing courses have a common theme: envision the future of publishing.
It’s not difficult to understand why the industry is going through significant change, and the Internet certainly needs no introduction. The future of print may remain a mystery, yet one group of students, when assigned the task to envision the future of publishing in Juan Pablo’s course Technology and the Evolving Book, ran with the assumption that print will hold an important place for decades to come.
Although the rest of our classmates designed elaborate and impressive business structures and new mediums that align with an increasingly techno-centric world, Karen La, Lauren Madsen, Alison Roach, Caili Bell and I (Holly Vestad) stuck with something perhaps seemingly more simple, yet infinitely more complex; a viable business plan for a print-only publisher.
The result of our research was Ambit Publishing, a theoretical publishing house whose central objective was to create brand loyalty.
Establishing brand loyalty was the most basic aspect of our thesis for the project, which sprang from our own noticeable lack of loyalty to any one specific publisher. As self-proclaimed bibliophiles and publishing students, we found ourselves to be the perfect market for publishers to reach out to in order to increase loyalty, and yet we felt unmoved by their efforts.
In order to establish loyalty for Ambit, we knew we needed to know our market inside and out. With research we discovered a niche market in Vancouver of affluent book lovers. From the information we knew about this market, we designed the company; our logo, clean aesthetic, mandate, book cover template and book synopses were all designed with these readers in mind. (Our full report can be seen here.)
To increase our brand recognition we decided all of our books would have the same cover, with only a central image that would change from title to title. We hoped this design repetition could work to increase tribe mentality amongst readers by helping them feel connected to Ambit’s aesthetic.
In addition, we created Ambit merchandise in the form of book totes and stickers with the intention of handing them out for free to our readers in the early stages of the company’s growth to help spread the word and gain that loyalty we were after. And we knew that if we could establish this loyal tribe, then authors would be attracted to the opportunity to promote and sell their book through the network of loyal Ambit readers.
Another significant aspect of Ambit’s business structure was that it explicitly positioned itself against Amazon. Ambit books would only be available through ambitpublishing.ca, our shop front or local retailers—no copies would be available for purchase on Amazon.
Ambit was designed with a specific hyper-local niche in mind; the global coverage that Amazon provides was not necessary. Our goal was to stay simple by tackling a local market and thriving within it. We also knew that explicitly defining an enemy would help to build tribe mentality. The very public battle between Hachette and Amazon only helped our case; Amazon’s true ugly and powerful colours really blossomed in 2014. Ambit positioned itself as a way for readers to stand against Amazon by supporting writers and a small, independent local publisher.
The financial aspect of Ambit is the area we think still needs the most help; although we created profit and loss statements, a financial statement and advertising budgets (as seen in our final report), we were worried of the projections for the second year. Regardless, we truly believe the structure behind Ambit provides a successful model for reader, author and publisher alike.
Find out what Regina, Ryan Gosling, and Bundling have to do with book publishing, and other sales and marketing tips shared by industry experts at ABPBC’s recent professional development day in this guest post from MPub Candidate Paulina Dabrowski.
On Thursday September 11th the students in the Masters of Publishing program were given the opportunity to sit in on a seminar put on by the ABPBC (The Association of Book Publishers of BC), which focused on marketing and promotional strategies for Canadian publishing.
Bruce Walsh of the recently re-branded University of Regina Press (formerly Canadian Plains Research Centre Press) gave an inspirational keynote address on how to stand out in a crowded marketplace, including pioneering the first reality tv show on publishing.
And after a collegial lunch at Steamworks, the attendees dug into the nuts and bolts of working with a sales rep and bundling eBooks.
The professional development day concluded with a roundtable discussion on the questions, frustrations and lessons learned by the members and presenters in attendance.
For those readers interested specifically in the “how-to” component of the day, here’s a recap of the session run by Kate Walker, sales rep and former owner of Ampersand, and Cheryl Fraser, VP Ampersand Inc. and manager of the gift division for the agency.
Everything you ever wanted to know about working with a sales rep but didn’t know what to ask
Kate and Cheryl have decades of experience in the industry and have worked with booksellers, librarians and specialty customers, authors and publishers. They described being a sales rep as follows, “we work with everyone in the publishing company, connecting book publishers to their customers, and customers with book publishers. Our goal is to get the books publishers acquire to the right customers in the perfect markets.”
In order to do this efficiently sales reps work hard to be good mediators. They spend most of their time communicating the right information from publishers to booksellers and back, and in order to do this they are constantly reading, and keeping updated on the book world. They need to keep track of which books are selling, which books are winning awards, and predict needs before they arrive. Kate describes sales reps as “adaptable chameleons” in that they must be responsive to the customers or book publishers’ needs.
Utilizing sales reps effectively can save publishers a lot of time and money. Sales reps have a more personal relationship with book buyers than publishers, and they use this in-depth knowledge to place books where they will sell. Sales reps create and distribute lists on “hot topics” making it easier for book buyers to see a single collection of comparable titles from multiple publishers (books by First Nations People, for example). They make it a priority to visit and build professional relationships with book buyers, creating what Kate refers to as a “bankable trust relationship”, which is a huge benefit to publishers both immediately and for future productions.
Kate and Cheryl also took the time to explain ways of creating good relationships with sales reps. Many times this relationship begins at sales conferences, when publishers present their books for the season. It’s important for publishers to be prepared and speak clearly. Reps will be asking what they know their customers will ask so they expect presenters to know intimate details such as the author’s hometown, or sales history for previous books by the author. Kate notes, however, that it’s important not to make “promises” to sales reps about acquiring information they are missing in their presentation. It’s better to come with a thorough knowledge of the book, and enthusiasm to get sales reps excited. Publishers should know the competition as well as comparable titles, and be open and honest with sales reps as to where the promotion money will be focused, as well as be transparent about any pre-arranged special sales.
The next stage in an important publisher-to-sales-rep relationship is to keep the doors of communication open, and to share information about updates with the book such as pushed release dates, nominations for awards, or upcoming events. It’s also important for book publishers to have easily understandable terms of sale and distribution channels.
In planning author events, it’s important for the publisher to do their research. They have to ask themselves:
Who is this event for?
Is the author prepared and do they have the right personality for the event?
Where will the event be held; private spaces offer intimacy but public spaces open the event to potential new audiences.
It’s also important not to forget attention to detail; does the event have a microphone available, will the event need seating, does the date conflict with any holidays, will the publisher provide extras such as food and wine?
And, which channels will be used to advertise the event? Sales reps can assist with this type of planning, after all who doesn’t enjoy a good party!
Cheryl also explained the dynamics of the “gift market”. Gift books are fun and exciting, but not all books one might give as a gift are appropriate for the gift market. To give an example of the differences, below are two books by photographer Philippe Halsman.
The first is a coffee table art book, it’s large in size and is filled with Halsman’s well-known jump photography alongside accompanying text that share the stories behind the photographs. The second is a smaller, simpler book; a photo interview with Salvador Dali that is quite silly and playful, meant to share with the reader the many faces of Salvador Dali and his famous mustache. The first book, Jump Book is a great book to give as a gift, but the second book Dali’s Mustache is a book made for the gift market.
How gift books are bought by buyers differs in many ways from how other trade books are bought. Gift book buyers are really focused on the visual. They want to see the book, hold the book, place it by their cash registers and see how it looks. It’s important for gift sales reps to have physical copies of the books to bring to their customers. Authors are much less important, and the focus is all on the visual appeal of the subject matter. It’s no surprise to hear from Cheryl that her top sellers last season were books on Ryan Gosling, Cats, and Darth Vader.
The gift buyer also heavily relies on the print catalogue, which led to an interesting discussion about the use of electronic catalogues. But I’ll save that for another post.
After a short break, Mary Alice Elcock gave the final presentation before the roundtable discussions.
How to Bundle Up: Making the Most of your Bundled eBooks
Mary Alice is a MPub alumni who is VP of Marketing and Publisher Relations for BitLit. BitLit is an app that allows publishers to offer eBook editions to readers who have purchased a print copy. To quote Mary Alice, BitLit “connects readers to books, and connects publishers to readers”. BitLit’s main market are hybrid readers, ones who read both print and eBook, as research has shown more readers are beginning to fill this middle category.
Out of 120 million people who own eBooks only 4% are eBook only readers.
Their studies have shown that 48% of people would pay more for a print book if it came bundled with the eBook.
Currently less than 1% of customers have purchased both the print and eBook edition of a book, which means there is no cannibalization of sales for publishers if they decide to bundle.
BitLit bundling pricing is typically done in one of two ways. In all cases the bundling is available after point of purchase, but publishers have the choice of offering the eBook as a free add-on which is the case for about 25% of the books BitLit currently has bundled, or the eBook is offered for around 75% off the cover price.
Bundling gives publishers great opportunity to create extra net income. Mary Alice provided example pricing of a book and its net income in print, eBook, and bundling.
BitLit can currently be downloaded (for free) on Apple and Android devices. The user opens the app, takes a picture of the cover which is then recognized in BitLit’s system. To claim the book, the user takes another picture of their name written in capitals on the top of the copyright page, which BitLit uses to match with the user’s name on the credit card they provided in their sign up. Once the book is claimed, the user is given a link to their eBook if it is provided for free by the publisher, or the user is offered the eBook for the discounted price which they can then purchase. The reader can then choose to read the eBook on any of their eReading devices including Kobo, Nook, Kindle, or iPad.
For being only 2 years old (and local to Vancouver) BitLit has already made some major waves in the publishing world. There are currently 20,000 books available to bundle and many authors have fallen in love with the cross-media platform such as well-known horror writer Joe Hill (son of Stephen King).
BitLit’s next big move is a project called “Shelfie” which will save book lovers (and book hoarders if you’re like me) tons of time. Users simply take a picture of their book shelf and “Shelfie” will find all the books which are currently available to bundle, so there is no need to search titles one by one!
McKellar & Martin, a small Canadian children’s book publisher, converted their first titles from print to ebook in August 2013. They approached the conversion as a pilot project to develop their own digital publishing strategy. This report analyzes the development of McKellar & Martin’s strategy from the initial goal-setting to the point at which the ebooks were ready to go to market. The report reviews the publisher’s unique context, the audiences they aimed to reach, and the two titles selected for conversion. It provides a detailed account of the conversion process and tactics used, and discusses how McKellar & Martin overcame some unique challenges. The report concludes with recommendations for McKellar & Martin as they begin their ebook distribution and marketing. The aim of the report is to provide small publishers with a blueprint for developing their own digital publishing strategy that will stand the test of time. Read more
Brick-and-mortar bookstores have grown scarce over the preceding decade, while online retailers have prospered. This presents challenges and opportunities for small Canadian trade book publishers. Although it is harder to find any given book in a physical store, publishers have an abundance of online resources for book promotion, including the ability to emulate the in-store browsing experience by offering “digital samples.” There is evidence that providing digital samples can increase sales, but a survey of Canadian publishers’ online presence suggests that digital samples are a neglected aspect of trade book promotion. This paper analyzes the trend toward online book sales and the various available methods of sampling, and concludes with recommendations for how publishers can best use third-party sampling options (such as Google Books and Amazon’s “Look Inside”) and own-site HTML-based samples to increase the online appeal, discoverability, and sales of their titles.
To Olin Winter Leyne. I look forward to sharing many happy hours with you in (real-life) bookstores, just as soon as you stop eating books.
Many thanks to Monique Sherret for providing guidance at the outline stage, and to Murray Tong for taking the time to read a late draft and offer valuable insight.
Thank-you to New Star Books majordomo Rolf Maurer, who sparked the idea for this report, and happily shared with me the wisdom gained from an inspiring career.
Many thanks to my SFU supervisors: Rowland Lorimer, whose sage counsel led to many refinements of both big-picture aspects and smaller details; and John Maxwell, who played a critical role in shaping the central thrust of this paper, and then wisely shepherded its development. I’m very grateful for it.
Finally, thank-you to my parents, for everything, and to Raina, a million times over, for the boundless love and encouragement — we make a great team.
AAP: Association of American Publishers ABA: American Booksellers Association ACP: Association of Canadian Publishers BNC: BookNet Canada CBA: Canadian Booksellers Association CMS: content management system CSS: cascading style sheets HTML: hypertext markup language ONIX: online information exchange PDF: portable document format SEO: search engine optimization WYSIWYG: what-you-see-is-what-you-get
On the evening of August 23, 2013, Rolf Maurer of New Star Books received the Pandora’s Collective award for Publisher of the Year. His acceptance remarks were simple yet poignant: by way of thanks, he rattled off a list of about sixty-five Vancouver bookstores that he had patronized or done with business with over the past thirty years — the vast majority of which are now closed. While there is a glimmer of hope for Vancouver patrons of independent bookstores with the August 2013 opening of Paper Hound, the recent closures of Vancouver institutions such as Book Warehouse and Duthie’s have left a sizable hole in the local book retail landscape. Exact figures for nation-wide booksellers are not available, but it is safe to say the phenomenon is not unique to Vancouver; as a recent Globe and Mail story lamented, “bookstore closings have become so common they often pass unremarked.”1
Readers are of course still finding and buying books, but evidence presented below shows that increasingly it is happening online. This trend has implications beyond a mere change of retailer: a recent study in the United Kingdom found that online book shopping tends to be “a more linear process” compared to the “serendipity of browsing” in traditional bookshops, with 81 percent of online shoppers saying they visit an online store looking for a specific book.2 If publishers hope to keep (and grow) their clientele in the virtual realm, they must adapt their marketing tactics to a very different environment.
New Star Books
The first incarnation of New Star Books emerged from a loosely knit literary collective that in 1969 began publishing short fiction and poetry in the “Georgia Straight Writing Series,” a literary supplement to the Georgia Straight (at that time a radical underground weekly newspaper). The group broke away from the Straight in 1971 and formed the Vancouver Community Press. In 1974 it was renamed New Star Books, and in 1990 Maurer became publisher. Today, New Star publishes about six to ten titles per year. The list is a mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, with an emphasis on politics, social issues, and local history and culture.3 Sales are generally steady but modest; as Maurer says, New Star is “mostly interested in books that are not particularly mainstream.”4
For the two-and-a-half years up until May 2013 Maurer was the sole employee, and as of September 2013, he was again working solo. To manage the tremendous workload, he employs a number of freelance editors and designers on a book-to-book basis.
Like most presses of a similar size, New Star has a limited budget for marketing and promotion. The bulk of it is dedicated to sending out copies for review in various newspapers, magazines, and academic periodicals. New Star also runs print ads in BC Bookworld, and occasionally in niche publications such as BC Studies. Further marketing efforts include email newsletters (to roughly 1,800 subscribers), blog posts at NewStarBooks.com, readings and book launches, and attendance at events such as Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences and WORD Vancouver.
To spark further sales of certain titles (particularly those whose initial reception was not as robust as desired), New Star has in recent years posted PDFs of entire books for free download. They are not heavily promoted or easily found on the website, but if one navigates to the page for, e.g., Islands of Resistance: Pirate Radio in Canada, there is underneath the bibliographic information a small link titled “Download the PDF,” above a “Look Inside” icon. Ten books are currently available, but Maurer has not detected any noticeable sales impact, positive or negative.
New Star’s experimentation with offering PDFs free online was borne partly of a curiosity in the potentials of online promotion, and partly of a recognition that readers are not finding books like they used to: it is more difficult than ever just to find a bookstore (or a newspaper), let alone a specific title from a small press such as New Star.
As shelf space vanishes and the Internet approaches global ubiquity, it is now imperative for publishers to go beyond dabbling in online book marketing, and begin to develop robust online marketing initiatives. Major multi-national firms have spent untold millions of dollars building digital warehouses and proprietary sampling widgets (which will be discussed below), but there is a relatively simple and inexpensive way for small Canadian publishers to enhance the presence of their wares online: by providing online book excerpts, or “digital samples.”
What follows is an analysis of the rapidly changing book retail sector (Part One), a description of the online digital sampling landscape (Part Two), and a proposal for how small-to-medium trade publishers can develop HTML-based digital samples in the hopes of aiding book discovery and promotion (Part Three). Although many of the examples and circumstances discussed throughout are specific to New Star, the proposal is broadly applicable to most publishers. By ensuring all its titles are easily found and sampled online, a small press will be able to increase the visibility of and interest in its titles, and maintain its sales in a changing marketplace — if not increase them.
Part One: The Changing Retail Landscape
Maurer’s list of extinct bookstores is, while an admittedly unscientific survey, reflective of an acknowledged trend. Upon its closing in 2010, the owner of Sophia Books lamented “there is no room for independents [in Vancouver].”5 The subsequent closure in 2012 of four Book Warehouse locations certainly did not prove him wrong.6 As Kevin Williams, the publisher of Talon Books, has noted, “It’s really hard to have your books on the shelf anywhere in the city. If people want to buy our books, often they have to come to us.”7
With the rise of Chapters and Indigo and its consolidation into one entity (henceforth referred to as “Chapters/Indigo”) in the late 1990s–early 2000s, the ranks of independent bookstores in Canada were “decimated,”8 a development that has since, by all accounts, only worsened. A 2010 wire article noted the “rash of independent bookstore closings in recent months and years” across Canada, the result of increased pressure from Chapters/Indigo and online retailers;9 more recently, a Globe and Mail article noted the “enormous challenges” facing book retailers.10 In a Publishers Weekly article assessing the state of Canadian publishing in 2012, the president of the Canadian Booksellers Association (CBA; since absorbed into the Retail Council of Canada) called it a “really, scary dark season” for retailers; although he claimed membership in the CBA had not dropped off precipitously, the article noted further closures of prominent stores in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, due to the familiar bugaboos of cost increases, price competition with online retailers, and the continued rise of ebooks.11 As one publisher succinctly put it, “We have to work with the fact that there are fewer bookstores.”12
In Canada, Chapters/Indigo dominates the diminished bookstore environment that remains — as of 2011 they accounted for about half of sales,13 and up to 70 percent of sales for some publishers.14 This is especially problematic for small presses like New Star: while the buying decisions of independent bookstores are often more content-driven and motivated by personal idiosyncrasies, large chains focus on sell-through rates, leading to an emphasis on mainstream titles15 — titles for which New Star is largely unable to compete, due to a relative lack of resources.16 This was not such a problem when there were more, healthier independents; as Maurer explains, if you could sell a title into at least one independent store, you could then leverage that fact to sell into more stores — now, a rejection from Chapters/Indigo shuts off a vast swath of potential shelf space.17 As ECW Press co-publisher David Caron put it, “The hardest part is that [Chapters/Indigo will] pass on a title entirely. … But for a lot of people, Indigo is the only game in town.”18
Their status as “the only game in town” results in Chapters/Indigo influencing not just the types of books that are produced and where they are available, but also the very conditions under which publishers are willing and able to sell their books. The favourable terms of sale that Chapters/Indigo extracts for itself then compel many publishers to impose more onerous terms on smaller retailers, as Maurer explains:
Publishers do compete on content … but we also compete on terms. The mainstream of publishing, however, has decided to eschew that competition. They have conceded terms, effectively, to the dictates of the large retail sector. And they have compounded the problem by insisting on tougher terms with the independent sector, which pays ten to twenty percent more per book, and has to pay the supplier in (typically) half the time. This has exacerbated the “competitive advantage” of the chains, and more than anything else (rent; e-books; Amazon) has led to the destruction of the independent sector — to the cost of publishers and writers as well as readers/consumers.19
To make matters even worse, space in the large retailers is increasingly being given over to non-book items. As part of a recently developed strategy, Chapters/Indigo stores will shelve fewer books and more “designer gift and lifestyle products,” which CEO Heather Reisman hopes will increasingly be inspired by books — e.g., throw pillows embroidered with quotes from children’s books.20 Reisman claims the diversification will bring more potential book buyers into stores21; Lorimer, however, sees this as a sign of the beginning of the end for the company.22 In the first quarter of 2013, revenue of Indigo Books & Music fell 8.1 percent.23
In the United States (which accounts for approximately 15 percent of New Star’s sales24), observers such as Mike Shatzkin and Joseph Esposito consider the demise of traditional bookstores a foregone conclusion.25 It is not all doom and gloom though: in 2012, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) reported an 8 percent increase in sales from independent bookstores, and membership rose from a historical low of 1,401 members in 2009 to 1,632 members.26 Much of this renewed vitality can likely be attributed to the demise of the national chain Borders (which closed in 2011), and the growing trend toward “buying local” undoubtedly played a part as well.27 But it is too early to proclaim the unqualified resurgence of the indies: ABA membership is still down 30 percent over the past decade (from about 2,400 members in 2002), and many of the stores that remain are resorting to filling budget gaps through unorthodox measures such as online crowdfunding campaigns.28
The Growth of Online Sales
The causes of the changing book retail landscape are debatable — most of the sources cited above attribute the decline to the rise of ebooks and online retailers and increased costs for commercial space, while Maurer’s analysis focuses more on the consolidation of the retail sector.29 But regardless of the causal link, an increasing proportion of books sold in North America are now purchased online.
In the United States, online sales represented 8 percent of books sold in 2001.30 By last year, they accounted for 42 percent;31 if you consider dollars spent rather than units sold, the figure is 45 percent.32
A report commissioned by Canadian Heritage found that online book sales accounted for just 4 percent of total book sales in Canada in 2004, with brick-and-mortar chains and independents combining for 64 percent.33 The same report examined the sales of eleven literary presses (a category that would include New Star) from 2003 – 2006, and found that online sales increased from 2 percent of the total in 2003 to just over 6 percent three years later, while the proportion of sales via “chain bookstores” fell from about one-third to about one-fifth over the same period.34 As of 2012, BookNet Canada reports online sales at 25 percent of the overall market, while the share of bookstores is down to 37 percent.35
Buying a book online is a fundamentally different experience than buying a book “in real life.” Wandering the aisles of a great bookstore is not just a romanticized notion — there is good reason to believe that nothing sells books quite as well as books: in the estimation of McCabe and Henry,“serendipity and discovery generate as much as two-thirds of UK general book sales.”36
In Canada, a number of studies have established the vital role of bookstores, beyond mere vendors, as generators of sales and awareness of books. In a 1996 survey of readers exiting Canadian bookstores with Canadian books in hand, only 29 percent of respondents said they visited the store to purchase a specific book; 63 percent of purchase decisions were made in the store.37 A survey the following year expanded the purview to purchasers of all books, not just Canadian ones, and found that while 72 percent of respondents “had intended to purchase a book” when they entered the store, 60 percent of them decided in the bookstore which title to purchase.38 A 2005 survey of Canadian book buyers suggests that impulse purchases account for 42 percent of Canadian book purchases.39 More recently, the results of BookNet Canada’s The Canadian Book Consumer 2012: Annual Report indicate that impulsive book-buying — whether it is “title-planned, timing-impulsive,” vice-versa, or a true “impulse purchase” — varies by retail channel, with the three categories of impulse purchase accounting for over 80 percent of book purchases at grocery stores and other “non-book retail outlets,” about 70 percent at chain bookstores, and about 60 percent of purchases online and at independent bookstores.40
Closely related to the role of bookstores in generating impulse buys is their role in creating awareness of titles. In the 1996 study cited above, 39 percent of purchasers were unaware of the title they had just purchased before entering the store.41 By 2012, according to BookNet Canada, only 21 percent of buyers of print books became aware of books purchased through in-store displays.42 Online discovery was the chosen method for 21 percent of print-book buyers and 44 percent of ebook buyers.43 When “awareness factors” are broken down by method of purchase, an obvious yet important distinction is revealed: the most popular awareness factor for buyers at brick-and-mortar outlets is, by far, “in-person” (which includes in-store displays and personal recommendations), while online buyers are almost twice as likely to become aware of a book online (about 55 percent) versus in-person (about 27 percent).44 The most recent Bowker report also breaks discovery down by format: the most popular way to learn about print books is to stumble across them in a brick-and-mortar store (“in-store display / on-shelf / spinning rack”); for ebooks, “friend / relative recommendation” is number one, followed by “read excerpt / sample” online.45
A crucial feature of the bookstore browsing experience, and one that is difficult to replicate online, is the simple act of picking up a book, examining its cover, and perhaps flipping through its contents. “The best way to sell books,” according to Jane Friedman (HarperCollins CEO from 1997 to 2008), “is to have the consumer be able to read some of that content.”46 It is a simple but important observation, and is confirmed by a study in the UK that found “the opportunity to pick up and leaf through books are important qualities for consumers, and are absent from the online book buying experience.”47
Despite the move to online sales, McCabe and Henry believe that “bookshop customers are far more likely to purchase a book they have seen displayed physically than those featured on an e-tailers’ website” — however, they go on to note that “they are also more likely to buy a book because they were able to look inside or read an extract.”48 Bowker’s 2010 PubTrack Consumer Research Panel found that the second most popular reason a consumer chose a book (after “Cover/jacket description/testimonial appeals to them”) was “Looked through book, and liked it.”49 According to Laing and Royle, even many online shoppers end up purchasing a chosen title in a physical bookstore because of a “desire to check the book physically — to pick it up, leaf through, and check the contents.”50
It should come as no great surprise to publishers that people want to look at a book before buying it. Unfortunately, in Canada there are now fewer opportunities for publishers to simply get a book into a store: independents are disappearing, and bookstore promotions are now “just as likely to feature blankets, teapots, [and] owl bottle openers” as books.51 Given the shrinking independent sector and Chapters/Indigo’s diversification into the throw-pillow market, it seems likely that online sales, and hence online discovery, will continue to grow. Much is lost in the online book-buying experience — a browser tab simply cannot recreate with high fidelity the joys of a bookstore. But if that is where people buy books now, than it is important for publishers to offer readers some means of digitally “browsing” a book. As author David Balzer says, “you have to somehow replicate that experience of stumbling upon a book in a bookstore.”52
Benefits & Opportunities
It is tempting (and common) to predict disastrous implications for publishers with each freshly shuttered shop; McCabe and Henry argue that “the single most effective technique for dismantling the physical book sector would be to accelerate the closure of bookshops.”53 Bookstores have long been a critical link in the publishing supply chain, serving as the primary customer of publishers and the primary retail venue for readers.
As suggested by Maurer’s analysis above, publishers seeking to bolster the independent sector could offer retailers better terms. A publisher acting independently would be required to suffer immediate short-term financial pain, in the hopes of contributing to a more vibrant retail sector that will eventually return long-term gains to the publisher. However, since any single small publisher represents only a tiny percentage of a store’s stock, this tactic would be most effective if small publishers acted in concert — but any collective action would likely attract accusations of collusion, as happened with the ebook price-fixing antitrust case in the United States. In an industry reliant on razor-thin margins, this is a challenging path.
Regardless, the shift to online sales need not be calamitous for publishers, and in fact offers some advantages. Publishers can continue to supply the remaining bookstores while recognizing and adapting to the increased role of online sales channels. At the very least, this means better promoting their books to the growing numbers of online shoppers; for the more ambitious publisher, the opportunity exists to sell directly to customers via the publisher’s website.
Selling online allows the collection of useful data about customers and their behaviour. For publishers selling through Amazon.ca, Business Reports allow the tracking of traffic to a publisher’s various titles and the conversion rates of viewers,54 data that would only be available from traditional retailers if they were to install surveillance cameras and closely watch the actions of browsing patrons. Publishers selling directly from their website can track the same data and more: using software such as Google Analytics, publishers can learn what devices buyers are using, how long they are spending on the site and what they are looking at, which other titles they have shown interest in, and where they are located; email addresses can be collected and, if permitted, added to the mailing list. All of this information can be used to tweak the website and marketing efforts, learn what readers respond to, and generate more sales.
Another benefit of selling online is the chance to bypass “one of the most difficult aspects of the publishing business”: returns.55 The standard practice of essentially selling books on consignment is a major problem for publishers (and others in the book trade). According to Woll, the practice distracts publishers, reduces cash flow, inflates inventory levels, and adds cost to the entire publishing process, particularly in warehousing and fulfillment — while return rates for small presses are generally less than those of the bigger publishers, they still account for approximately 11–13 percent of books sold.56 In the New Star office, significant floor space — already at a premium — is occupied by stacks of returned books, which are often dog-eared or scratched just enough that they can not be resold except at remainder-bin prices. Selling directly to the consumer means never fearing that in six months a retailer will return books en masse, potentially damaged and unsalable, for credit or a refund.
There are compelling motivations for publishers to undertake “the more aggressive use of the Internet as an online marketing and sales channel.”57 The most enticing reason may be the increase in profit margins — as Woll explains, “If you sell directly to the consumer, without the need to involve middlemen, you don’t have to give away discount to those intermediaries. You can sell your book for full price and record all of the proceeds as your revenue.”58 Given that the trade discount is generally around 50 percent, this can result in a significant increase in per-unit revenue. There are other costs involved, as Woll notes — notably shipping and direct marketing costs — but it is standard practice to charge buyers for shipping costs, and conducting the marketing online, where the buyers are already, is much cheaper than traditional print-based marketing efforts.59 There are also costs associated with setting up an ecommerce-enabled website, but the majority of Canadian publishers (New Star included) have already done this.60
Thompson’s Characteristics of New Technologies
John B. Thompson lists several characteristics of “new technologies” that allow publishers to “add real value to their content.”61 In the context of selling books online, these characteristics can enable publishers to not merely attempt to recreate the in-store browsing experience, but to enhance it.
Ease of Access: Online bookselling largely erases “certain spatial and temporal constraints.”62 Interested readers can buy books anytime from virtually anywhere, regardless of the location or business hours of retailers, or the number of physical copies of a book in a given store. As of 2010, 98 percent of Canadian households had broadband access,63 and Maurer believes that New Star’s audience is particularly active online.64
Updatability: Compared to printed material, where changes to a text require another print run, online content can be modified “quickly, frequently, and relatively cheaply.”65 Digital samples can be posted early in the book production process and then updated to their final published form, or a new excerpt may be selected for feature based on current events or the conversation generated by the excerpt.
Searchability: It is possible to search inside a printed book using the table of contents and index (or simply leafing through the pages), but of course an online search engine is “infinitely quicker and more powerful … and can be extended to much larger quantities of content.”66
In the context of the wide-open internet this presents challenges to a publisher trying to stand out from the field, but it also enables readers to quickly find what they are looking for on a publisher’s website and even within the full text of a book, if a publisher partners with Google Books (which will be discussed in some detail below). McCabe argues that “consumer behaviour is highly directed online.”67 When people are searching for a particular book or type of book, ensuring that a title’s promotional material is easily searchable is a critical step in directing that consumer behaviour to the desired location.
Portability: As Thompson notes, unless it is device-dependent, vast amounts of online content can be reproduced and transferred to or accessed on devices including personal computers, smart phones, tablet computers, ereaders, and so on.68 Of course most print objects are highly portable as well, but internet-enabled devices can store vast numbers of books and access infinite amounts of online content — e.g., book excerpts — with little burden to the reader.
This portability also allows online excerpts to be easily shared with friends and family around the globe. In an article that notes the continued importance of “social discovery,” Andrew Rhomberg observes that “we are now able to send quotes, snippets or samples (first 10%) of an (electronic) book with ease to those to whom we are recommending our books, which we could not have done in the day of the printed book.”69 His parenthetical qualifiers need not apply; by offering them online, publishers enable the sharing of digital excerpts of any length from ebooks and print books.
Intertextuality: This refers to the ability to “give a dynamic character” to the “referential function of texts,” by providing hyperlinks to sources cited, other books, external resources of any kind, and online sales venues.70
Multimedia: The ability to offer multimedia features that can not be printed on a page “enable[s] content providers to add real value,” e.g., by adding more photos or streaming videos to supplement a book’s content.71
Interest and Sales
The two pioneers of digital sampling — Amazon and Google — have reported encouraging effects on sales. Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book” feature boosted sales for participating titles (and will be discussed further below), and early adopters of Google Book Search saw the sales of backlist titles increase.72 In touting the benefits of its book digitization projects, Google “emphasizes the marketing benefits to copyright holders,” arguing that the endeavour increases the visibility of backlist and “lightly marketed new titles”73 — which, it is safe to say, encompasses the entire catalogues of most small Canadian publishers.
Whether a publisher opts to sell online via Amazon or their own site, digital samples make books easier to find and peruse. Because “the content of the book is separable from the form,” publishers can “dissociate browsing from the turning of printed pages in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore.”74 The separation of content and form takes on far greater profundity in the consideration of the eBook market, but it is germane to the online sale of print books as well: the content of a print book can be easily and accurately represented digitally — and even enhanced — in order to entice buyers. By embracing online book sales and digital sampling, small Canadian publishers can to some degree unshackle themselves from the turbulent, Chapters/Indigo-dominated realm of physical bookstores. The next section considers various book sampling practices, from Internet behemoths to tiny Canadian trade publishers.
Part Two: Current Sampling Practices
When Amazon launched the “Look Inside the Book” feature in 2001, one of the participating publishers said that “helping [Amazon’s] customers crack the spine is simply smart marketing.”75 Two years later, Amazon launched an enhanced version of Look Inside called “Search Inside the Book,” which allows users to search within a certain book or across Amazon’s entire digital catalogue and then view a limited preview surrounding the results.76 Publishers were “guardedly cooperative;” some feared the service would hamper book sales by offering free content, and the Authors Guild objected to titles being featured without the author’s explicit consent.77
One week after the launch of Search Inside, CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the program was “driving increased sales”: sales growth for participating titles was 9 percent higher than growth for titles not participating.78 After a full year, that number had dropped only slightly, to 7 percent.79
The company has not released related sales figures since, but today the Search and Look Inside widget is a robust and prominent feature, easily identified by either a bright yellow arrow or a blue triangle and the words “Look Inside!” on the cover image of a book. After uploading a PDF that conforms to Amazon’s specifications, publishers are promised “Improved Search Results” and “Point-of-Sale Sampling” that will “help customers to discover and sell more of your books.”80 Of the one hundred “Best Sellers of 2013” listed at Amazon.com on September 23, ninety included Search and Look Inside functionality.81 Interestingly, at Amazon.ca on the same day, only three of the top ten and fifty-six of the top one hundred had Search and Look Inside enabled82 — this may be a result of Canadian publishers lacking the resources or inclination to participate, or it may be simple chance.
With the rollout of Google Print in 2003 (since renamed Google Books), Google’s ambition to digitize and make accessible all the information in the world set its sights on the world’s print books. Through its Partner Program and its (highly contentious) Library Project, Google digitizes and indexes books, so that if a searched term appears in a book it will be included in the results, with a several-page excerpt and links to online retailers.83 Unless a publisher agrees to include more, the excerpts are limited to two pages before and after the search term, and displayed text cannot be copy-and-pasted, to help “ensure that a book’s content isn’t copied illegally.”84
Nevertheless, in 2005 both the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) sued Google for copyright infringement. The AAP settled in 2012; Publishers Weekly observed that it became evident during the AAP proceedings that the publishers “never really disagreed about the potential benefit of Google’s index,” but wanted to retain greater control over the contents of the program; one expert on the case said that publishers “invested a ton of time and money fighting something that they realize now really isn’t a problem.”85 A federal judge dismissed the Authors Guild case in November 2013. In deeming Google’s digitization project to be “fair use,” Judge Denny Chin said that it provides “significant public benefits” by giving books “new life,” and “generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers.”86
Publishers can make their wares available through Google Books by joining the Partner Program and sending Google a physical or PDF copy of their book. Search results from the book will then display the book’s title and author, and an excerpt highlighting the search terms. If users click on the book they will see a “limited preview … just enough to give them a taste of the book, as if they were browsing in a bookstore or library.” Printing and text and image copying functions are disabled in the preview. Sales links are clearly visible in a sidebar — if the publisher sells directly from their site that is the top link, followed by links to major retailers such as Amazon or Chapters/Indigo and, if an ebook is available, the Google Play bookstore. Partners can also embed the preview on their own website, and access detailed analytical reports about traffic to their books.87
Google does not provide data on Google Books’ impact on sales, and in the pitch to publishers to join they stop short of promising an increase in sales, instead promising, under the heading “Drive Book Sales,” to “make it easy for users to go from browsing to buying.”88 They do, however, offer this (undated) quote from Kate Tentler of Simon & Schuster: “15.3% … [of] web surfers who clicked on a Simon and Schuster book in Google Books either bought a book or went to the Simon and Schuster web site and, for example, subscribed to a newsletter. Conversion rates for other search engines languish around 1-3%.”89 Oxford University Press also claims that partnering with Google has increased traffic to their site and boosted backlist sales.90 In a recent paper from Duke University, one author claims his sales ranking at Barnes & Noble improved by 85 percent after he partnered with Google Books, an experience the paper’s authors claim is “typical for participants.”91 In a 2006 analysis of Google Book Search, Travis notes that book sales in the United States were up “markedly” since the program began, and “thus far there is little evidence that any printed books have suffered lost sales because Google has made them searchable.”92 On the contrary, Travis argues, “the service appears to have had a very positive effect on the sales of books it has included to date.”93
Book Discovery Services
There are a growing number of dedicated book discovery websites. The sites discussed below were chosen because of repeated references that appeared in the course of researching this report; while none of them have achieved the ubiquity of Amazon or Google, they are worth noting, as they speak to the increased perception of online book discovery as both a challenge and an opportunity for publishers.
Goodreads: Their recent acquisition by Amazon has recently thrust Goodreads.com and its 20 million members into the spotlight.94 The site was conceived as a marketing service for publishers, who have been using its “firm foundation” for that exact purpose “for some time.”95 Although it does not currently feature book excerpts, it is not inconceivable that Amazon will integrate its Search or Look Inside the Book features into the site, further enhancing its marketing potential.
Scribd: Originally a place to make documents accessible to the public, Scribd.com now has a “vast treasure trove of documents,” sees 10 million unique visitors monthly, and is increasingly being used by trade publishers to promote books: in July 2013 “marketing activity” on Scribd was just “a gleam in the eye” of American publishers,96 but on a recent visit (October 1, 2013), the twenty-five “documents” displayed on the homepage were all trade books (twenty-one of which were from HarperCollins). Each book offered excerpts, available to anyone, and for a monthly subscription of $8.99 readers can access unlimited content on the site,97 which could develop into an attractive marketing tool and revenue source for forward-thinking publishers.
Bookish: Bookish.com was developed by Penguin Group USA, Hachette Book Group, and Simon & Schuster, and launched in February of 2013 with the aim of “provid[ing] as many pathways to [book] discovery as possible.”98 The cover images of the majority of titles on the homepage feature prominent “Read a Sample” icons, which open a widget (embeddable on other sites) that displays anywhere from one paragraph to a couple chapters of text in plain, uncopy-able html, and a large “Buy” button. Any publisher is welcome to submit titles for inclusion, with the proviso that all data be submitted via an ONIX 2.1 data feed.99
49thShelf: Two Canadian sites deserve mention. Produced by the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), 49thShelf.com “mak[es] it easier to discover Canadian books” by hosting editorial content and a searchable database of over 60,000 titles.100 On a recent visit (September 24, 2013), none of the nine titles on the homepage offered excerpts, but it is possible to include them — all of the tiles on 49thShelf are drawn from BNC’s Biblioshare system,101 which supports including excerpts in the ONIX metadata.
Wattpad: Margaret Atwood’s high profile releases on Wattpad.com have increased its profile as of late.102 Although it is primarily a platform for self-published writers to share their work in serialized installments, American publishers are beginning to use it for marketing purposes.103 Wattpad offers intriguing possibilities for small publishers to develop online fanbases by serializing the digital release of titles, perhaps in advance of the print release, and gain potentially useful feedback about various aspects of a book.
As of 2004, foreign-owned publishers operating in Canada accounted for at least 59 percent of domestic sales.104 Of the major firms identified by Lorimer,105 excerpt practices of the four foreign trade publishers — and Harlequin, one of the largest Canadian firms — are discussed below.
HarperCollins announced plans to create a vast digital catalogue in 2005, and by August of the following year had digitized 10,000 titles at a cost of several million dollars, with expected annual costs of at least a million dollars.106 The most notable feature of the project was the new “Browse Inside” widget that, similar to Amazon’s “Search Inside” and Google Book Search, “allow[s] readers to replicate in cyberspace the experience of going to a bookstore and flipping through a few pages before buying a book,” includes supplementary marketing material such as interviews, tour schedules, photographs, and reading group guides, and can be embedded on other websites.107
Initially Browse Inside was limited to the front matter and the first few pages of each chapter.108 Access to most titles is still restricted, but there are now a limited number of “Full Access” titles that offer the entire contents of the book for preview.109 While browsing, a reader can search inside the book; share links to the preview using almost 350 different social media tools; buy the book from Amazon, Indigo, or a list of independent retailers sorted by state or province; install the widget on their own website; and sign up for email notifications about the author’s promotional activity and new books.
Browse Inside is accessible by any visitor to the website, but the content of the preview cannot be downloaded, copied, or accessed by external search engines — as Friedman said upon the launch of the feature, “HarperCollins is taking a leadership role on the digital front … while, first and foremost, protecting our authors’ copyrights.”110
Detailed sales figures are of course unavailable, but there is evidence that excerpts boost sales: in a presentation to the 2008 International Digital Publishing Forum, Leslie Hulse (Vice President of Digital Business Development) reported “print sales increases of 30% and 250% for specific titles using [HarperCollins’] Browse Inside functionality.”111
In 2007 Random House introduced “Insight,” a search and sample widget and service that “enable[s] the indexing, searching and display of text” of books. The service is very similar to Browse Inside, allowing users to search the entire text of a book and view the results in context. It has since evolved into Insight Web Service, “a set of programming tools that allow internet applications to view and search digitized book content” and display the resulting pages as high-resolution images or fast-loading thumbnails. Insight can be set up on any blogger’s, publisher’s or retailers website, and the Insight widget can be customized for affiliate sales.112
RandomHouse.com and RandomHouse.ca both offer Insight-powered “Look Inside” widgets for many titles; in addition, RandomHouse.com features an “Excerpt” tab for most titles, which displays the selection in simple HTML-based text. During the autumn of 2013, RandomHouse.ca also added simple HTML excerpts, so that users can click a “Read Excerpt” button to launch a pop-up window with simple, copy/pastable HTML-based text. This feature is in lieu of the “Look Inside” widget for some titles (e.g., Let Me Off at the Top! by Ron Burgundy) and in addition to it for others (e.g., John Grisham’s Sycamore Row).
Penguin Books Canada (Penguin.ca) offers excerpts of most of its titles, but in varying formats and degrees: for Joseph Boyden’s latest, Orenda, readers can download a PDF of the first twenty pages, while excerpts for some titles are simple HTML text in a box on the page — though they can run as long as 4,800 words, as is the case for Clive Cussler’s The Mayan Secret. Many titles feature video interviews or book trailers.
In the summer of 2013, Penguin launched its “First to Read” program. People must register for the program (or use their FaceBook accounts) to receive access to excerpts of forthcoming books, be able to post reviews, and request access to digital pre-publication copies of books.113
Simon & Schuster
For some titles Simon & Schuster’s Canadian website (SimonandSchuster.ca) uses the Google Books widget to allow browsing of substantial amounts of content within a book. Other titles have an HTML excerpt from the introduction or first chapter, and many of their recent and bestselling titles have embedded audio excerpts and video book trailers. All of this content is easily shareable via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, or email.
Harlequin.com provides excerpts for seemingly the majority of titles in their vast catalogue. As well as multiple social media widgets and links to eight major book retailers, each title’s page features a red “Read an Excerpt” link that opens the HTML-based sample in a new tab or window. Selections are presented without context, and average about 2,500 words.
A Survey of Canadian Publishers
Table 1 presents the results of a survey of the availability of excerpts from Canadian trade publishers. Eighty-three publishers were selected from the membership directory of the ACP.114 Publishers of exclusively educational, scholarly, or children’s books were excluded, and in the wake of the bankruptcy of Douglas & McIntyre Publishers Inc., the resulting independent firms — Douglas & McIntyre  Ltd., Greystone Books Ltd., and New Society Publishers — were included. On each publisher’s website, the five most prominent titles (featured on homepage or “Featured” lists) were checked for availability of excerpts, and then titles were searched on Amazon (.ca and .com) and Google Books (books.google.com/). There are some limitations to the methodology: not all Canadian publishers are members of the ACP (New Star, for one), and not every title on every site was checked. Nevertheless, the results offer a valuable sense of what Canadian publishers are doing to make their titles visible online.
Table 1: Digital Sampling Practices of Canadian Publishers
Samples available via:
Google Books (Preview or Snippet)
At least 1 of website, Google Books, or Amazon
No Samples Available
In contrast to the major firms discussed above, less than half of the Canadian publishers surveyed provide excerpts on their own website — despite the fact that the vast majority (89 percent) sell books from their websites, either directly (81 percent) or via links to third-party retailers (20 percent) such as Amazon or Chapters/Indigo.
The format, frequency, functionality, and length of the samples vary greatly. Of the thirty-four publishers that do host samples, nearly half (fifteen) use PDFs, eleven use plain HTML, and only seven publishers use embedded Google Books widgets. At a dozen presses, samples were found for only one or two of the five titles surveyed, while thirteen displayed samples for all five titles. Slightly less than half (fifteen) of the publishers enabled the sharing of the samples via some social media channel. The length of samples runs the gamut from a few sentences presented wholly out of context at Linda Leith Publishing, to Dundurn’s Google Books-integrated website, which allows viewers to search within their entire catalogue and view extensive selections from selected books in Google Preview directly from Dundurn.com.
Although excerpt availability does increase significantly when Google Books and Amazon are taken into account, the titles of about one third of publishers cannot be sampled online. The prevalence of direct sales seems to indicate that publishers appreciate the significance of the online market, but the relative lack of opportunities to easily peruse a title shows that this important aspect of online marketing is either unrecognized, or deemed unfeasible due to financial or technical constraints. The importance of sampling having been established above, the next section consists of considerations and recommendations for how to simply and effectively offer book samples online.
Part Three: Analysis & Recommendations
The mere existence — often at great cost — of the various digital sampling widgets and websites speaks volumes to the efficacy of enabling readers to “try before they buy.” These services are a testament to the growing value of the online market, and the necessity of innovation in the absence of a healthy physical bookstore sector. A publisher with unlimited resources may wish to engage in all the available means above, but for a small Canadian press the time and effort of supplying Google, Amazon, and the various websites with PDFs and data feeds may cancel out any benefit accrued. The following sections consider the myriad options available for offering digital samples, and conclude with recommendations for how to provide effective HTML-based samples.
Book Discovery Websites
It remains to be seen if the latest book discovery sites will survive and flourish, and there is little indication as of yet that they can improve the visibility or sales of a title: a recent study concluded that even though “frequent readers” regularly visit sites such as Goodreads or Pinterest to look for books, “those visits fail to drive actual book purchases.”115 For a publisher like New Star, already faced with pressing demands on time and resources, it is not clear that devoting any considerable effort to developing a presence on these sites would return any tangible benefit — as some observers have noted, there is a glut of such services, indicative of the fact that discovery is a problem for publishers, not readers.116 It is worth keeping an eye on the continued evolution of sites like Scribd and Wattpad, but to achieve immediate results, publishers should focus their efforts on more proven methods.
Google & Amazon
The ease, ubiquity, and effectiveness of Search Inside and Google Books should make them very attractive to publishers. Titles from every publisher surveyed can already be found on Amazon.ca and Google Books, yet less than half have enabled Google Preview, and even fewer use Amazon’s preview functions. Google Books’ Partner Program in particular can be very useful for publishers, as it is effective beyond the confines of one particular website: readers searching via any search engine can find a Google Books page that includes retailer links, and the preview widget can be embedded on the publisher’s own website — as at least seven Canadian publishers know.
There are some limitations, however. Amazon samples are only accessible via Amazon.ca (or .com), and of course do not provide links to other retailers (although there is some evidence of reverse show-rooming behaviour, whereby people browse books online and then buy them in a physical store.117 Amazon requires a PDF free of registration- or crop-marks,118 which in New Star’s case would mean producing a separate PDF, apart from the standard workflow. Compared to HTML, both Google and Amazon’s widgets are somewhat cumbersome to use on smartphones, tablets, and other non-PC devices.
Notably, neither has a sharing function, and text cannot be copy/pasted from the widgets to manually share on social media venues. Whether it is in person or via online “social discovery,” word-of-mouth is still a critically important component of book marketing.119 When readers were asked for a 2005 Canadian study to choose the variables that contribute to their awareness of books they read or purchased, “recommendation from a friend” was listed as “often used” by 40 percent of respondents, second in frequency only to “interest in topic” at 61 percent — but when asked which factors “helped the most” for buying and reading, recommendations were cited by over 30 percent of respondents, compared to 20 percent for “interest in a topic.”120 The more recent BNC report confirms the significance of word-of-mouth for book discovery, and notes that online discovery is increasing121: it seems clear that sharing and recommending books online is an important and growing factor in book discovery, and should be made as seamless as possible.
Even with these limitations they are tremendously useful. So why don’t more publishers embrace them? Thompson addresses this in an interview with “Steve,” the head of “Media Asset Development” at a large trade house in New York, who says his company wants to use the Amazon and Google services, but is not entirely comfortable giving their content to such powerful companies who may not have their best interests in mind: “‘Many publishers in this building just like elsewhere are still not totally comfortable about giving their files to Amazon and Google,’ explained one of Steve’s colleagues. ‘Partly it’s because we’re unsure what they’ll do with it.’”122 Before a New York judge dismissed the proposed Google Book Search settlement agreement (that required authors to opt out of having their books digitized) in 2011,123 Canadian authors (among others) expressed their distinct disapproval of the deal, comparing it to thievery and “legalized, large-scale piracy.”124
There are also practical concerns; Thompson explains that publishers are ceding control of the quality of the excerpts and the quantity available, and cannot easily change or update what is on offer.125
In the case of the quantity excerpted, Amazon has since partially addressed this concern with the introduction of a “Flexible Percent Viewing Limit” feature that allows publishers to determine the percentage of the book that is viewable, in 10 percent increments between 10 and 80 percent.126 The quality concern has been rendered moot by both Amazon’s and Google’s acceptance of PDF files rather than hard copies — the quality of the digitized book is what publishers make it. Concerns over quick updates are still valid, but not entirely reasonable for publishers of print books, who are not able to correct errors in their books once the ink is committed to paper without an expensive and unlikely reprint.
The trust issue is thornier. It is understandable that a small publisher would be wary of placing too much faith in multi-billion dollar corporations. Amazon particularly endures much criticism from all quarters for its impact on the publishing trade in general, and, as a purely profit-driven retailer, cannot be said to share any of the lofty literary, cultural, or political ideas that animate a press like New Star. Google’s mission to make the world’s knowledge accessible (and its famous slogan, “Don’t be evil”) seems to align them more closely with publishers, but also has a whiff of totalitarianism about it, and has of course resulted in numerous lawsuits alleging flagrant and systematic copyright violations. Still: all the publishers surveyed sell books on Amazon; in the absence of any evidence of malicious acts involving digitized books, it seems wise to allow them to present those books in the best possible light. And as Thompson goes on to mention, Google’s Partner Program is, “in effect, a free form of online marketing” that, in distinction to the Library project, “was not a source of concern for most publishers.”127
Most Canadian publishers use PDFs for excerpts. This results in an accurate representation of the printed page and allows the excerpt to be read offline, but there are many disadvantages that make PDFs an inferior choice compared to HTML. They are cumbersome to share, forcing the reader to download and attach them to an email, and can be slow to load, depending on the file size and bandwidth available. They are unreliable: different web browsers and operating systems treat them differently, sometimes downloading them and sometimes opening them in a new window or tab; the ability to view them at all depends on the reader’s software configuration and the settings used in generating the PDF; and if the reader is using a smartphone or tablet they are unwieldy at best, unreadable at worst.
Because PDFs are an essential part of a print-oriented production workflow, it is perhaps understandable that publishers would be biased toward their use. As Murray Tong of UBC Press explains, “I think the issue for many publishers (including us) is that the PDF is already there, so why not put it up? — with little thought [given] to searchability, copyability or other forms of access.”128
Another reason for the tenacity of PDFs may be the perceived benefit of restricting a reader’s ability to copy text from them, out of fear of piracy or copyright violations. This restriction is an oft-touted feature of the excerpt methods of Google, Amazon, HarperCollins, and Random House. If the entire book is available for preview this restriction seems reasonable, but in the case of an incomplete excerpt it becomes less defensible. With the possible exception of poetry books, cookbooks, or instructional manuals, there is very little value in owning or reproducing a fraction of a greater work, except insofar as it impels one toward the source material. Rather than guard every scrap of content, publishers should encourage the free sharing and distribution of enticing morsels that enable “social discovery” (via social media) and “distributed discovery”129 (when a book is mentioned or quoted in context in reviews, blogs, other books, or any number of venues).
Whatever inspires their proliferation, PDFs represent a case of persistent skeumorphism. Imitating old media in new ones may be a necessary step to familiarize people with new technologies,130 but people have had a long time to get used to reading on screens: as Joseph Esposito argues in a post that calls the PDF the “supreme skeuomorph,” the challenge for publishers is to consider “what are the properties of a new medium and what kind of new products or services can we come up with that seem at home in that new medium…. Rather than contrast and compare it to print, we could be thinking about digital media’s unique properties.”131
In the context of promoting books, these properties are wasted with PDFs. HTML can now achieve the same level of aesthetic design as PDFs destined for the printer, “and yet,” as John Maxwell says, “offers a whole world more in terms of dynamic, interactive reading experience.”132 There is a broader argument being made that publishers need to shift the bulk of their operations to a web-first workflow, as the web is now “the default platform for reaching audiences, developing content, and putting the pieces [of a book] together” — but for publishers hesitant to “re-orient their operations and start with the web,”133HTML-based samples are a less intimidating place to start breaking the dependency on PDFs, and could potentially lay the foundations for a more fundamental change to workflows down the road.
It is difficult to gauge the dollar cost of creating online samples, given the myriad variables at play. While participation in the Google and Amazon sampling programs is free, overall costs will depend on the method or combination of methods employed; the number of titles for which samples are created; the structure of the publisher’s website; and the extent of in-house programming knowledge. In the best-case scenario, the cost is limited to time. If the publisher already sells via Amazon, they must sign up for the sampling programs and enable them for each title. For Google, once the publisher is signed up they must submit PDFs for each title. The publisher’s own website is potentially more expensive; a template for samples must be created, and the HTML-based samples of each title created. If the structure of the site allows it, this could be accomplished relatively quickly in-house; more complicate websites owned by publishers with little in-house programming knowledge could expect to pay for several hours of web programming to implement the sample program.
Recommendations for Effective Samples
Based on the above, it is recommended that publishers participate in Amazon’s Look and Search Inside the Book services and Google’s Partner Program — the benefits are real and tangible, the perceived dangers largely a matter of fear and uncertainty.
It is also advisable for publishers to create HTML-based excerpts for display on publishers’ own websites. If publishers can recognize that, for the purposes of online marketing at least, “the content of the book is separable from the form” and “the real value of the book lies in the content … rather than in the physical form,”134 they will be a step closer to abandoning PDF samples and taking full advantage of the characteristics of new technologies noted above. HTML-based samples overcome most of the limitations of PDFs and Google and Amazon samples: all browsers can render HTML, making it easily accessible to (very nearly) anyone with Internet access, whether via computer, tablet, or smartphone, and the excerpted text can be easily shared, linked to, and quoted elsewhere. This enhanced “sociability” of HTML over PDFs is a very significant advantage: samples can be easily and quickly spread through any and all social media channels via easily clickable links.
There are two potential drawbacks that merit consideration. The first is aesthetic: web pages are usually less attractive than reproductions of the printed page, which may make publishers somewhat reluctant to present books in what may be perceived as a “lesser” format. This can be overcome to some degree with CSS styling and the addition of images where appropriate, but more importantly, providing HTML-based samples should be seen as a strategic practice that, rather than competing with the physical books, aims to make those books readily shareable to as many people as possible in order to generate sales. In this context, aesthetic imperfection is an acceptable tradeoff for near-universal accessibility, and may even be preferable to high-fidelity page reproductions: as discussed below (under the section titled “Length”), publishers must be careful not to give away too much for free, lest readers feel that purchasing the actual book is unnecessary.There are two potential drawbacks that merit consideration.
Secondly, depending on a publisher’s standard workflow, creating HTML-based samples rather than PDFs may take more time: instead of simply removing the printer’s marks from the print-ready PDF, the text must be copied and pasted from the source file into either a WYSIWYG content management system (CMS) such as WordPress (the best-case scenario), or a text editor for the creation of HTML code (a slightly more onerous route). In the former case, creating the sample is no more time-consuming than creating a web-ready PDF. In the latter, creating an HTML template into which text can be pasted and marked up will ease the burden somewhat. Forward-thinking publishers wishing to entirely erase this burden (and many others) should consider beginning their workflow in a web-based CMS; as Maxwell has argued, one of the many advantages of such a strategy is that “online marketing copy or excerpts for the web” become “extremely easy to generate.”135
Despite these potential drawbacks, HTML is the superior choice for hosting digital samples, and is well worth the interruption to an established workflow. Its content is indexed and searchable by Google and other search engines — a considerable benefit if “Google is your discovery method”136 and “search is the new storefront.”137 Hyperlinks within the excerpt and the publishers website and to external sites can be easily added and used. It enables the addition of audio and video. And a reader’s behaviour and interaction with an HTML excerpt can be tracked and quantified using Google Analytics.
There is another compelling reason to host excerpts on a publisher’s own site, one that is hinted at by the time and care Maurer devotes to maintaining New Star’s blog and email subscriber list: building a relationship with a press’s audience. Excerpts are an incentive to spend time on a publisher’s website, where they can potentially read blog posts, subscribe to newsletters, peruse all the press has to offer, and generally develop an affinity for the publisher. Many observers have recently emphasized the importance of this sort of relationship: “Since publishers can’t physically enter people’s living rooms, turn off their TVs and shove books into their hands, they may instead have to focus on retail and … work on their direct relationships with readers,”138 because “nothing will ever replace building authentic, two-way relationships with customers and readers.”139 As Gonzales says, “The publishers who have a direct relationship with their readers — not necessarily via direct sales, but via direct engagement — are the ones who will not simply survive the ‘digital shift,’ but will thrive, being less prone to the whims of Amazon, Apple, Google….”140
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Although it is likely already on the radar of many publishers, SEO is critically important, specifically for digital sampling — as Thompson notes, if a site is not “friendly for the Google crawler” and therefore does not perform well in search result rankings, “then your content is, for all practical purposes, invisible.”141SEO is a vast and at-times complex field in itself, but a few simple steps — such as creating unique, accurate page titles, and URLs with descriptive words rather than strings of numbers — can greatly enhance a sample page’s (and therefore a book’s) discoverability.142
For non-fiction titles, SEO considerations can also guide the choice of what book content to sample. By consulting the suggested terms listed by Google’s Autocomplete feature (which terms are “a reflection of the search activity of users and the content of web pages indexed by Google”143), publishers can get a sense of which subjects within a book are most searched-for. For example, querying “Svend Robinson” in Google produces a list of the ten most popular terms queried with “Svend Robinson,” three of which (i.e., “Max Riveron,” “theft,” and “Sue Rodriguez”) point to topics covered in the New Star biography that would be suitable for excerpting.144 Using Google Trends (www.google.ca/trends/), the popularity of these terms can then be compared over time and within regions to aid in choosing what to sample, and fine-tuning keywords to use in optimizing and promoting the samples.
The next consideration is how much to excerpt — Amazon’s default is 20 percent; excerpts surveyed above ranged from a few sentences to dozens of pages; and, as noted, New Star has experimented with offering the entire book — a strategy that has proven successful for some authors,145 and is worth further exploration. Generally though, as Thompson notes, “you want to allow the reader to get a clear sense of the content … but you don’t want them to be able to read so much of the text that the decision to purchase becomes redundant.”146 The nature of the book is another important factor — for fiction the preferred method is to offer the beginning chapters, while “episodic sampling” is often the best approach for non-fiction works.147 Checking various topics from the book in Google Trends could offer insight into what topics are currently popular and will be more likely to attract readers to the excerpt. Publishers must be careful, however, to not give away for free the most sought-after section of the book: in an article questioning the value of book excerpts in print publications, a publicity executive at Knopf claimed that an excerpt of a Jessica Lynch biography in Time “gave away too much — I think people felt they’d had their fill.”148 Ultimately it is a matter of editorial judgment, but the guiding principle should be to entice, not satiate the reader.
A “buy” button is the most obvious link to include, but publishers can take advantage of the potential “intertextuality” of digital samples by including hyperlinks in the content of the excerpt. For a research-heavy non-fiction title such Svend Robinson, an excerpt could feature links directly to available online sources referenced in the text, allowing the reader to engage with the source material in an exponentially easier way than if they were reading it in a bookstore, which would require either flipping to the end of the book to find the endnote, or going online to search for the cited article.
Hyperlinks can also enrich the reader’s experience of the excerpted material, and provide context precluded by the limitations of the print version. With fiction and poetry, samples are a chance for authors or publishers to embellish and expand upon the original text. A recent New Star poetry book acknowledges a long list of bands, writers, “commercials, films, and more” that are obliquely referenced or appear in the text as “phrases and rhythms, sometimes skewed, [that] float in and out of sybil unrest.”149 With only slight visual alteration of the text, these references could be elucidated or expanded upon, offering the authors another layer of expression and the reader a deeper understanding of the references and ideas at play.
The savvy excerpter could also include links to favourable reviews of the work, or at the end of the sample, to excerpts from the author’s other works, and similar works by other authors (offered by the same publisher).
The multimedia capacity of digital samples allows further enrichment of the text. In the case of New Star’s recent titles, this could entail “bonus” photos, e.g., photos that were considered but not included in Svend Robinson or Seize the Time: Vancouver Photographed 1967 – 1974; including promotional videos in a sample, e.g. the promotional video for After Desire; embedding videos related to a book’s topic, e.g., Seize the Time contains two photos of Janis Joplin in performance, and a number of videos of those same performances are available on YouTube; or including audio recordings of readings, e.g., Peter Culley’s (author of Parkway) recent reading at the Western Front or George Stanley’s (After Desire) at WORD Vancouver.
Promotion of samples can and should take place through extant channels, such as a publisher’s website, email newsletters, social media, and even books. It is a common practice to list other books by an author in the front matter of a print book, but if a publisher sells ebooks, these lists could be hyperlinks to samples of the book. Widgets displaying the “Most Read” samples could be installed on the homepage of the website, similar to what most online newspapers and magazines do.
Including social media widgets on the sample’s page allows readers to quickly share them, and these channels can be very effective: “Traditional advertising did nothing for us … absolutely zilch,” according to Emily Gould of EmilyBooks, an independent ebook retailer, “but when I tweet a line from the book or we post a three-paragraph excerpt on our Tumblr, people buy the books just because they want to read more, immediately.”150 The chances are very high that any given member of a book’s potential audience is using at least one social media platform.151 Engaging them with them in these media and linking to samples helps them get read, increases the SEO ranking of the site, and provides useful data about the readers.152
Digital samples can also be easily distributed to specific influential bloggers or reviewers, as part of a concerted “online outreach” effort — the online marketing manager of a large American publisher said, “we outreach to bloggers, and that’s a big part of what we do because it just gets the conversation going.”153 A book like Svend Robinson lends itself well to promotion in a variety of realms beyond book-review sites; members of the LGBT community, provincial and federal NDP members, and political pundits could all be expected to show an interest in reading and discussing online an excerpt from the book. Advanced search options in Twitter and Google allow a publisher to find people that are already engaged with the topic of the book, follow their conversations, and offer them valuable content.154 Proactive distribution of digital samples costs only time, and can help spark a discussion around the book, bringing more visitors to the publisher’s website.
In 2011, the president of Booknet Canada recommended that all publishers include excerpts in their metadata feeds.155 Excerpts are considered “enhanced” (i.e., non-compulsory) metadata, but can be included for those retailers or websites that do display them, e.g., 49th Shelf, which draws all its title information from the ONIX files submitted to BNC’s BiblioShare.156 Enhanced metadata is proven to increase sales, and the effect is even stronger for online sales.157 The Book Industry Study Group’s most recent guide to metadata best practices claims “excerpts can make titles stand out in a list of possible relevant purchases and encourage longer engagement with the product listing for these titles.”158 In The Metadata Handbook, “excerpts, previews, and sample chapters” top the list of enhanced metadata “that make a difference.”159 The authors note that providing rich metadata to retailers will also improve a title’s SEO performance in Google and other search engines; while they caution that rich metadata will not guarantee the success of a book, “the absence of metadata will definitely guarantee its obscurity.”160
Using Google’s “rich snippets,” publishers can help Google parse the content on a page to provide important information about the book in the “snippet,” i.e., the lines of text that appear below a search result.161 Installing rich snippets requires small modifications to the code of a webpage according to Google’s specifications, but greatly enhance the results that people searching for a title will see. Rich snippets for products allow the inclusion of the book title, cover image, publisher, category, ISBN, price, and availability,162 enabling an interested reader to learn of not just the existence of a book, but many salient details that will aid their discovery of it, all with a glance at the search results.
Finally, readers’ interaction with HTML-based digital samples on a publisher’s own site can be tracked with Google Analytics, enabling a publisher to tweak the samples and the site for maximum efficacy. There is a wealth of data available, including geographical location, frequency of visits, device and browsers used, links followed to arrive at the site, the popularity of specific pages, navigation paths within the site, and the completion rates of customizable goals.163 This allows a publisher to track how well digital samples are engaging readers and leading to sales, and can help them modify the samples (and the site at large) to respond to readers’ behaviour.
Analytics results cannot tell a publisher how to improve results, but allows them to methodically refine the site and receive quantified feedback at each step. This process can be sped up by using A/B testing: there are a variety of services that enable A/B testing, and have taught website proprietors that modifications as simple as changing the colour of a call-to-action button can significantly improve its effectiveness.164 Publishers can offer different excerpts from the same book, with varying cover images, photographs, blurbs, etc., track which versions garner the better response, and use the resulting data to inform the marketing of the book (or even the book itself). These online tools allow for a process of trial-and-error that would be prohibitively expensive in print-based marketing efforts, and far more difficult to measure.
This process is fundamental to online book promotion: as Mike Shatzkin argues, “The key to successful digital marketing is to do the research that finds the right messages and targets, test the messages to the targets looking for a defined result, measure the impact, and then adjust the messaging and targeting.”165 By experimenting with different excerpts and their design and marketing copy, digital samples can act as a low-cost testing ground, enriching a publisher’s understanding of their audience and ultimately improving a title’s chances of success both online and in physical bookstores.
The decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores in Canada is a serious problem for publishers, particularly small publishers, who benefit greatly from a healthy independent bookstore sector providing a greater diversity of sales channels. A greater number of readers are purchasing books online, where the opportunity to sample a book can increase the likelihood of purchase. Although digital sampling via Google Books and Amazon has been around for nearly a decade, it has a relatively low adoption rate for Canadian publishers, and only a fraction have placed excerpts in easily searchable, universally accessible HTML-based formats. Digital sampling on publishers’ own websites is often half-hearted and haphazardly applied. Offering HTML-based samples on their own website ensures that a potential customer can find a publisher’s title and quickly determine its attractiveness. Embarking upon the above recommendations will greatly improve the online visibility and appeal of a publisher’s books, and likely result in increased sales.
For small presses like New Star, where limited resources must be carefully allocated, digital samples are an easy and effective way to supplement their marketing efforts. Maurer believes “the best thing for New Star would be to have a catastrophic collapse of Indigo/Chapters,”166 but in the meantime, New Star can boost the online visibility of its titles by adding the creation of digital samples to the workflow of new books, and beginning the process of creating samples for backlist titles. For the own-site samples, eye-catching “Read a Sample” links should be added to a title’s page; while a book is being printed, the final text could be dropped into a ready-made HTML template. Once the backend modifications are in place and the template created, it would be a matter of minutes to create a sample, or at most a couple of hours to include various hyperlinks, cross-references, and multimedia extras. To further enhance visibility and increase third-party sales, Amazon should be provided with the necessary files to enable Look Inside, and New Star should consider partnering with Google Books to enable Google Preview and links to NewStarbooks.com on Google Books pages. Samples could be easily promoted via the existing means, though it would be wise to ramp up the social media efforts — New Star’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been dormant since 2011; at a minimum, tweeting and posting links to new samples as they become available would help generate awareness of them and draw traffic to the website. New Star already has Google Analytics enabled; to determine to what extent any of this affects sales, “goal funnels” could be set up to measure how many people click on the samples, and how many of those proceed to buy the book or click on the Amazon or Chapters/Indigo links.
Despite all of the above, publishers should not wholly abandon the physical retail sector. Traditional bookstores still play a very important role in book discovery, and there is a case to be made that publishers should be devoting more energy to supporting vibrant bookstores.167 However, publishers need not focus on online sales to the total exclusion of all others, and strong online book promotion can drive sales in retail stores: as noted, some people find books online and then purchase them in a physical store, and even people who purchase books exclusively at brick-and-mortar bookstores likely spend some time online — as the online marketing manager at one imprint told Thompson, one of the goals of online marketing is for these people “to be in the bookstore and recognize the book either because they saw an ad or they something else that we did online.”168
A final caveat: if these means of online promotion are universally adopted, then “the playing field is once again leveled” and publishers will live or die solely on the merits of their books.169 But until that unlikely day arrives, small Canadian publishers can gain an advantage on their competitors and increase their share of the growing online book market by ensuring readers can find and sample their books online, in the most enriched and unencumbered manner possible.
37 Rowland Lorimer and Roger Barnes, “Book Reading, Purchasing, Marketing, and Title Production,” in Book Publishing 1, ed. Rowland Lorimer, Jillian Shoichet, and John Maxwell (Vancouver: CCSP Press, 2005), 228.
120 Rowland Lorimer and Lindsay Lynch, “The Latest Canadian National Reading Study, 2005: Publishers Analysis,” report commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage, Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, Simon Fraser University (2005), 16-17.
121 BookNet Canada, Canadian Book Consumer 2012, 61.
144 It should be noted that Autocomplete results may vary based on whether a user is signed in to a Google account and has “Web History” enabled (See Ibid.); for more objective results, sign out of Google and/or disable the history.
145 John Hilton III and David Wiley, “The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales,” Journal of Electronic Publishing 13, no. 1 (2010), doi:dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0013.101.
Lai, Larissa, and Rita Wong. sybil unrest. Vancouver: New Star, 2013.
Lorimer, Rowland. Ultra Libris: Policy, Technology, and the Creative Economy of Book Publishing in Canada. Toronto: ECW / Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, 2012.
Lorimer, Rowland and Roger Barnes. “Book Reading, Purchasing, Marketing, and Title Production.” In Book Publishing 1, edited by Rowland Lorimer, Jillian Shoichet, and John Maxwell, 220-256. Vancouver: CCSP Press, 2005.
Thompson, John B. Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010.
Woll, Thomas. Publishing for Profit: Successful Bottom-Line Management for Book Publishers. 4th ed. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2010.
Interviews & Correspondence
Maurer, Rolf (publisher, New Star Books). Email to author, November 19, 2013.
——— . Interview by author, August 22, 2013. Vancouver.
Maxwell, John. Email to author, November 28, 2013.
Tong, Murray (UBC Press). Email to author, November 28, 2013.
Hilton III, John, and David Wiley, “The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 13, no. 1 (2010). doi:dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0013.101.
Maxwell, John, with Meghan MacDonald, Travis Nicholson, Jan Halpape, Sarah Taggart, and Heiko Binder. “XML Production Workflows? Start with the Web.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 13, no. 1 (2010). doi: dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0013.106.
Lorimer, Rowland, and Lindsay Lynch. “The Latest Canadian National Reading Study, 2005: Publishers’ Analysis.” Report commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage. Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, Simon Fraser University, 2005.
ABSTRACT: UBC Press has been outsourcing ebook production since it first started publishing its titles in digital form in the late 1990s. At first, outsourcing seemed a sensible way for UBC Press to enter into e-publishing: the practice was convenient, cost effective, and fit with the Press’s freelance-based business model. However, by 2011, it had become evident that outsourcing to large conversion houses had its drawbacks. In addition to problems like error-filled files and delayed distribution, outsourcing en masse may cause greater, industry-wide disadvantages, such as a dependence on cheap overseas labor and missed opportunities for professionalization among Canada’s domestic workforce.
In the face of these problems, individual publishers like UBC Press must put various short-term solutions in place and consider making changes to their own production workflows if they are to achieve greater quality assurance and control over their own epublishing programs.
I would like to thank Rowland Lorimer, who inspired me to study scholarly publishing; Roberto Dosil and Laraine Coates, for their encouragement and careful reading; the hard-working ladies in the Production and Editorial Department at UBC Press, who teach by example; and Jane Hope, whose wit and friendship helped me through my internship and beyond.
CNSLP++++++Canadian National Site Licensing Project
CPDS++++++Canadian Publishers’ Digital Services
CRKN++++++Canadian Research Knowledge Network
DAMS++++++Digital Asset Management System
ePDF++++++enhanced portable document format
EPUB++++++electronic publication format
ICT++++++information and communication technology (sector)
PDF++++++portable document format
SSH++++++social sciences and humanities
SSHRC++++++Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
STM++++++scientific, technical and medical
uPDF++++++universal Portable Document Format
Introduction: UBC Press Business Profile
Established in 1971, UBC Press has developed into a scholarly book publisher recognized for its social sciences monographs and edited collections. Considered a “mid-sized” scholarly publisher by Canadian standards, UBC Press produces over 60 new titles a year in the areas of environmental studies, gender studies, military and security studies, geography, Canadian and British Columbian history, law, political science, and Aboriginal and Asian studies. At present, the press also publishes books in 21 different series, several of which are co-published with cultural and professional organizations such as the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, the Canadian War Museum, and the Canadian Council on International Law.
Like many other university presses, UBC Press is somewhat of a hybrid entity within its host institution. Because the press helps carry out the research mandate of the university, and because its publications board is made up of faculty members, the press is in some ways considered to be an academic unit. Like faculties and departments, it is therefore housed on campus and receives a modest level of operational funding from the university. The Press also earns income from an endowment whose funds are administered by the university (though this endowment income has decreased significantly over the past ten years).
In other respects, though, UBC Press is treated as an ancillary unit. Ancillary units like Food Services or Land and Building Services exist within the university environment; however, they are expected to be self-sufficient and generate revenue by charging for their services or products. Like many other university presses, UBC Press is thus in the awkward position of having to operate as a for-profit business with a not-for-profit academic agenda.
UBC Press’s revenue model reflects this hybrid status: it is a mix of sales income and direct/indirect institutional support, supplemented by grant funding. According to a recent review conducted by the Strategic Development Support unit of the UBC Treasury, UBC Press receives 54% of its funds from book sales, 21% from agency sales and rights income, and around 18% from granting agencies like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Only 6% of its budget for the 2011-2012 year came from UBC operating funds. Compared to other UPs in Canada, UBC Press is therefore considered to be “relatively financially self-sustaining” (UBC Treasury).
While UBC Press’s diversified revenue stream might seem to protect it from the vagaries of a single-source income, the Press predicts that various industry-related changes expected to take place over the next ten years will threaten the viability of the press. For instance, demand for the agency services that UBC Press provides to US and UK publishers is expected to lessen due to an increase in online, direct-to-consumer marketing and delivery. This loss of agency income, predicted to occur over the next five years, would mean a significant reduction in revenue—roughly one-fifth of the Press’s total income. Furthermore, if UBC Press were to experience a considerable loss in revenue, this loss would be compounded by a decrease in block grant funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage, since block grants are contingent upon positive net income.
Whereas a trade publisher might try to compensate for a loss in revenue by marketing its titles more aggressively in the hopes of selling more copies (and thereby achieving greater economies of scale), there is little potential for growth in monograph sales for social sciences and humanities (SSH) publishers. SSH publishers like UBC Press serve a niche market, with the majority of sales being made to a finite number of academic libraries.
What’s more, these institutional sales have been threatened in recent decades by libraries’ shrinking acquisition budgets and competing commitments to costly periodicals. Even if domestic and foreign sales were to rise 2.5% annually over the next few years as predicted in the UBC Treasury’s financial forecast, this modest increase in sales would not be able to offset the loss of agency income entirely.
In short, printing and selling more books is not an option for UBC Press. In fact, in an attempt to reduce inventory costs, UBC Press has begun to limit its initial print runs. Typically, only 500 copies of a title are produced upon publication, 300 of which are hardcover (for the institutional/library market) and 200 of which are trade paperback (for course adoption and individual academics). UBC Press further anticipates that it may phase out hardcover editions altogether within the next five years in favour of the less expensive paperback format. It is also working to introduce print-on-demand options in England and Australia in order to reduce the number of printed books it has to stock and ship overseas.
The Role of Ebooks in a Changing Market
At the same time that UBC Press is scaling back its print runs, it has been exploring and expanding its digital publishing activities. However, it is unclear at this point whether ebook sales will endanger, augment, or replace print sales.
Since the introduction of ebooks over a decade ago, Canadian publishers like UBC Press have expressed concern over the potential for ebooks to “cannibalize” or detract from the sale of print books (Crawley, “University”). A decrease in print sales and increase in electronic sales is particularly worrisome to publishers because ebooks tend to be priced much lower than print books. In the world of trade publishing, online retailers like Amazon and Apple have exerted a downward pressure on the price of ebooks, so that even if a publisher is able to sell a considerable number of electronic copies, the profitability of ebook publishing is limited. Scholarly publishers stand to lose even more than trade publishers in this shift to the digital format, given that scholarly monographs are often priced three to 10 times higher than trade books. If scholarly publishers are forced to sell their titles in digital form to the same small consumer base, but at a much deeper discount, their profit margins would no longer be razor thin: they would be non-existent.
In an attempt to remain revenue-neutral in the event that ebook sales replace print sales, some university publishers—including UBC Press—have taken an offensive tactic by purposefully pricing their library-bound ebooks slightly higher than the listed price for hardcover editions (a move that, in UBC Press’s case, was approved by ebrary, a content aggregator which supplies ebooks to academic libraries). Although it is unclear at this time what the institutional market will bear in the pricing of electronic monographs, cost certainly seems to be a deciding factor for librarians. In a survey conducted by ebrary in 2007, librarians reported that one of the most important factors they considered when purchasing an electronic title was its price: a consideration that was second only to the content of that title (McKiel, “200” 5).
In addition to pricing library ebooks slightly higher than print print books, UBC Press has taken measures to ensure that its more expensive ebooks destined for the library market are more visible than its cheaper ebook formats. For instance, when submitting Cataloguing in Publication (CIP) data to Library and Archives Canada, the Press only discloses that it will be producing a PDF (portable document format) edition of a title, which will be sold to libraries at 5% higher than the hardcover price—even though it has already obtained an ISBN for the EPUB (electronic publication) version, which will be sold to individual consumers at the paperback price. In its library sales catalogues, the Press advertises these PDFs, but not the EPUBs. UBC Press’s non-competitive pricing of ebooks and its promotion of expensive over inexpensive ebook formats will, in turn, likely lead to a slower rate of ebook adoption by academic libraries.
Certain Costs, Uncertain Gains
To be sure, ebooks are not at present a significant source of revenue for scholarly publishers. Members of the Association of American University Presses report that ebook sales only represent between 2% and 10% of overall sales for 2011. For UBC Press, ebook sales to libraries in Canada are only projected to account for 7% of total sales for 2011-2012 year; likewise, ebook sales to American libraries only account for 15% of US sales. In terms of income, ebooks make up just 3% of UBC Press’s total sales revenue. Small as these figures may seem, they do represent a two-fold increase in percentage of total sales from previous years—an indication that the appetite for ebooks in the academic market may be growing.
However much revenue ebooks may bring to the Press, it is clear that ebooks carry with them certain costs. In a recent financial review, UBC Press estimated that the cost of print books sold accounts for 17% of total sales, while the cost of digital books sold accounted for only slightly less—12% of total sales. Some of these costs (e.g. editorial, design, and permission costs) are shared between the print and digital editions of a title, but others are unique to the electronic format. For example, in order to store, distribute, and market its digital titles effectively, UBC Press will need to update its technological infrastructure in the near future. This upgrade will entail significant one-time investments, including the purchase of a new digital asset management system (which stores and distributes files to vendors); a redesigned website with increased functionality, including the ability to sell ebooks directly to consumers; consultation with a web marketing specialist, who can help the press increase its brand discoverability through search engine optimization; and improvements to the current system for managing bibliographic data.
In addition to these secondary expenses, the Press must bear the principal cost of producing ebooks. Though these production costs have been subsidized over the years by various parties (see Chapter 1), they have come to present a considerable expense and financial risk for the Press.
It is upon these realities—certain costs and uncertain gains—that UBC Press has based its decisions regarding ebook publishing over the last decade. It is not surprising, then, that the Press’s shift toward ebook adoption has been cautious in nature, favoring subsidized initiatives that have allowed the Press to enter the market without significant risk or disruption to its existing print-based workflows.
Chapter 1: A History of Outsourcing
The history of ebook production at UBC Press is a history of outsourcing. This history can roughly be broken down into three phases. Each phase of ebook production was overseen by a different third party, and each marks the adoption of new ebook formats. (See Figure 1.)
Taken together, these phases reflect over a decade of change in the way ebooks have been produced and distributed in Canada; they also reveal a surprising mix of private and public initiatives that have underwritten the creation of scholarly ebooks in this country.
Figure 1. History of Ebook Production at UBC Press
Early Ebook Deals: Content Aggregators and HTML (1999-2004)
UBC Press has been publishing ebooks in one format or another since the late 1990s, but like many other university presses, it has done so with the assistance—and at the insistence—of various external parties, beginning with content aggregators.
Content aggregators are the electronic equivalent of library wholesalers. They acquire and package digital content from publishers, which they then license to institutions for a fee. In the early years of ebook publishing, aggregators not only marketed and distributed ebooks, but they also produced them. These companies would arrange for the creation of ebook files on behalf of the publisher, essentially manufacturing a product for themselves to sell. In this way, content aggregators were not just “middlemen,” but were really the originators of the scholarly ebook market. It was they—not publishers—who digitized scholarly books and built a business around this product. The publishers simply licensed the content to them.
The first content aggregator to convince Canadian publishers to take part in this new venture was an American company named NetLibrary. NetLibrary was formed in Boulder, Colorado, in 1998. Soon thereafter, it began to sublicense rights for select backlist titles from academic publishers and to create ebook editions of those titles. The company produced these ebooks by scanning hardcopy books supplied by the publishers. Using an optical character recognition (OCR) scanner, NetLibrary was able to convert the image of printed type into text. Instead of being contained within a particular file format, these early ebooks were simply rendered in HTML. The text was viewed online by library patrons through a browser using a tethered-access model (Knight 31).
This production and delivery method, made possible by the increasing popularity of the internet (which allowed people to access content remotely), proved to be quite successful. In its first two years of operation, NetLibrary was able to amass a large volume of content from publishers: by November 2000, NetLibrary’s online collection numbered 28,000 titles, ten of which were from UBC Press. The company had also sold ebooks from its digital collection to nine different Canadian university libraries (Crawley, “University”).
On the heels of NetLibrary’s apparent success, other companies emerged to serve this new electronic library market. As the agreement with NetLibrary was non-exclusive, UBC Press began to develop partnerships with these other content aggregators as well. The Press sublicensed around 500 of its titles to Questia, an aggregator that sold subscriptions to both individuals and institutions (Crawley, “University”). At the time of its launch in January 2001, Questia had developed a considerable collection of over 50,000 titles. Shortly thereafter, UBC Press began to sell ebooks through ebrary, NetLibrary’s major competitor (Knight 32). Soon, UBC Press had signed an agreement with Baker & Taylor, which at that time was the largest distributor of library print books, which had started offering HTML-based ebooks using a delivery model similar to NetLibrary’s (Knight).
In this way, UBC Press parceled off licensing rights to various content aggregators during its first five years of ebook publishing.
A “Homegrown” Alternative: The Canadian Electronic Library and a Shift to PDF (2005-2007)
UBC Press continued to enter into concurrent agreements with different content aggregators and to digitize its legacy titles piecemeal until 2005, when the Press signed an exclusive one-year deal with the nascent Canadian Electronic Library (CEL). This business initiative marked the first attempt to foster “homegrown e-books” in Canada (Smith). The CEL had been formed a year prior by Gibson Library Connections, a Canadian content aggregator interested in creating a collection of electronic texts from Canadian publishers. In 2005, CEL’s Vice President Robert Gibson began approaching publishers within the country—particularly scholarly presses—with an offer to create PDFs of their entire catalogues. Gibson would then sell access to this content through the ebrary reading platform to various academic libraries in Canada (Ng-See-Quan). By this time, the PDF had become a universally accepted format for electronic documents, so a shift toward this standard and away from simple HTML encoding was welcomed by publishers.
UBC Press was one of a dozen publishers that first agreed to Gibson’s offer (Smith). After signing on with the CEL, the Press began to digitize nearly all of its titles that had not yet been hand-picked by content aggregators. However, the creation of these files was carried out not by Gibson in Canada, but by a US-owned technology partner named CodeMantra whose conversion facilities were located overseas. With the help of CodeMantra, a mass conversion of UBC Press’s backlist (up to and including those titles published in 2007) was performed within a matter of months. The 500 or so ebooks produced for UBC Press were added to Gibson’s steadily growing collection (“eBound”).
A year or so after its inception, the CEL was comprised of approximately 6,000 scholarly titles in English and French. By June 2006, Gibson had licensed CEL content to 12 academic libraries, mostly within Alberta (Smith). This sale was promising, and presaged an even more lucrative deal that took place two years later in September 2008, when the collection had grown to over 8,000 titles from 47 different Canadian publishers. At that time, Gibson Library Connections brokered a historic deal with the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, or CRKN (Ng-See-Quan).
By 2008, this well-funded Canadian purchasing consortium was on the hunt for a large collection of SSH content, and it found its match in the Canadian Electronic Library. In the end, CRKN spent 11 million dollars of its funding on a three-year deal with Gibson Library Connections (Ng-See-Quan). This landmark sale was profitable not just for Gibson, but for participating publishers as well. Because the CEL’s royalty system was based on the number of titles a publisher had submitted to the collection, the more established UPs—like University of Toronto Press and McGill-Queens University Press, who had volunteered most of their backlists—benefitted greatly from this sale. UBC Press alone earned roughly 1.3 million dollars from the CEL-CRKN deal over the 3-year contract period (UBC Treasury). It was the largest single sale ever realized by the Press, regardless of format.
The Role of Technology Partners During the Transition Year (2008)
At the close of its contract with Canadian Electronic Library, UBC Press did not have any plans in place to produce and distribute ebooks of its forthcoming titles. For the first time since its foray into the world or digital publishing, the Press was left to oversee its own ebook program which had, until that point, been governed by outsider interests.
lower-resolution images, which are preferable for digital display. (CodeMantra)
According to CodeMantra, these features met the minimum file requirements of most libraries and ebook vendors. The uPDF format therefore allowed publishers to distribute their files to multiple sales channels without encountering any technical barriers.
To help deliver this product, CodeMantra also offered publishers subscriptions to Collection Point, a digital asset management system. Collection Point enabled publishers like UBC Press to store their ebooks, apply metadata to these files, and deliver the finished products electronically to various sales channels, including to content aggregators, whose role had really been reduced to that of distributor by this time. By helping publishers to not only create but also manage their ebooks, CodeMantra was attempting to provide an “end-to-end” digital publishing solution for clients like UBC Press, who found themselves in the position of having to produce and mobilize their own ebooks without having the know-how or tools to do so.
Having secured these technical services from CodeMantra, UBC Press began to manage its own ebook publishing program, unassisted, until the next external initiative arose—this time, under the direction of a national trade organization: the Association of Canadian Publishers.
A National Strategy: The Association of Canadian Publishers and a Push Toward XML (2009-2011)
The Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) represents approximately 135 domestically owned and controlled English-language publishers: among them, eight of Canada’s 13 university presses, including UBC Press. Since it was formed in 1976, the ACP had provided research, marketing, and professional development services to independent publishers in Canada.
At the time of the CEL-CRKN deal, the Association had become aware of its members’ need for assistance in the ebook business. To help its members navigate this new era of publishing, the ACP applied for and received a $109,906 grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage, which it used to fund the formation of the Canadian Publisher Digital Services initiative (CPDS) in May 2009. The CPDS was a suite of services that aimed to provide advice and support to small and mid-sized independent publishers wanting to create and manage ebooks (MacDonald).
An important part of the CPDS program was connecting Canadian publishers with technology partners who could offer conversion services. The first round of ebook conversions organized by the ACP took place in October 2009. For this job, the ACP hired CodeMantra, the same overseas company that had made a name for itself among publishers by converting their files for the Canadian Electronic Library. This was also the same company that UBC Press had been relying upon in the interim period since its dealings with CEL. The ACP’s choice of technology partner was thus particularly convenient for UBC Press: the fact that the Press could continue to use CodeMantra’s services through the CPDS program made it all the more appealing.
Under the ACP’s contract with CodeMantra, UBC Press continued to commission uPDFs from CodeMantra, but it also began to request another set of PDF files intended for Ingram’s Lightning Source. The Press had been in discussion with Lightning Source about producing print-on-demand (POD) copies of select titles in Australia and the UK. As part of this arrangement, UBC Press had to supply Lightning Source with PDFs that differed from the uPDF files already being produced by CodeMantra. Unlike the uPDFs—low resoultion files designed for on-screen reading, which contain interactive features (like bidirectional links)—these POD files had to be static PDFs that could generate a print-quality product. This meant the POD PDFs had to contain high-resolution images (300 dpi) of a book’s full wrap cover and interior text. These files also had to comply with other formatting requirements stipulated by Lightening Source: for example, the interior text had to have one-quarter inch margins, the cover had to have a one-quarter inch bleed on all sides, and the images had to be rendered in CMYK colour.
In addition to the uPDFs and POD PDFs, UBC Press was able to obtain under the ACP’s program cutting-edge ebook formats. Indeed, the ACP’s aim was not just to help Canadian publishers digitize their catalogues, but to assist them in pushing their ebooks beyond the PDF-based library market (which the CEL had so successfully targeted) and into the burgeoning trade ebook market, which hinged upon XML-based formats. To this end, ACP members were able to request pubXML versions of their files, a branded form of XML markup used by CodeMantra. These pubXML files were pitched to publishers as “an archive format used for conversion to various HTML or XHTML formats” (Izma). This marked the first opportunity for many Canadian publishers to store their content in what was considered to be a more durable and flexible form—a form that might allow them to repurpose their tagged content later on.
Of even greater interest to publishers than the pubXML files was CodeMantra’s EPUB conversion option. The EPUB is an “agnostic,” non-proprietary ebook format. Unlike PDFs, which have a fixed layout, the text in EPUBs is reflowable, which makes them amenable to designated ereaders like the Kindle or Kobo, as well as other mobile devices. By enabling presses like UBC to adopt the EPUB format, the ACP was realizing its goal of encouraging publishers like UBC Press to enter into the trade ebook market.
And indeed, UBC Press took full advantage of this opportunity. In 2009, the Press submitted 82 titles to codeMantra for conversion into all four of the formats discussed above: uPDF, POD PDF, XML, and EPUB. Other publishers were equally enthusiastic. 44 different Canadian publishers took part in the first phase of this project (MacDonald). In fact, the level of interest and participation from Canadian publishers in this program was so high that a second round of conversions was organized in 2010. Data conversion companies were invited to bid on a new contract with the ACP; this time, the job was awarded to a different technology partner, Innodata Isogen, whose facilities were also located overseas. UBC Press submitted another 62 of its recently published titles to Innodata for conversion. In total, UBC Press’s files accounted for almost 10% of the more than 2500 titles submitted for conversion during the Canadian Publisher Digital Services program (Coates, MacDonald).
Scanning the Digital Horizon: eBound Canada
The CPDS program was the most recent effort toward large-scale, coordinated ebook production in Canada. By the end of its second round of conversions, the ebook market had become much more firmly established, and the need for conversion services and representation was so great that the ACP announced the CDPS would become a separate entity, eBound Canada, in June 2011 (“Newly Incorporated”). Nic Boshart, Manager of Technology at eBound Canada, confirmed that this newly formed not-for-profit organization will “continue offering bulk and individual conversions” to its members, in addition to providing assistance with retail distribution, research and education about digital publishing (Boshart, “Conversions”).
For his part, UBC Press Director Peter Milroy has expressed a willingness to continue outsourcing ebook production to technology partners through third-party organizations like eBound Canada. It seems, then, that the Press will continue to outsource ebook production—at least, for the immediate future.
UBC Press’s decade-long history of ebook publishing reflects numerous changes in the industry, including a shift from HTML and PDF to XML and EPUB formats; from a program that focuses exclusively on institutional markets to one that includes trade markets; and from private-sector initiatives to publicly-funded programs.
Throughout these changes, the Press’s reliance on outsourcing has remained constant. UBC Press has always depended on an external partner to produce, sell and distribute its ebooks. This is perhaps not surprising, as the ebook business was first created and aggressively developed by external stakeholders (e.g. content aggregators). Yet there are several other reasons why publishers have chosen to outsource ebook production for the last decade. These reasons are explored in detail in the next chapter.
Chapter 2: Reasons for Outsourcing
There are several reasons why UBC Press and other publishers first outsourced, and have continued to outsource, ebook production. This practice is part of a national movement toward offshoring in Canada’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector; it is also indicative of the freelancing model used by many publishers, including UBC Press. More importantly, outsourcing has been a convenient and cost-effective way for UPs to enter into a potentially lucrative but uncertain market.
Offshoring in Canada’s ICT Sector
Outsourcing is a business practice that is not unique to the publishing industry. Indeed, outsourcing has become increasingly popular across the manufacturing and service industries over the past five decades.
As John Baldwin and Wulong Gu point out in a federal report on this issue, Canada has been able to increase its participation in international trade over the last 50 years thanks to “a reduction in trade barriers” and “improved … coordination of dispersed production activities” made possible by conveniences like teleconferencing, email, etc. (7). Among the many goods and services that are now traded internationally are services in the ICT sector (8). In fact, outsourcing has become so common in this sector that by 2003 Canadian companies were offshoring 7.3 billion dollars in business services, including software and computer services (Morissette and Johnson 14, 16).
Though their traditional focus on acquiring, editing and designing once placed publishers squarely outside the realm of these technology-related services, the rise of digital publishing and the concomitant need for large-scale data conversion has made publishers reliant upon the ICT sector. Through their business dealings with content aggregators and conversion houses, Canadian publishers have thus become swept up in this larger movement toward offshoring.
The Freelance Precedent
In addition to being part of a larger trend in the ICT sector, outsourcing is in keeping with the UBC Press’s own business strategy, which includes contracting out skilled work to freelancers (Milroy). During cutbacks in the early 1990s, UBC Press was forced to downsize its staff. As it was less expensive and more convenient to hire workers on short-term contracts, the Press came to rely on freelancers for much of the editorial and production work formerly carried out by employees in house (Brand 58). By the time UBC Press started experimenting with ebooks in the early 2000s, all copywriting, copyediting, proofreading, typesetting, designing, and indexing for print books was being carried out by freelancers.
As most of the work involved with print books was being performed out-of-house, it seemed reasonable that this new facet of production—ebooks—be outsourced as well.
Reducing Risk and Production Costs
Ebooks brought with them the promise of profit. Publishers and aggregators alike saw the electronic format as a way to capitalize upon backlist titles that weren’t generating much revenue. It was also thought that the release of ebooks would encourage libraries who had already purchased a print copy of a book to buy an electronic edition as well, essentially duplicating sales for that title. In addition to generating income through electronic sales, ebooks were expected to boost print sales due to “increased exposure to the press’s list” (Crawley, “University”).
Despite these anticipated financial benefits, university presses were cautious about entering into ebook publishing due to “high technology costs and a questionable market” (Crawley, “University” and “Scholarly”). Outsourcing, however, provided a way for scholarly publishers like UBC Press to experiment with digital publishing while minimizing financial risk, since outsourcing partners offered a series of incentives that either lowered or eliminated production costs.
NetLibrary initially set low-cost expectations by offering to cover the cost of digitization (i.e. the shipping and conversion fees) in exchange for the right to sublicense that digital content. This saved the publisher from having to invest in ebooks upfront. It also effectively protected the publisher from the risk of financial loss, for if the ebooks did not sell well, in the end, the publishers would not have lost any money on production expenses (Crawley, “University”). However, if NetLibrary did manage to sell its ebooks (which were sold at the print cover price), it typically split the proceeds from these sales 50/50 with the publisher (Crawley, “University” and “Online”). Essentially, publishers could profit from this venture, even though they weren’t fronting any financial capital for it.
It was these favourable terms that first tempted publishers like UBC Press to start outsourcing to Netlibrary. It’s not surprising, then, that when the company changed the nature of its offer, several publishers pulled out of the agreement. As a cost-recovery measure, NetLibrary had begun charging publishers hefty conversion fees in September 2000, the price of which could range from one hundred to a few thousand dollars per title, depending on the number of pages and images in the original print book (Crawley, “University”). As a result of these changes, UBC Press chose not to renew its contract with NetLibrary after 2003.
Although NetLibrary’s initial offer had been too good to last, its low-risk approach to ebook deals had been so attractive that Gibson used a similar incentive when trying to recruit publishers for the Canadian Electronic Library. As Alison Knight explains, “CEL offered to scan and generate PDFs from hard copies for UBC Press’s entire backlist without immediate charge (the $90 PDF creation to be instead deducted from royalties)” (42). Under Gibson’s agreement, publishers would only pay for production costs in the event that their ebooks actually turned a profit; in other words, they would never have to pay for production costs out of pocket. Furthermore, the production costs were themselves quite low because Gibsons’ technology partner, codeMantra, had its conversion facilities located in India: a low-wage, non-OECD country where there is a “fast-growing supply of relatively skilled workers” (Morissette and Johnson 9). CodeMantra was therefore able to convert ebooks at a reasonable price, which lowered production costs and increased profit margins for the CEL and its participating publishers.
The cost savings that came from outsourcing to an overseas conversion house were so appealing that UBC Press continued to use codeMantra even after it’s contract with Gibson ended in 2008 and it found itself having to pay a flat fee upfront to convert its ebooks.
Using similar incentives, the Association of Canadian Publishers was also able to lower the cost of producing ebooks for Canadian Publishers, thereby encouraging them to continue outsourcing. When it came time for the ACP to choose its technology partners for the CPDS program, it too hired companies like CodeMantra and Innodata, whose conversion facilities were located in South Asia, and who could therefore offer lower pricing. Under the ACP’s program, these services were obtained at collectively negotiated rates, which were made more advantageous by the volume of files being converted; by guaranteeing the participation of numerous Canadian publishers in the CPDS program, the Association was able to secure conversion services at an even more competitive price.
In addition to using foreign technology partners and securing discount/”bulk” pricing, the ACP was able to further lower the cost of producing ebooks by offering a subsidy to its members. During the first round of conversions in 2009, this subsidy amounted to 30% of the overall cost (30 cents on every dollar’s worth of charges), reducing the cost of conversion anywhere from $60-$240 per title. Instead of having to pay $190-$800 to convert each book, UBC Press only paid $130-$560. During the second round of conversions, the ACP continued to offer publishers a subsidy, although it was lowered from 30% to 19% of the total cost, which amounted to $33-$91 in savings per title. Certain restrictions were also put in place during the second round of conversions to reflect the aims of the ACP’s program: only those titles that were being converted into the new XML and ePub formats would be eligible for the discount. Accordingly, UBC Press was more selective in the titles it chose to convert and in the formats it requested. Of the 74 titles the Press submitted for initial estimates, it processed only 62, choosing those titles that were most affordable to produce. Despite these new restrictions, publishers were still able to enjoy considerable savings: the cost for converting a single title into all four ebooks formats (EPDF, POD PDF, XML and EPUB) during this last round of conversions ranged from $105-$467.
To sum up, the companies and organizations that have facilitated outsourcing over the last ten years have offered a series of incentives, ranging from complete coverage of production costs to cost deferrals and direct subsidies. These incentives have made it more affordable—and therefore less risky—for university presses to start publishing ebooks.
In addition to lowering financial risk and production costs, outsourcing seemed like a convenient way for publishers to enter into the ebook business. The production method used by the early content aggregators was particularly accommodating. Thanks to OCR scanners, companies like NetLibrary only required hardcopies of books in order to generate the text for these first HTML ebooks. This meant that publishers could remain focused on creating their print product while ebook production took place downstream. Outsourcing was essentially tacked on to the end of the Press’s own workflow, which remained unchanged despite the introduction of this additional output format.
Even with the advent of newer ebook formats, in-house operations continued much the same as they had before. When UBC Press began to commission enhanced PDFs (ePDFs) directly from CodeMantra in 2008, the Press only needed to provide the company with the simple image PDFs of a book’s cover and interior. These files were exported directly from InDesign by the Press’s typesetter who was, conveniently enough, already generating PDFs of a book’s final proofs for the printer, Friesens. In other words, the same PDFs that were used to produce print books could now serve as the basis for the Press’s ebooks. All the Press was required to do was upload these simple PDFs, along with the accompanying front cover images in their native file formats (e.g. JPEGs, TIFFs, and .AI files), to the company’s FTP site. The real work involved in “enhancing” these PDFs was then performed off-site in CodeMantra’s content factories.
Once the simple PDF files had been downloaded by CodeMantra employees, features like internal links and bookmarked tables of contents were added manually to enhance the product and make it more user-friendly. Although applying these features is not an overly complex process, requiring only minimal training and common software applications like Adobe Acrobat Pro, the process can be quite labour intensive, particularly if a PDF contains a lot of index entries or notes which have to be turned into links. Outsourcing therefore saved UBC Press staff the time and effort required to perform these tedious tasks.
Though the method of producing other ebook formats is much more involved, the Press did not have to put forth any extra effort when it started to publish EPUBs and XML files in 2009. This is because conversion houses like CodeMantra and Innodata were able to create these ebooks from the same basic files used to produce the ePDFs. Nic Boshart, Manager of Technology at eBound Canada, explains how this process might be carried out.
Data conversion companies like CodeMantra and Innodata often use custom-made software to produce EPUBs and XML files. Many conversion houses write their own scripts, which they use to extract content from publishers’ PDF or InDesign files. This data is then stored in an intermediate form of XML unique to that company (e.g. CodeMantra’s “pubXML”) and is run through an engine that converts the tagged data into an EPUB. After a rough preliminary conversion, these companies likely run more scripts to reformat portions of the file and to add styling to the ePub. Although Boshart believes that “there is a human element involved somewhere along the line, probably for double-checking (quickly) code and running more scripts,” much of this process is automated, which allows these content factories to convert a large number of files simultaneously. In this way, conversion houses are able to create complex XML ebook formats from the simple PDFs provided by the publisher.
From a production standpoint, outsourcing has therefore been exceptionally convenient: it has allowed UBC Press to adopt various ebook formats that have developed over time without having to drastically alter its own operations. Moreover, in its early agreements with content aggregators, UBC Press was able to outsource not just the production of its ebooks but also their marketing and distribution. As it was in NetLibrary’s and Gibson’s own interests to promote the content that they had licensed from publishers, UBC Press was excused from having to actively advertise its digital titles. This appealed to former Associate Director of UBC Press George Maddison who, as Quill & Quire noted, “prefer[ed] to let others do the work” (Crawley, “University”). Publishers who converted their titles through the CPDS program also had the option of collectively licensing their content through the ACP to ebook vendors like Sony.
Although UBC Press has had to take a more hands-on approach to ebook production in recent years (see Chapter 3), the initial convenience of being able to outsource all manner of work associated with ebooks clearly was a draw for publishers.
At the time UBC Press began publishing ebooks, the outsourcing of technical services had become a common practice within Canada. Outsourcing also seemed to fit with the freelance-based business model already in place at the Press.
Over the years, the different parties that organized ebook production also tended to subsidize it: companies like NetLibrary and industry groups like the ACP have offered various financial incentives to make outsourcing even more attractive to publishers. For publishers, then, outsourcing has minimized any economic risks involved in adopting the digital format. Furthermore, outsourcing has been an incredibly convenient way to enter into the ebook market. Because ebooks have, to date, been produced from the end-product of print publishing (i.e. from a hard copy or PDF of a book), UBC Press hasn’t had to make any changes to its own production workflow—even with the adoption of newer, XML-based ebook formats.
By being both convenient and affordable, this method of production has been beneficial enough to keep publishers outsourcing for over ten years. However, it remains to be seen whether the benefits of outsourcing still outweigh other problems that may have arisen from this practice. The next chapter will therefore take a closer look at UBC Press’s most recent outsourcing experience to determine whether outsourcing remains a convenient, risk-free, and cost-effective way for UBC Press to produce ebooks.
Chapter 3: Problems with Outsourcing
As was established in the previous chapter, UBC Press has been outsourcing ebook production since it first began publishing ebooks in the late 1990s. But whether or not it should continue to do so warrants some consideration. The processes and products that have resulted from over a decade of outsourcing should be examined in order to determine whether outsourcing remains as beneficial a business practice as it once was.
This chapter will begin by reviewing the quality of the ebooks produced for UBC Press through the Association of Canadian Publishers’ CPDS program. In particular, it will catalogue the types of errors that have been found within these files. This chapter will then speculate on the inconvenience, risks, and added costs that may result from poorly converted ebooks. In an effort to understand why—and with such frequency—these errors have occurred, the conversion process used by large overseas companies like CodeMantra and Innodata Isogen will also be examined.
After surveying the fallout from UBC Press’s latest experience, the consequences of Canadian publishers outsourcing en masse will also be considered. Even if outsourcing was an effective way of allowing Canadian publishers to enter the ebook market, outsourcing long-term may have the unfortunate result of reducing the autonomy of Canadian publishers and their participation in the digital economy.
An Era of Ebook Errors
As discussed in Chapter 1, when the ACP first introduced the CPDS program, the initiative was welcomed by most Canadian publishers—including UBC Press—who were looking for assistance in digitizing their recent backlist titles. Like other outsourcing initiatives that had come before it, the CPDS program was seen as a convenient way of producing ebooks. Because the conversions would be performed out-of-house, it was assumed that the Press’s operations would not be affected by them. This outsourcing opportunity also seemed to carry little risk, given that it was overseen by the ACP: a trusted industry representative that was willing to partially fund the process. In short, the CPDS program seemed like an easy, safe, and affordable way for publishers to obtain ebook editions of their backlist titles.
However, UBC press was quite disappointed with the files it received from its conversion partners during this program. The two batches of files produced for the Press under the ACP contracts were not “ready-to-sell” upon receipt, as had been promised (MacDonald): in fact, they were plagued with problems.
Errors were apparent even from the cover pages. The ebook covers were often of poor quality. Some cover images appeared in very low resolution; others were stretched because their proportions had not been maintained during resizing. In one instance, the author’s name and book title had been accidentally dropped from the cover.
Figures 3 & 4. Low Resolution Ebook Covers
Figures 5 & 6. Original Image vs. Stretched Cover Image
The ebook interiors were just as disappointing. Entire chapters were missing from the ebooks or from the bookmarked tables of contents that had been added to the files manually by the technology partner. The chapter titles that did appear in these tables of contents often contained spelling errors and/or were missing subtitles due to human error. More frequently, the files themselves were incorrectly named, having been labeled with the wrong ISBN number (e.g. the PDF version of a title was assigned the EPUB ISBN, or vice versa).
Such errors were common across all file types, but others were unique to particular ebook formats. In the ePDFs (which are paginated), whole pages were missing or were misnumbered. Preliminary pages in the front matter did not appear in Roman numerals, though the Press had stipulated that they should. Chapter headings were also missing from the tops of some pages. Internal links to/from the notes section and index were either missing or navigated to the wrong page.
In addition, the print-on-demand PDFs included only front covers, instead of the full wrap cover requested by the Press and required by Lightning Source. Instead of listing the softcover ISBNs as requested by the Press, the copyright pages in these POD files listed the hardcover ISBNs.
If the PDFs were disappointing, the EPUBs were in even worse condition. The EPUB errors that were most visible were those pertaining to images. For instance, diacritics which should have been rendered in UTF-8 encoding (as stipulated in the agreement) were instead captured as images during the conversion process. Because they had been rendered as images, these accented characters did not appear to rest on the same line as the rest of the text. What’s more, these and other images were not scalable, so though the ebook’s text could be resized, the images alongside it could not.
Figures 7, 8, & 9. Diacritics Captured as Images in EPUBs
Furthermore, text was not properly “wrapped” around images, and captions (which are usually centered underneath a figure) were not aligned with the images they described. These errors were made all the more visible when the ebooks were viewed on a wide screen.
Figures 10 & 11. Captions not Aligned with Images in EPUBs
Figure 12. Images Appearing Mid-Sentence in an EPUB
Still more problems occurred because of the shift from PDF to EPUB that took place during conversion—in other words, the shift from a fixed page layout to reflowable text. Images that appeared on separate pages in the print editions now seemed to interrupt the text, sometimes appearing mid-sentence. Tables which contained three or more columns in the original files and which should have been rendered as images had been grabbed as text instead; as a result, the contents of these tables often broke across several pages in the EPUB, making them difficult to read. Odd line breaks also occurred within the running text because the print typesetter had either used automatic hyphenation or had inserted forced line breaks in the original InDesign files.
Figure 13. Example of Forced Line Breaks Appearing in an EPUB
Figures 14 & 15. Examples of Spacing Errors in EPUBs
Some of the errors mentioned above are attributable to the relative complexity of the EPUB format, and the amount of behind-the-scenes encoding required to convert a PDF to and EPUB. However, other mistakes seem to have been made, not because of the complexity of the task at hand, but because of carelessness or disregard for the Press’s instructions. For instance, some external links were broken because neighbouring punctuation had been included with the actual URL when the link’s destination was created. Pages that originally appeared in the front matter and that were supposed to have been relocated to the back of the EPUB so as not to interfere with readability (a common practice in ebook design) had not been moved. Also, a disclaimer stating that the index referred to the print edition of the book should have been included at the back of the EPUBs, but often wasn’t.
Figure 16. Example of Index Disclaimer in EPUB
More seriously, the metadata for these EPUB files was neither robust nor accurate. For instance, an editor’s name was often mistakenly given as an author name. In the case of co-authored works, only the first author’s name would be listed in the metadata. Series information was not included in the .OPF files of the EPUBs; ISBNs didn’t appear within the files’ ID fields, either. Most worrisome of all, many of these files could not be validated against ThreePress Consulting’s epubcheck version 1.2—a free online tool commonly used within the industry to check the integrity of the code and the structure of EPUBs.
The Inconvenience of Outsourcing
Not surprisingly, the error-riddled ebooks that were produced during the last two rounds of conversions created delays and extra work for UBC Press, making outsourcing far less convenient than it seemed at the outset.
During the first round of CPDS conversions in 2009, ebook errors occurred with such frequency that many ACP members complained to the organization about the quality of their files. The sheer scale of the problem prompted the Association to bring in a consultant to negotiate a solution with the technology partner, CodeMantra. In the end, all parties agreed that the company would make certain changes to the files produced during this round of conversions, free of charge. Many publishers decided to resubmit files, but because the changes were applied globally, it took a long time for the corrections to be implemented. As a result, some of the titles that were initially submitted to CodeMantra during the first round of conversions in 2009 were not yet ready by 2011 (Coates). The second round of conversions, which began in 2010 (while the first batch of ebooks were still being corrected), was also fraught with complications. In an attempt to prevent further problems, the ACP had included specific language in the contract with its new conversion partner, Innodata. UBC Press had also included additional instructions along with the titles it submitted for conversion. Unfortunately, this second technology partner also failed to deliver files that met the requirements of the Press and the ACP, so similar delays ensued. Almost all of the 62 files UBC Press submitted to Innodata in July 2010 had to be returned to the company in November and December of that year due to formatting errors. During the second round of proofing in May 2011, errors were still being found in the files. In a sample of 36 ebooks, only 12 of the 25 EPDFs were of acceptable quality (that is, contained few enough errors to be sold in good conscience), and only five of 11 EPUBs would validate. In other words, less than half of the 36 files were properly formatted after two visits to the conversion house: the remainder had to be sent back for further corrections.
Although the technology partners were usually able to turn around files within a matter of months (three months or so, in CodeMantra’s case), each time the Press resubmitted its files, they would be placed at the back of the queue behind those from other publishers who were having similar problems. The substandard files produced during this latest outsourcing experience have therefore caused significant setbacks and pushed forward the release dates of UBC Press’s ebooks.
During this fiasco, Press staff also had to spend a significant amount of time and attention interfacing with its technology partners and the ACP. Once UBC Press became aware of the quality of its files, Press employees also had to intervene and spend time checking each file—not once, but multiple times. This necessarily interrupted regular in-house operations. Though outsourcing may have required little effort on the Press’s part in the early days of NetLibrary, the last two years of outsourcing under the ACP have thus required more time and attention than Press staff had expected or planned for.
Increasing Risk and Cost
On top of being inconvenient, the shoddy conversions performed by the ACP’s technology partners have also resulted in added risks and expense for UBC Press.
Errors such as distorted images or awkward line breaks ruin the appearance and aesthetics of an ebook; other types of errors, like broken links or missing tables of contents, affect an ebook’s functionality and navigability. Collectively, these errors have the effect of lessening the quality and value of UBC Press’s electronic product, which in turn could reinforce the low-price expectations of consumers. At the very least, these errors may affect the Press’s ability to sell its digital editions at a price that is equal to or slightly higher than the print cover price. As the Manager of Marketing points out, UBC Press can hardly expect to charge the same amount for “junky ebooks” as it does for its carefully crafted print books (Coates).
If an ebook is found to have a particularly high number of errors, these errors may affect unit sales for that particular electronic title. However, they could also lower sales for other titles as well, for the following reason. UBC Press’s reputation as an academic publisher is based upon the accuracy and consistency of the research that it publishes. However, recurring formatting errors and sloppy presentation might raise questions about the Press’s overall approach to quality control and, by extension, the reliability of the content it publishes. If these poorly formatted files are released into the supply chain, they endanger UBC Press’s credibility as a scholarly/reference publisher.
Laraine Coates, Marketing Manager and coordinator of the ebook program at UBC Press, has in fact expressed concern over the effect that sloppy ebooks might have on the Press’s reputation. Coates regrets that there are already ebooks in circulation that “do not do justice” to UBC Press’s publishing program. Although the Press is normally quite stringent in its review process (see “Proofing,” Chapter 4), error-filled EPDFs still made it to library market. This is because the Press was not prepared for the state of the files it received through the CPDS program. When UBC Press received its first batch of ebooks back from CodeMantra in 2010, Coates did not suspect that she would need to review each file individually for errors. As the sole staff member responsible for this aspect of production, Coates also lacked the assistance that would have made a thorough review possible. As a result, dozens of botched EPDFs were distributed to libraries through ebook aggregators soon after they were delivered to the Press.
Coates admits that she and many other publishers “dropped the ball” during this first round of conversions organized by the ACP. After the flaws in CodeMantra’s files were brought to light by other ACP members, Coates decided to enlist an intern to help check the second batch of files, which were created by Innodata. At that time, however, publishers were still discovering new types of errors in their files, and because the Press hadn’t yet compiled a comprehensive list of errors to look for, this round of proofreading was rather hit-or-miss. It was also cursory by necessity: due to the volume of files that had to be reviewed, the student intern was only able to spend 10 minutes or so spot-checking each file (Coates). As a result, many of the EPDFs that were put into circulation from the second round of conversions were functional, but still contained minor formatting errors (e.g. low res. or miscoloured cover images).
These ebook errors may have not only lowered the perceived quality of the product and of the Press itself, but they may have ultimately affected the profitability of the ebooks by delaying their distribution. After the Press had to send back files to Innodata for revision in November 2010, libraries and vendors began contacting UBC Press because the ePDF versions of certain titles advertised in the Fall catalogue had not yet been made available to them (Coates). As a result, library orders may have been dropped before these files were ready.
The Press has had even greater difficulty bringing its EPUBs to market. Laraine Coates has expressed concern over the fact that the EPUBs first requested from Innodata in May 2010 were not yet sellable 18 months later, in November 2011. At that time, Coates commented that these ebooks were still in “need [of] a lot of work before we can put them in the market” (“eBound”). A year later, the EPUBs remain in unsellable condition and have yet to be distributed. Consequently, the sale of these ebooks—and revenue from these sales—has been postponed, and may be forfeited altogether if the files cannot be brought to satisfactory standards. In particular, if these EPUB files still contain structural errors and can’t be validated, then they can’t be put into circulation, as many ebook vendors refuse to accept potentially “unstable,” invalidated files. Metadata errors could further depress ebook sales by reducing the visibility of the files in an online environment. If an ebook is missing metadata or contains incorrect metadata, it can’t be properly catalogued by ebook vendors or indexed by search engines. This makes it harder for potential customers to find and purchase that ebook online. Metadata and validation errors therefore affect not just the discoverability of these electronic titles, but also their saleability.
The potential risks and financial losses from this latest outsourcing experience may be largely incalculable, but these poorly formatted ebooks have already resulted in quantifiable costs incurred by the Press. The several rounds of proofing that UBC Press personnel have had to perform on each file has contributed to the overall cost of producing these ebooks. In the summer of 2011 alone, 63 ebooks had to be proofread in-house at the Press. As it took roughly twenty minutes to thoroughly check each ebook (often longer for EPUBS), this amounted to at least 21 hours of employee time. Though a summer intern was able to perform this task at a reduced rate, this one round of proofreading still cost the Press roughly $150. Had this same task been performed by a hired freelancer proofreader at the standard rate of $20per hour, this cost would have escalated to $420 for one round of professional proofreading, or to $1260 for the three rounds of proofreading that have been required on average during the ACP’s program.
If the Press were to continue to outsource ebook production to the same technology partners and receive files of a similar quality, the proofreading required to bring these ebooks up to an acceptable standard would add an extra $7.15-$20 per file, depending on whether the task were performed by an intern or hired proofreader. This amounts to an additional $14.30-$40 per title, as each title is usually converted into two file formats that require proofreading (EPUB and ePDF). For the average book, this proofreading represents as much as a 20% increase in ebook production costs—an increase that is not insignificant, especially when multiplied across large batches of files.
During the CPDS program, UBC Press spent over $30,000 to convert 144 of its titles into various ebook formats. But when one considers the hassle and hidden costs that have come with these conversions, and the untold price paid by publishers whose brands have been compromised by a substandard product, outsourcing through the ACP has turned out to be far more expensive than the official price tag suggests.
What Went Wrong: Outsourcing to Large Conversion Houses
Far from being an isolated incident, UBC Press’s latest experience reveals problems that come from outsourcing to a particular type of technology partner. Under its recent contracts with the Association of Canadian Publishers, UBC Press worked with two different companies, CodeMantra and Innodata: two large conversion houses whose operations are located overseas. The fact that UBC Press had disappointing experiences with both partners suggests that there may be problems not with each individual company, but with the business practices of large conversion houses in general. Although the remote location of their facilities might tempt Canadian publishers to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude toward these conversion houses, their internal operations should be brought into question in light of the trouble that these technology partners caused during the CPDS program.
In an article written in 2000 for the (now defunct) online publication eBookWeb, an industry insider exposed some systemic problems that were present even among early conversion houses. These problems may account for the recurrence of errors and overall lack of quality control within these organizations today, as was borne out by UBC Press’s experience.
In “A Tale of Two Conversion Houses,” author Dorothea Salo identifies major problems within these companies, including issues with their workforce, workflow, tools, and customer relations. According to Salo, large conversion houses, also known as “content factories,” employ a sizeable workforce of entry-level programmers and “barely-competent HTML jockeys.” As is the case with other types of factories, the mechanical labour performed by these workers is divided along an assembly line. That is to say, the workflow is “divided into segments so small as to be meaningless” (Salo). Trained only to carry out their assigned tasks, the employees perform repetitive functions (e.g. running scripts, manually inserting links, resizing images), unaware of how these tasks relate “to any other, much less how the whole product looks and functions.” This results in a “silo effect,” by which employees within these conversion houses are kept ignorant of the “larger process or end result” that they are working toward. This disunity affects the overall quality of the product and the ability of the ebook to function as a whole.
On a human resource level, this assembly-line approach to conversion leads to low morale and motivation among workers, and a high turn-over rate. Although this results in a “shifting workforce,” conversion houses are able to hire a great number of workers because their operations are located in countries where there is large pool of computer-literate employees who can be paid comparatively low wages.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, hiring low-skill workers (instead of ebook designers or digital publishing professionals) is more desirable for these companies, since their production method is built around tools, not training. As Salo explains, the mostly automated conversions performed by these companies rely heavily on “sophisticated production tools that supposedly reduce the need for employee training.” However, the custom software developed for this purpose also has its drawbacks. Because the workers who rely on this software often operate independently from the programmers who write the scripts, there is seldom any feedback between users of these tools and their creators. This disintegration results in the development of inefficient tools. Moreover, “should the tool fail in some way,” the employees who have no expertise (due to a lack of training) and who have been made dependent upon these tools “are left utterly helpless, and workflows grind to a halt” (Salo).
Another problem endemic to these large companies is the issue of scale itself. As Laraine Coates of UBC Press observed, “Their’s is a numbers game.” In order to attract clients, these companies must offer low bids on contracts; because these low bids reduce the profitability of any given project, the companies must take on more contracts and even larger projects in order to remain profitable. To wit, the ACP contracts show that these conversion houses are often serving multiple clients (in this case, 44 different Canadian publishers) with divergent needs, simultaneously. Though such diversity in projects and clientele would normally warrant customized workflows, these large businesses must instead take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to ebook conversions because they are operating on economies of scale (Salo). In terms of their workflow, this often means that a single DTD or schema is applied to all files, resulting in some ebooks being “shoehorned” into a markup system that isn’t appropriate to the structure or design of the original book (Salo). In UBC Press’s case, this practice is evidenced in the fact that the content of most of the titles it submitted for conversion were classified as either of “moderate” or “complex” difficulty by Innodata. Clearly, the workflow used by the company—which might work well for producing EPUBs of trade fiction titles with fewer textual elements—could not easily accommodate the type of apparatus found in most scholarly books.
The type of markup that results from these cookie-cutter conversions is often of low quality: a fact that, strangely enough, does not seem to hurt business, since the clients of these companies are often more concerned with the appearance of their ebooks than the integrity of their code. In the long term, however, an acceptance of low-grade code on the part of the publisher could affect the use of these ebooks both as archival files and as sellable wares. If the code behind these ebooks does not comply with current best practices, these files may not be forward-compatible when newer versions of the EPUB standard are released. Bad code may also interfere with the ability of future devices to render the files properly. Far from being a safe investment, these poorly made files may in fact have a very short shelf life.
This last point underscores a final problem that Salo warns against in her article: a lack of disclosure about workflow and markup on the part of these companies. This reticence may stem from greater communication problems between these large companies and their clients. Staff at UBC Press, for instance, often complained that although they were assigned an intermediary contact person by the ACP, they could not communicate directly with those who were overseeing or performing their ebook conversions. Laraine Coates admits that if the conversion process had been more consultative, and the channels of communication more open, it may have been easier for the Press and its conversion partners to identify potential problems and prevent them.
However, Salo attributes this lack of disclosure to a more pernicious motive. She suspects that many technology partners purposefully do not educate their clients about the conversion process or its products in order to keep publishers “ignorantly dependent” on the conversion house. This theory seems to be supported by companies’ use of a custom form of XML (e.g. codeMantra’s pubXML), which hinders their clients’ ability to directly modify their own converted files. The “end-to-end” publishing services offered by these companies also make it harder for publishers to extricate their files, or reassign control over them to another service provider.
The Effects of Outsourcing on Canada’s Publishing Industry
Whether or not Salo’s suspicions are correct, the result is as she had anticipated: publishers like UBC Press have become increasingly dependent on foreign companies to produce and manage their ebooks. This dependence does not sit well with some who work in the Canadian publishing industry. Even in the early days of NetLibrary, Darren Wershler-Henry—then-editor of Coach House Books and overall electronic publishing advocate—expressed concern over outsourcing the creation/management of electronic titles to foreign companies. “‘Letting an American firm have control over our publishing list just strikes me as a little weird,’” Wershler-Henry was then quoted as saying (Crawley, “Libraries”).
If one considers the ramifications of outsourcing long term, Weshler’s discomfort seems justified. Canadian publishers are not just handing over their money and content to factories overseas; they are also giving up their immediate autonomy, and reducing their chances of achieving some measure of self-sufficiency in the future.
By continuing to rely on external parties to create and manage their ebooks, Canadian publishers are deferring the need to hire or train staff to carry out their digital publishing programs. At present, there is indeed a scarcity of ebook experts among Canadian publishers. This is particularly true of university presses. Of the 13 UPs in Canada, only two have staff whose sole purpose is to oversee their digital publishing programs. The rest have assigned this task to employees who hold positions in other departments and whose skillsets may be only tangentially related to ebooks. According to staff directories, those in charge of ebooks at Canadian UPs have job titles as diverse as Production and Design Manager, Bibliographic Data Coordinator, Computing Systems Administrator, and Sales/Marketing Manager.
In an editorial for The Journal of Electronic Publishing, Kate Wittenburg acknowledges this trend, observing that “[m]any university publishers have tried to meet this [digital] challenge by asking existing staff members to extend their responsibilities.” However, Wittenburg notes that “this strategy had not been effective” because “staff time and creative energy are, understandably, occupied keeping the existing business functioning.” This is certainly the case at UBC Press, where the task of coordinating ebook production has fallen to Laraine Coates, Manager of Marketing. Coates explains that she took on this responsibility in 2009 when another staff member in the Production department was away on maternity leave. Coates assumed this role because of her own personal interest in ebooks, and not her prior training or expertise in ebooks per se. At the time, this responsibility was added to her full-time workload in the Production department, and was later incorporated into her new position in marketing, so the amount of time she can devote to this side of the Press’s operations is necessarily limited. Although Coates is occasionally able to attend workshops and discussion panels on ebooks organized by various professional associations (e.g. the Association of American University Presses), she is afforded few opportunities to increase her knowledge on this subject in her day-to-day activities.
By obviating the need for trained employees, outsourcing thus leads to a lack of in-house expertise, which (as many publishers are coming to realize) only increases a publisher’s reliance on its technology partner. Again, UBC Press’s recent experience is telling in this regard. Because the Press had been outsourcing ebook production from the start, Press staff found themselves without the tools or skills necessary to modify the error-riddled ebooks produced through the CPDS program. As a result, UBC Press had to send back converted files that needed only minor corrections (e.g. typos in the tables of content) and wait for CodeMantra or Innodata to make the necessary adjustments, which led to further delays in the production process. In this way, the decision to outsource has handicapped individual publishers and furthered their dependence on conversion partners by rendering them ill-equipped to handle their own ebooks.
Over time, the tendency to outsource will also affect the self-sufficiency of the industry at large. Low demand for ebook-savvy employees in Canada will only lead to a lack of supply, for if there are few jobs available in digital publishing in this country, there is little incentive for publishing professionals to pursue training in this field, and limited opportunities for them to obtain on-the-job experience. Outsourcing en masse therefore negatively effects the professionalization of Canada’s domestic workforce and the overall level of employment within this emerging field. In the absence of expertise at home, outsourcing abroad appears to be the only viable option for producing ebooks.
Viewed this way, outsourcing threatens to become a self-perpetuating and self-justifying practice—one that leaves publishers without direct control over what has become an essential part of their publishing program.
UBC Press’s most recent experience under the CPDS program has shown outsourcing to be less convenient, more risky, and more expensive than it was under early ebook deals with companies like NetLibrary. The files being produced are of an unacceptable quality due to the batch processing and general business practices used by large conversion houses. Errors within these files have caused unnecessary delays and extra work for Press staff; by lowering the quality of the ebooks, they also threaten UBC Press’s reputation, as well as the overall profitability of its ebook program.
Yet the decision to outsource has consequences not just for the individual publisher, but for the publishing industry as a whole. When practiced by a large number of publishers (as was done under the ACP’s CPDS program), outsourcing negatively impacts the industry by making it dependent on foreign companies, to the neglect of its own domestic workforce. If the industry continues to outsource ebook production instead of developing the skills required to do so in Canada, those who outsource will have no other choice but to continue outsourcing in the future.
In light of these problems, it seems advisable that Canadian publishers now look for practical ways to incorporate ebooks for forthcoming titles into their existing workflows, whether that be at the proofreading or at the production stage. The next chapter will therefore propose various short- and long-term strategies that university presses such as UBC can use to gradually bring ebook production in house. By doing so, these presses can immediately address, and eventually avoid, the problems that have accompanied outsourcing.
Chapter 4: Solutions to Outsourcing
In the last decade, publishers faced the daunting task of converting their extensive backlists into multiple ebook formats whose staying power was somewhat questionable. Now that ebooks have become a standard part of publishing, and the bulk of their backlists have been converted through an outsourcing process that leaves much to be desired, publishers have begun to consider producing ebooks themselves.
In recent years, UBC Press has attempted to move some aspects of ebook production in-house. However, this shift must necessarily be a gradual one. The Press must first put short-term strategies in place to deal with the ebooks that will be produced by its technology partners in the near future. Only then can the Press begin to consider long-term changes to its own operations that would allow for the production of both print and electronic books in house.
As discussed in the conclusion of Chapter 1, large-scale ebook conversions will continue to take place under the auspices of eBound Canada. And UBC Press seems willing to continue outsourcing its ebook production to large conversion houses through this organization—for the time being. If this current system of outsourcing is to continue, though, there are various measures that publishers like UBC Press can put in place in order to attain a higher level of quality assurance for their ebooks.
At UBC Press, print books typically undergo several stages of review during production. Typeset text is first reviewed by a professional proofreader, as well as the author. Any corrections to these pageproofs are then collated by staff and entered by the typesetter. The final laser proofs provided by the printer are verified once more by a production editor before being approved for print. However, when the Press began to publish ebooks, these steps—or their digital equivalent—were not being carried out. As a result, ebooks are not subject to the same kind of rigorous review that print books are.
The need for better quality control over ebooks was the topic of a recent roundtable discussion hosted by Digital Book World, an online community forum whose events are sponsored by industry professionals and companies like Aptara and Ingram Publishing Group. During this discussion, Laura Dawson, Digital Managing Editor for Hachette Book Group, recommended that publishers take measures to review their ebooks—even (especially) if these ebooks were produced out of house by a technology partner.
As discussed in Chapter 3, UBC Press had begun to implement a review process during the second round of conversions under the ACP. However, UBC Press would benefit from the standardization of theproofreading process. One way of doing this, Laura Dawson suggests, is to create a central document that outlines the quality control procedures that should be performed by those handling ebooks in-house. Similar documents are already shared among UBC Press employees to ensure that other practices—such as “cleaning up” manuscripts after transmittal—are performed uniformly, regardless of which staff member is carrying out the task. In UBC Press’s case, this procedural document could be as simple as a checklist or set of instructions that is given to each intern who is hired to proofread ebooks. (See Appendix A.)
Ideally, this procedure would also be incorporated into the Press’s production schedule, with the result that production editors would allot a standard amount of time for proofreading ebooks after their anticipated date of delivery. If production staff were to start budgeting time for this activity (and for further rounds of revisions and review, as needed), those in marketing would have a more realistic sense of when an electronic edition of a title will be available for distribution.
Normalizing the proofreading process would also result in ebooks being reviewed in-house on a regular basis, not just when extra help is available from student employees, who are typically hired during the summer months. This may result in the task being reassigned to regular staff in the Production/Editorial Department. Liz Kessler, Publisher of Adams Media, points out that it may, in fact, be more advantageous to have the same publishing staff be responsible for the quality of print books and ebooks. Kessler notes that editors and proofreaders work most closely with a title, and are most familiar with the content and formatting requirements of a particular manuscript. These same staff are therefore best suited to reviewing ebooks, as they will notice irregularities and omissions more easily than an intern or co-op student who has little to no familiarity with that manuscript.
Reassigning proofreading tasks to relevant members of the publishing team may also redress the human resource problem identified in the previous chapter. Instead of making ebooks the sole responsibility of one overburdened staff member, the publisher can draw from the expertise of several employees. By doing so, the publisher would also turn ebooks into a shared concern of the publishing team, as has long been the case with print books.
One downside to the ebooks that are currently being produced by large conversion houses is the metadata they contain (or don’t contain). As was mentioned in Chapter 3, the metadata within these files is often incomplete, and this affects the visibility and identifiability of that digital object once it is in the supply chain.
Solving this problem will require cooperation from both publishers and technology partners. Publishers will need to stipulate higher metadata standards within their statements of work, as well as provide more detailed publication information to their technology partners. These technology partners would, in turn, need to respect the standards outlined in their contracts and take the time to embed the provided metadata within the files they produce, even if this means inserting it manually.
Furthermore, it would behoove both publishers and their technology partners to adopt the standards recommended by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), an industry association that creates and maintains technology standards in order to encourage interoperability within the field of electronic publishing. The IDPF’s protocols would result in richer and more detailed metadata than is currently being used. For instance, instead of simply listing a creator <ds:creator> in the .OPF file, this field could further indicate whether the creator is the author of the work <dc:creator opf:role=”aut”> or the editor <dc:creator opf:role=”edt”>. The publisher and the conversion partner could also supply more detailed information in the “date” field. IDPF standards allow publishers to give both the year of print publication <dc:date opf:event=”original-publication”> and the year in which the EPUB file was created <dc:date opf:event=”epub-publication”>. (It is important to distinguish between the two events because, as was made clear during the ACP’s CPDS program, print and electronic formats may be released years apart.)
The IDPF recommendations would also provide an opportunity for publishers to supply additional information about their titles: for instance, the subject categories listed on the Cataloguing in Publication page within a print book could be included as values for the subject element in an ebook, e.g. <dc:subject>Canada – Foreign relations – United States</dc:subject>. Series information could also be placed within the type element <dc:type>Law and Society series</dc:type>. This granular level of data is helpful for marketing purposes, and it may also make cataloguing easier for institutions or for individuals who use programs like Calibre to store and manage their personal ebook libraries.
One of the main complaints heard from publishers who took part in the ACP’s CPDS conversion program was the appearance of their EPUBs. While most of the eyesores resulted from formatting errors, these ebooks on the whole lacked the styling and attention to design found in their print counterparts, and in the EPDFs, which retained the layout of the original print books.
However, publishers who outsource ebook production can exercise more control over the appearance of their EPUBs by creating (or commissioning) their own stylesheets, a practice that many leading publishers have already adopted. Stylesheets are CSS files that are included within the EPUB file package. These CSS files determine the styling of the content documents and can therefore control certain aspects of the ebook, such as paragraph alignment, typeface, relative font size, line spacing, etc. Though some of these elements may be overridden by certain ereading devices, a well-designed CSS file can still manage to create a unique “look” for an ebook.
From the viewpoint of print production, stylesheets are best seen as the EPUB equivalent to the layout templates used to format and typeset a print book. Just as the Press uses several InDesign templates for most of their print book interiors, so too could the Press develop one or more stylesheets to apply to its ebooks: in fact, these stylesheets can even be based upon the design decisions made by the Press’s typesetter in the creation of the original print templates. (See discussion of Wild Element below.)
Using stylesheets to shape the appearance of content would not only enhance the production value of these ebooks, but it would also provide visual consistency between ebooks, thereby allowing UBC Press to extend its brand to those files being produced by another party. Stylesheets could also reduce the possibility of formatting errors by imposing stylistic uniformity on the text and images.
While a stylesheet can enhance the surface appearance of an ebook, the best solution to sloppy formatting is better-built ebooks. This requires long-term solutions to outsourcing.
Finding a More Suitable Technology Partner
When faced with a batch of error-filled ebooks, a publisher can choose to improve upon the files produced by its technology partner, or it can improve upon its choice of technology partner.
Given the number of errors found in the converted files and the dissatisfaction reported by clients like UBC Press, the large conversion houses hired by the ACP were not a good “fit” for Canadian publishers, particularly university presses. As stated in Chapter 3, scholarly books contain a number of extra-textual elements that aren’t easily accommodated by the automated workflows used in these conversion houses. Consequently, these scholarly ebooks seem to suffer from an unusually high number of formatting errors. In addition to causing problems during production, the apparatus that comes with academic books also adds to the cost of conversion. This is because, in the fee structures used by large-scale conversion houses, price is often indexed to the length of the text, along with the number of figures and the number of links a given ebook edition will contain. This pricing system effectively penalizes publishers of monographs and reference books, which are typically longer than trade books, and which contain numerous notes and lengthy indices. It’s not surprising, then, that of the 74 UBC Press titles included in Innodata’s initial cost estimate, 40 were considered to be of “moderate” difficulty and 16 were assessed as “complex.” In other words, the assessment criteria used by this company placed three-quarters of UBC Press’s books within the higher price categories.
If the production and pricing methods used by large conversion houses aren’t appropriate for scholarly publishers, then UPs that wish to continue outsourcing should find more suitable technology partners. One alternative to hiring large conversion houses overseas is to hire smaller ebook design firms, which are cropping up in North America. Instead of signing contracts for bulk orders, these companies tend to work on a project-by-project basis with their clients, much like freelancers do. These companies also position themselves as counter to the content-factory model: the Canadian company Wild Element, for instance, promises its clients “no batch processing” and “hand-styled” ebooks on its website.
This difference in production method seems to stem from a fundamentally different approach to ebook conversion. Whereas content factories focus on moving publishers’ data from one file format to another, these firms focus on translating a book’s design from print to electronic editions. To this purpose, Wild Element’s stylesheets often replicate the typography of the original print book in an effort to “preserve the investment” publishers make in typesetting their books and to “deliver the quality you’ve come to expect from the traditional paper book.” This sensitivity to a book’s physical elements and design would be of particular use to publishers like UBC Press.
In fact, UBC Press has already begun to use smaller design companies for specific projects. It chose to hire Wild Element to produce the EPUB version of its lead title for the Fall 2011 season. The Press was particularly concerned that the EPUB edition of this title be attractive, error-free, and ready in time for the launch of the print book, since this title was expected to be a trade crossover with a high-profile publicity campaign.
UBC Press was quite pleased with the EPUB produced by Wild Element. As the figures below show, its layout reflected a consideration for aesthetics as well as an attention to detail that was missing from the ebooks produced by codeMantra and Innodata. As a result, UBC Press is considering using the same company to fix the EPUBs produced under the ACP’s program.
Figure 17. Cover for EPUB produced by Wild Element
Figure 18. Table of Contents for EPUB Produced by Wild Element
Figure 19. Chapter Opening for EPUB Produced by Wild Element
Figure 20. Image with Caption from EPUB Produced by Wild Element
Though the Press was pleased with this one-time, alternative outsourcing experience and with the end product, it is clear that the services offered by a company like WildElement are no replacement for large-scale ebook production. Their emphasis on tailored design and digital craftsmanship seems to align these companies with the letterpress printers, but just like their paper-based counterparts, these companies are restricted in the volume of books they can produce due to the small size of their operations, their attention to detail, and their preference for custom coding. Ebook design firms are thus unable to process large batches of files as conversion houses do. Because they are situated in North America and hire trained professionals, they face higher labour costs, so their services come at a premium. The EPUB featured above, for instance, cost three to four times as much to produce as a comparable title would through a company like Innodata. Publishers who decide to use such companies will therefore need to be choosier about which titles they publish as ebooks. These types of decisions would ideally be based on a long-term epublishing strategy.
Developing an Epublishing Strategy
To date, UBC Press’s efforts at digitization have been determined by volume and price. Since its early deals with NetLibrary and Gibson Publishing, the Press has pursued those opportunities which have allowed it to acquire multiple ebook formats for the greatest number of titles at as little cost as possible. Books that proved too expensive to convert under previous agreements simply were not digitized.
However prudent UBC Press’s past decisions about ebook production may have seemed, this focus on economy alone hasn’t led to better value or experience. In the wake of the latest outsourcing fiasco, Laraine Coates admits that the Press needs to “think less about quantity and more about quality.” This may mean selecting fewer titles for conversion and/or allocating more resources to the production of those titles.
University presses should be particularly selective when deciding which titles to convert to the newer EPUB format. Not only is the EPUB format more difficult and expensive to produce, but also its usefulness for academic publishers has yet to be proven. As was explained in Chapter 1, EPUBs are designed for use on tablets and e-reading devices, and are carried by ebook retailers like Kobo and Apple. The EPUB format is therefore aimed at the trade market. However, UP content is not. Given their highly specialized subject matter, few books published by university presses appeal to a wider general audience. Though the UBC Press book produced by Wild Element (a biography of a political figure) may have been an appropriate choice for an EPUB, a more specialized monograph—say, a treatise on international trade law and domestic policy—wouldn’t be: the investment made in producing an EPUB version of that title would likely not be returned in sales. Furthermore, if EPUBs are unsuccessful in the trade market, they can’t be repurposed in institutional markets, since few academic libraries are able to accept files in the EPUB format at this time, and most are satisfied with enhanced PDFs.
These factors should be taken into account, along with any available ebook sales data, as UPs try to determine which of their titles will work as EPUBs. Ultimately, this format may be found to be unsuitable for scholarly publishers.
If, however, UBC Press decides to adopt the EPUB as a default format for its ebooks, then the Press should consider moving EPUB production in house in the future.
Producing Ebooks In House
UBC Press has already demonstrated some capacity for in-house ebook production by successfully integrating one ebook format into its own workflow. In 2011, the Press’s typesetter agreed to start producing enhanced PDFs for the Press. This is done by inserting links directly into a book’s InDesign file; although these links aren’t expressed in the print book, they add functionality to the PDF later on. At this stage of production, the typesetter also adds an extra table of contents that will appear in the PDF’s bookmark menu. Once exported, the PDF is customized further by the Press’s in-house graphic designer, who checks the file’s links, attaches a low-res version of the cover, and swaps the print copyright page for another which contains the ISBN for digital editions. Although these enhanced PDFs do not have as many features as the uPDFs produced by CodeMantra, they are an affordable and efficient alternative to outsourcing. Since these ePDFs began to be produced in house, there is little delay between the publication of print and electronic editions, as the web-ready ePDFs and the simple PDFs used for printing are produced almost simultaneously.
The successful integration of ePDFs into the Press’s own workflow is encouraging. However, incorporating EPUBs into the Press’s operations would be much more difficult. Where the latter is essentially an image of a print book, the former is a collection of marked-up files in a .zip archive: some of these files are in HTML (the CSS stylesheet), others are in XML (the .OPF or metadata file), and still more are in XHTML (the actual content files). In order for EPUBs to be incorporated into UBC Press’s own workflow efficiently, the Press would have to move ebook production from the end of its publishing workflow (where outsourcing currently takes place) to the beginning, so that tagging can be applied to these documents earlier on.
The Press has considered this prospect in the past. In March 2011, UBC Press asked publishing technology consultant Keith Fahlgren for advice on how to transition into performing EPUB production in house (Coates). At the time, Fahlgren recommended that the Press create a new workflow that uses styles in Word. If implemented, this method would have resulted in a transfer of styled content from Word to InDesign, and eventually into the EPUB format. While Fahlgren’s solution seemed convenient, in that it was based on software programs already in use at the Press, the production and editorial staff found using styles to be “a frustrating experience” and “a lot of work” (Keller). As it turns out, authors, freelancers, and staff members had different versions of Word, which made sharing files under this new system even more cumbersome. Staff discovered that styles would be lost during the transfer, or would reappear in one version of Word after having been deleted in another. This production method also would have required a lot of cleanup along the way, as Microsoft Word is a proprietary software program that produces a lot of idiosyncratic and extraneous code. This code is often brought over when content is imported from Word, and must stripped from the text if one is to create “clean” code in the EPUB.
If content can’t be tagged using styles from the word processor currently used in-house, then it seems the Press would have to create tagged documents using a true XML-editing program like oXygen. Yet staff are understandably skeptical about the prospect of adopting an altogether new mark-up system. Holly Keller, Manager of Production and Editorial Services at UBC Press, points out that staff in this department may not be comfortable or keen on working with tagged documents; she also suspects that none of the freelance proofreaders employed by the Press have a working knowledge of HTML or XML. Presumably, then, both the initial tagging and the proofing of these documents would need to be performed by an additional staff member or a freelancer who possesses these skills. Keller also wonders how adopting EPUB production would affect workload and priorities within her department. She questions whether the incorporation of this new format might shift her department’s focus and resources away from the content of a manuscript and toward its technical requirements.
While Keller’s concerns are valid, textual markup is not so foreign a concept for production editors. In fact, textual markup is an extension of the editorial function, as it involves identifying the elements and structure of a manuscript. Though it may seem that introducing XML tagging would require a radical shift in production, there already exists an opportune stage for this encoding to take place within the Press’s current editorial/production workflow.
Following the transmittal meeting, when a manuscript is first brought in-house, each document undergoes a “clean up” process. (See Figure 1.) During this process, a production editor assesses the contents of an author’s manuscript and inserts typecodes that will later be used by the typesetter to layout the document. Elements that are already being tagged by production editors during this process include block quotations <Q>, epigraphs <E>, heading levels <3>, and lists <begin numbered list>. Though these tags are open (not closed) and are not nested, they are analogous to the types of XML tags used in the content files of an EPUB: both types of tags are a form of semantic markup that describe the different parts of a document so that they can later be expressed or manipulated in a certain way. Were these typesetter codes replaced by a standard XML tag set, UBC Press’s production editors would be well on their way to producing the tagged documents they require to produce EPUBs in house.
Furthermore, other clean up tasks performed at this stage of production which don’t currently involve typecodes could easily be replaced with tasks that do in order to introduce an extra level of tagging. For instance, instead of checking to make sure that the first line of every paragraph is indented, editors could instead make sure each paragraph is labeled <p>. Rather than change emboldened words to italicized words, editors could simply tag these words as emphasized <em>. Section breaks, which often need to be inserted manually into Word documents, could instead be marked by <seg> tags.
In short, a close evaluation of manuscripts and a tagging of textual elements already occurs at the beginning of UBC Press’s production process. With a minimal amount of staff training, this process could be modified to include XML markup. If the Press were to start out with well-tagged content, they could use the same source file to produce both print and electronic versions of a title. This workflow would be much more efficient than the current system, wherein content is first formatted for print only, and must later be stripped and tagged with XML afterward in order to produce an EPUB.
Exploring the Applications of TEI in Scholarly Publishing
If UBC Press were to pursue an XML-based workflow, it would also need to consider the type of XML language it would use.
DocBook is an XML schema commonly used in the production of books. While its “main structures correspond to the general notion of what constitutes a ‘book,’” it is “particularly well suited for books on computer hardware and software,” having been developed in part by O’Reilly & Associates for producing technical manuals (“What is DocBook?”). However, professionals who work within scholarly publishing have found that this book markup language “lacks native markup elements for many structural features common in humanities and social science texts” (Sewell and Reed).
Fortunately, there exists another type of XML markup that is perhaps better equipped to handle UBC Press’s content: TEI, a markup language developed and maintained by the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium. The TEI guidelines, which have been under development since the 1980s, have come to form a standard for the representation of texts in digital form within the humanities. Although TEI has largely been used to digitize those texts used as primary sources within humanities research (i.e. rare manuscripts and historical documents), it would also be appropriate for use in digitizing secondary literature, i.e., scholarly monographs or reference books.
Because the TEI was developed to describe physical manuscripts, it can accommodate the type of textual elements commonly found in scholarly books, like notes and tables. It also contains more specialized element groups that could be used to tag UP texts that are at present rather tricky to produce as ebooks. For example, UBC Press publishes a series of books on First Nations languages, but the heavy use of phonetic symbols in these texts makes them difficult to convert into EPUBs. However, the TEI has a dictionary module and a set of elements that identify language corpora. This comprehensive tag set could help identify these special elements up front and preserve them during conversion.
Members of the digital humanities community have long anticipated the applications of TEI in scholarly publishing. In June 2009, a special interest group on this topic was formed at the Association of American University Presses. Although no university press in North America is currently using a TEI-based workflow, some are already experimenting with TEI (e.g. University of North Carolina). Other academic institutions have also adopted digital publishing workflows based in TEI encoding. For example, the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre has been using TEI in the digitization of full-length works that are later converted into the EPUB format. Sebastian Rahtz of Oxford University Computing Services has also been facilitating TEI-based publishing at his home institution and abroad. He has developed several XSL stylesheets that enable XML->XHTLM transformations, i.e. that help convert TEI documents into EPUBs. Because TEI is developed and maintained by a non-profit organization, these XSL stylesheets are available for use to the public through the TEI website (http://www.tei-c.org/Tools/Stylesheets/).
Using a TEI-first workflow would therefore allow publishers to export their EPUBs more directly, instead of having to prepare a manuscript for print first and convert it afterward. Yet the addition of this TEI tagging process would not entirely disrupt the print-based production workflow currently used by publishers like UBC Press. Documents tagged in TEI can also be imported into traditional desktop publishing programs like InDesign, where they can then be shaped for the printed page (Reed). In addition to producing print and electronic books more efficiently, TEI would allow university presses to repurpose their content in other ways. In the future, TEI documents could be used to create other academic resources, such as online databases or archives, should a press wish to expand its digital publishing activities to include these types of products.
By choosing to use TEI within an XML-based workflow, university presses like UBC Press may also solve previously identified problems with staffing and a lack of in-house expertise. Because TEI is used primarily by members of the academic community, there may be opportunities for publishers to partner with digital humanists and electronic text centres that already exist within universities. The Journal Incubator at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta provides an inspiring example of for how students may take on support roles in digital scholarly publishing. Students who are placed at the Incubator through graduate assistantships and co-op placements acquire training in editorial and production skills, including XML encoding and processing. These students then apply these skills while working for the Incubator: their services, which are primarily used to publish electronic journals, are offered to departments within their own institution, as well as those from outside the university. Instead of “outsourcing,” this type of arrangement amounts to a kind of “insourcing”—looking to one’s host institution for technical advice and support. This type of arrangement may assist university presses like UBC in transitioning to a digital workflow based in TEI, and may, through a sustainable, ongoing partnership, provide the type of encoding that would be required by a press.
The applications of TEI within scholarly publishing are thus quite promising. Although it may be too risky for an individual press to experiment with TEI-first publishing on its own, this option should certainly be pursued by industry organizations like the Association of Canadian University Presses. Scholarly publishers may just find a long-term solution to their outsourcing woes by looking within their own university communities for expertise and assistance.
There are several ways for publishers to avoid error-filled files and ensure better quality ebooks.Publishers can reduce the number of formatting errors by proofreading their ebooks in-house; they can also enhance the appearance of their EPUBs by applying their own stylesheets. At the same time, by augmenting the metadata contained within these files, publishers can increase the amount of information available on their digital titles and ensure greater discoverability for them once they are in the supply chain.
However, these are short-term solutions to a systemic problem. If publishers wish to avoid error-filled files in the future, they need to consider more fundamental changes to the way they approach ebook production. This could mean finding a partner that will convert ebooks more carefully, which may, in turn, require publishers to be more selective in the number of titles they convert into EPUBs.
If publishers like UBC Press choose to adopt the EPUB as a standard format for their ebooks, it may behoove them to move ebook production in-house entirely. By doing so, publishers could achieve a consistently better end product. More importantly, they could break their decade-long dependence on large conversion houses that have become a liability.
UBC Press has already shown some ability to accomplish this by taking on enhanced PDFs in-house. There is also an opportunity for the typecoding system currently used by production editors to be expanded into the kind of XML tagging that would enable the Press to produce EPUBs. Should UBC Press decide to pursue an XML-first workflow, it should seriously consider TEI as its markup language of choice. A TEI-first workflow would result in better-tagged documents and easier EPUB exports and it would allow the Press to continue using standard design and layout software to create its print books. That TEI has existed in one form or another since the 1980s indicates that this markup language would be a durable way to store a publisher’s source files, regardless of what new ebook formats may arise in the next few years.
Whether they turn to the digital humanities for solutions, shop around for a smaller technology partner, or extend their staff’s expertise to the field of digital publishing, university presses are well positioned to seize control of their epublishing programs, and have sufficient motivation to do so.
1 Since 2001, annual endowment income has decreased by 68% (UBC Treasury). RETURN
2 Smaller-scale publishers like University of Alberta Press and University of Calgary Press receive more than twice the amount of direct funding that UBC Press receives, though they produce a half and a quarter as many new titles a year, respectively. Larger UPs in Canada receive an even greater amount of direct support from their host institutions: both the University of Toronto Press and McGill-Queen’s University Press enjoy nearly six times the amount of internal funding that UBC receives. RETURN
3 UBC Press represents a number of presses within the Canadian market, including University of Washington Press, Manchester University Press, University Press of New England, and Island Press. As part of the services it provides, UBC Press represents these publishers at Canadian conferences and hand-sells their books at these events. The Press also handles Canadian orders for these companies (via UTP Distribution) and includes relevant titles from these publishers within the Press’s own subject catalogues. RETURN
4 In 2011-2012, 50% of UBC Press’s Canadian sales and 78% of its US sales were made to libraries (UBC Treasury). RETURN
5 In the United States, the proportion of annual budgets spent on books by academic libraries fell from 44% in 1986 to 28% in 1997; in this same period, the proportion of library budget spent on journals rose inversely from 56%-72% (Gilroy). RETURN
6 Amazon has achieved this, for instance, by offering publishers a higher royalty rate (70%) on ebooks that are priced more competitively (20% lower than the lowest list price for the physical or digital edition of that title). Amazon also sets maximum list prices for publishers. RETURN
7 For instance, in Fall 2011, the hardcover version of a UBC Press title sold for $95, while the PDF of that same title sold for $99. It should be noted, though, that university presses are not alone in charging more for ebooks destined for the library market. Large trade publishers are also experimenting with higher ebook prices in order to offset a perceived loss in sales that may result from unlimited lending of ebooks through libraries. In March 2012, Random House “nearly tripled its ebook prices for libraries” (Albanese). In September 2012, Hachette Book Group also announced an increase in the cost of ebooks sold to libraries: prices rose anywhere from 35% to 63% (e.g. from $14.99 to $37.99) for popular fiction titles (Lovett). RETURN
8 A similar tactic has been used by publishers to promote the hardcover edition over the paperback edition: the hardcover is traditionally released first and is priced significantly higher than the paperback edition, which is only advertised to libraries 6 months after the original release date. By staggering the release of formats in this way, the Press encourages libraries—whose goal is to stock new releases in a timely manner—into purchasing more expensive, cloth-bound versions of titles. RETURN
9 These figures are in keeping with those found in a recent survey of 1350 consumer trade, STM, educational and corporate publishers conduced by Aptara. 90% of respondents reported that ebook sales account for less than 10% of their overall revenue. This survey also estimated that ebook sales rose 40% in 2010. RETURN
10 “Tethered access refers to e-book use provided by an ongoing interaction over the Internet with vendor software to view an e-book that is resident in the vendor’s database” (McKiel, “Download” 2). RETURN
11As Alison Knight points out, ebrary had a competitive edge as a company: it licensed “not only access to its ebook collection but also the use of its platform” (24-5). The ebrary platform is used by other publishers as a way of distributing their ebooks (e.g. Oxford UP, Elsevier, John Wiley & Sons); it is also used by libraries as a neutral platform for relaying electronic content that has been acquired from outside of ebrary’s collection (i.e. electronic theses and dissertations, ebooks purchased direct from publishers). RETURN
12As an added bonus, publishers would be able to use these PDFs as archival files (i.e. for digital preservation in-house). RETURN
13 Although UBC Press digitized most of its remaining backlist at this time, it did not produce PDFs of heavily illustrated books that weren’t well suited to the electronic format, nor did it volunteer books that would require extensive permissions clearance in order to be reproduced electronically. For books that were commonly used in the classroom, UBC Press decided to convert these titles, but withheld the files from the CEL collection so as to protect the print sales that came from course adoptions. RETURN
14 The Universal PDF is not a unique proprietary format, but, rather, is a term used by CodeMantra for its enhanced PDF product. The term itself is protected under copyright. RETURN
15 As of 2011, UBC Press still held distribution contracts with several content aggregators like EBSCO (formerly NetLibrary), ebrary, and MyiLibrary, although these companies no longer produce files for the Press. RETURN
16This new print-on-demand service was arranged to supply print books to individual buyers outside of North America—markets that are particularly expensive to serve, given the low sales figures and high shipping and warehousing costs. RETURN
17 This strategic goal was expressed in the ACP’s 2007-2008 funding application to the Ontario Media Development Corporation. In its application, the ACP (in partnership with the Ontario Book Publishers Organization and Gibson Publishing Connections) put forth a plan to support the “conversion of about 2000 Canadian titles into XML format” for the purpose of “exploiting the converted works beyond the existing scope of institutional markets [emphasis added].” RETURN
18 At the time of publication, Peter Milroy had retired from his position as director and was replaced by Melissa Pitts, former acting marketing manager and senior acquisitions editor for UBC Press. RETURN
19 For more on the role and benefits of using freelancers at UBC Press, see Megan Brand’s 2005 report, “Outsourcing Academia: How Freelancers Facilitate the Scholarly Publishing Process.” RETURN
20 The ability of content producers to leverage existing content and profit from it anew was described by Chris Anderson the “long tail effect” in a 2004 article in Wired magazine. There, Anderson argues that online retailers like iTunes and Netflix—who aren’t bound by the constraints of material storefronts—can stock and sell a wider array of products than bricks-and-mortar retailers. This deep “cybershelf,” coupled with the ability to reach dispersed and underserved customers, increases the ability of those in the entertainment industry—including publishers—to profit from older, low-in-demand content. Erik Brynjolfsson, Yu (Jeffrey) Hu, and Michael D. Smith also discuss this phenomenon as it relates specifically to Amazon.com. RETURN
21 At times, publishers may have received as little as 30% of gross sales from its contracts with NetLibrary. Both Questia and ebrary operated on slightly different revenue model than NetLibrary. Instead of selling unlimited access to a whole ebook, these companies charged by usage. Ebrary, for instance, charged a small fee set by the publisher (often $0.25-$0.50) each time that a user copied or printed a page. Publishers would then receive 60-80% of that revenue, depending on their arrangement with the company. Questia also used a “micro-payment scheme,” reimbursing publishers for each page view (Crawley, “University Presses” and “Online”). RETURN
22 Although codeMantra is an American company, “its primary dedicated production, operations and development centers are located in Chennai, India” (codeMantra). Innodata Isogen’s conversion houses are also located in India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. RETURN
23 Prices varied according to the length of the book, its complexity level (i.e. number of images and links), and the ebook formats being requested. For instance, the POD PDF, which took less time and effort to produce, was the least expensive ebook format, whereas the EPUB, which required a good deal of additional coding, was the most expensive. RETURN
25 I have chosen here to focus on UBC Press’s latest outsourcing experience, but as early as 2000, UBC Press had been disappointed with the files it received from content aggregators. For instance, “in NetLibrary’s original iteration, UBC Press found that the HTML format resulted in frequent pagination problems, requiring Press staff to expend significant labour vetting finished books” (Knight 31). RETURN
26 This was a particular problem for books on Asian religion or on Aboriginal language and culture, which contain many foreign language characters. RETURN
27 Without this disclaimer, readers might incorrectly assume that the page numbers found in the index referred to absolute locations within the ebook, when in fact the reflowable text within an EPUB had rendered these page numbers obsolete. RETURN
28 Validation checks the integrity of the code in an ebook file against an XML parser to make sure that the code is well-formed. RETURN
29 The economic fallout of simple errors has been documented in both the publishing world and the world of e-commerce. It has been shown that misspellings in website copy negatively affect online sales, as they raise doubts over the credibility of the website. In one UK study, revenue per visitor doubled after a single typo was fixed (Coughlan). Those who work within the publishing industry have also pointed out to the real cost of errors like typos (see Heffernan). In a recent case, a misprint in a cookbook cost Penguin Group Australia $20,000 dollars in reprint fees (“Cook-book”). RETURN
30 The near-automatic distribution of unchecked files was also made possible by the Press’s use of Collection Point, the digital asset management system developed by CodeMantra. This software, which is designed to deliver digital assets quickly and efficiently, also has an unintended side-effect: it mediates publishers’ interaction with their files in a way that discourages close examination of them. The program does not prompt staff to open or preview the files created by CodeMantra before sending them out to various distribution channels. Because CodeMantra’s end-to-end publishing solution provided an almost seamless, hands-off experience from conversion to distribution, it also enabled staff to circumvent the type of final proofreading that would have been performed were the files produced in house. RETURN
31 In summer 2011, student interns were paid a flat rate of $250 per week. In a 35-hour work week, their pay was equal to $7.14 per hour (less than minimum wage, which at the time was $8.00 per hour). RETURN
32 These estimates are conservative. Given that professional proofreaders are much more thorough, a formal review process would likely cost a great deal more time and money if carried out by a hired freelancer. RETURN
33This may explain the discontinuity and varying quality seen among chapters within the same ebook: if chapters are being divided among employees who aren’t necessarily working together, one chapter may end up with extensively linked notes, while another may not. RETURN
34 Presumably, the geographic distance and difference in time zones—common in offshoring—may have worsened this communication problem. RETURN
35 In support of this point, it should be noted that CodeMantra did not initially offer UBC Press the DTD for its “pubXML”; the Press had to specifically request it in anticipation of this same problem. RETURN
36 University of Ottawa Press has an eBook Coordinator, while Athabasca University Press has a Journals and Digital Coordinator. RETURN
37The .OPF file houses the ebook’s metadata within the EPUB format. In other words, it contains information about the file itself, in addition to containing a manifest of all the other content files in the EPUB package. RETURN
38 In the last round of conversions, the average UBC Press title was 307 pages in length and required 950 links to be inserted. RETURN
39eBOUND reports that the highest-selling ebooks among its members are genre fiction (e.g. romance, thrillers), young adult books, and bestsellers—none of which are published by university presses (“Prioritizing”). RETURN
40 A 2011 ebrary survey found that ebooks loaned by academic libraries are most commonly read on Windows desktops and laptops, or the Apple iPad (McKiel, “Download” 3)—devices which do not require the EPUB format, and to which ePDFs are perhaps better suited. As Peter Milroy points out, PDFs of a trade paperback are almost perfectly sized for the dimensions of an iPad screen: although the text may not be reflowable, the ratio of the original page dimensions (6 by 9 inches) is close enough to the screen’s dimensions (5.8 by 7.75 inches) that the PDF of that original book can be viewed proportionally on the iPad without having to be resized. RETURN
41 For instance, links in the Press’s EPDFs are unidirectional instead of bidirectional: they allow the user to navigate to a location in the text, but not back to the initial position. Unlike the uPDFs produced by CodeMantra, the indexes and tables of contents in these files are not linked to the main text. These features could be achieved in-house, but it would take a considerable amount of time for the staff to implement them. RETURN
42For more on how to prepare documents for EPUB export using styles in Word, see Elizabeth Castro’s EPUB Straight to the Point.RETURN
43 For more on XML-first workflows, see Appendix A: Production and Digital Technology in The Chicago Manual of Style. RETURN
44To see examples of EPUBs produced via this method, visit http://tei.oucs.ox.ac.uk/Projects/TEItoePub/. As is seen here, the TEI community takes a collaborative and transparent approach to textual encoding and digital workflows. This ensures that TEI-based publishing practices are open and accessible. In this way, TEI is perhaps more in keeping with the spirit of information sharing that defines universities and their presses than for-profit technology partners who use “closed” processes and customized forms of XML. RETURN
45 For examples of TEI-based applications and projects, see http://www.tei-c.org/Activities/Projects/. RETURN
46 Although the University of British Columbia does not have its own digital humanities program, there is a notable institution within the province with whom they could collaborate: the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab at the University of Victoria. RETURN
Appendix A: Ebook Proofing Instructions
Open the file in Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat Pro.
Check that the file name is the ePDF ISBN, not the hardcover, paperback, or EPub ISBN. You can find the assigned ISBNs for any title on the H: drive, in the Departments/Production/CIP ISBN ISSN/ISBN folder.
Check the cover for image quality. Make sure that the image is clear and the type legible. Compare against hard copy of book if necessary (see UBC Press’s Permanent Library located in the Meeting Room, Rm 113).
Make sure that the title and author/editor name(s) are present, and are spelled correctly. Check the spelling against the full title page on the interior, if necessary.
Scroll down to the copyright information page (usually p. iv). Make sure it is the paperback CIP page: i.e., it should list the ISBN numbers for all formats, print and electronic.
Table of Contents (ToC)
Scroll down to the ToC page (usually p. vii).
Make sure the ToC page is linked. Click on a chapter title to go to the opening page of that chapter. Click on the title again to return to the ToC page.
If it isn’t already displayed, open the bookmarked ToC by clicking on the bookmark icon that appears in the lefthand sidebar.
Make sure there is a bookmark for each chapter, and that there are no typos in the chapter titles.
Click on the bookmarks—including the bookmark for the Cover Page—to make sure that they link to the right page.
Scroll down to the List of Illustrations (aka Maps, Figures and Tables, p. ix).
Make sure the name of each illustration/figure/map/table links to those images in the text.
Check the image quality of the illustrations.
Click on the image or image title to link back to the List of Illustrations.
Spotcheck pages throughout the book, checking for odd line breaks.
If the book contains endnotes, click on some of the supernumerals: these should take you to the appropriate chapter in the Notes section. Click on the note number again to return to the main text.
Scroll through the Notes section quickly to make sure the notes in each chapter are linked.
Spotcheck other internal links (e.g. to figures). When checking hyperlinks, make sure the pop-up blocker on your browser is turned off.
Make sure the pages in the PDF file are numbered correctly. The number indicated in the menu bar above should match the number on the page. The prelim pages (for the title page, etc.) should be numbered in roman numerals.
Spotcheck the page numbers in the index to make sure they are linked, and that they take you to the right place. Links for page ranges (p. 88-108) may take you either to the first or last page number in that range.
Validate the File
Before opening the file, you need to validate it—i.e., make sure that its code is well-formed and that the file is formatted properly.
To do this, upload the file to Epubcheck, an online validation tool from Threepress Consulting. Visit http://threepress.org/document/epub-validate. Browse to find the location of the EPUB file on the H: drive, then click “validate.”
If the EPUB is valid, a green checkmark will appear. If it is invalid, a red X and an error message will appear.
If the file does not validate, make a note of this, but continue proofing.
Check the File Name
The file name should be the EPUB ISBN for that title — not the hardcover, paperback, or ePDF ISBN. You can find the assigned ISBNs for any title on the H: drive, in the Departments/Production/CIP ISBN ISSN/ISBN folder.
Open the File
Use a free ereading software program like Adobe Digital Editions <http://www. adobe.com/products/digitaleditions/> that can be downloaded from the web and installed locally on your computer. Do not use Sigil to proof these files: in order to open a file within this program, you have to unzip (i.e. dismantle) it, and the linked table of contents will be lost.
Once you have installed such a program, you will usually have to import or add the EPUB file into your “library” in order to view it. To do this, some programs require you to move the file into the program (instead of just viewing the file via the program). If this is the case, make duplicate copies of the files before importing them into the library.
You can also use web-based reading applications, like Ibis Reader, which usually require you to create an account and upload the files to your personal online “library.”
If you have an e-reading device on hand (e.g. data phone or tablet that has an ereader app), you can also use that to check most of the issues below. You can also use a designated ereading device like a Kobo or Nook to view the file; however, at this point in time, Kindles do not read EPUBs and so cannot be used to proof these files. UBC Press has purchased an iPad for this purpose. Check with Laraine or Peter for permission and instructions on how to use this device.
Once the file is open in “reading” mode, check the elements listed below
Check the cover for image quality. Make sure that the image is clear, that the type is legible, and that the cover is not stretched horizantally or is too small. If necessary, compare it against the hard copy of the book (see UBC Press’s Permanent Library located in the Meeting Room, Rm 113).
Make sure that the title and author/editor name(s) are present and are spelled correctly. Check the spelling against the title page, if necessary.
CIP & Series Pages
Make sure that the copyright information page and series page (if used) have been moved from the beginning of the file to the end of the file.
Make sure that the CIP page is the paperback version: i.e. it should list the ISBN numbers for all formats, print and electronic.
Tables of Contents
There are two ToCs to check: the embedded ToC that appears in the body of the text, and the navigational ToC that appears beside it.
To view the embedded ToC, scroll down through the prelimary pages until you reach the Table of Contents. Make sure the items on the ToC page are linked. Click on a chapter title to go to the opening page of that chapter. Click on the title again to return to the ToC page.
If the navigational ToC is “hidden” when you first open the file, look to the lefthand sidebar. There is usually a Bookmark or Contents button that you can click to view the bookmarked ToC. In Adobe Editions, there is also a small arrow that you can click and drag to expand this viewing pane.
Make sure there is a bookmark for each chapter, and that there are no typos in the chapter titles.
Click on the bookmarks—including the bookmark for the Cover Page—to make sure that they link to the right page.
Scroll down to the List of Illustrations (aka Maps, Figures and Tables).
Make sure the name of each illustration/figure/map/table links to those images in the text.
Check the image quality of the illustrations.
Make sure that the titles and captions appear above/below the images, not beside them.
Make sure that the text surrounding the images is well placed and not interrupted by the image.
Check for problems with tables (e.g. misaligned cells or cell contents, tables that have three or more columns and are appearing as text instead of images).
Click on the image or image title to link back to the List of Illustrations.
Scroll/flip through the file, checking for the following problems:
• strange line breaks
• hyphens that appear in odd places, like the middle of a line, or that divide words which shouldn’t be hyphenated
• diacritics/accents that have been captured as images instead of as text. This tends to happen often with Asian characters, but can also happen with accented letters in French words. You will be able to tell if they are images because they will not seem aligned with the rest of the text, and cannot be resized.
Spotcheck internal links. If the book contains endnotes, click on some of the supernumerals: these should take you to the appropriate place in the Notes section. Click on the note number again to return to the main text. If checking hyperlinks, make sure the pop-up blocker on your browser is turned off.
Unlike the ePDF, the text here is reflowable. Don’t worry if it seems like there are odd page breaks (e.g. the title page seems spread across two different pages); the amount of text being displayed adjusts to the size of your screen/window.
Although your reader/browser might display page numbers, these page numbers are not actually a part of the EPUB file. Don’t worry if they aren’t in roman numerals or don’t match the ePDF page count.
Unlike the ePDF, the index in an EPUB is not linked to the main text.
Make sure the following disclaimer is present at the beginning of the index: “The page numbers in this index refer to the print edition of this book.”
The EPUB ISBN should also appear as the ID in the file metadata. Most ereading devices will allow you to view the metadata for an EPUB file, but in order to do this on a computer, you usually need to open up the EPUB file.
One way of doing this is to download and install a free ebook management tool like Calibre <http://calibre-ebook.com/ along with a free text editor like Notepad++ http://notepad-plus-plus.org/download/v5.9.3.html>.
After adding the EPUB file to the Calibre library, right-click on the title and select “Tweak EPUB.” The select “Explode EPUB.” This will unzip the EPUB so that you can view the files within it.
Look for the .OPF file. It may be contained within the OEBPS folder, and may have a very long name, but it will end with the “.opf” extension.
Right-click on the .OPF file, and choose “Open with” or “Edit with Notepadd++.” This will open the .OPF file, which contains information about the book wrapped in XML tags.
Within the first 20 lines or so, you should see “<dc: identifier,” followed by the EPUB ISBN. If the ISBN number is missing, take note of this.
After checking the metadata, you can exit Notepad++ without saving, and hit “Cancel” on the Calibre “Tweak EPUB” screen.
The Print on Demand (POD) PDF files are essentially print-ready files that are sent to Lightening Source, which prints short runs of softcover books.
Before proofing these files, please consult the LSI File Creation Guide found in Departments/Production/Style Guides and Training/Ebook Proofing, or visit the Lightening Source website to learn more about the specifications for these files <http://www.lightningsource.com/digital_bookblock_creation.aspx#standardBooks>.
There should be 2 separate PDF files for each title: one for the cover, the other for the book’s interior. Open these files in Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat Pro, and check the following:
Make sure that both file names contain the paperback ISBN — not the hardcover, EPUB or ePDF ISBN. You can find the assigned ISBNs for any title on the H: drive, in the Departments/Production/CIP ISBN ISSN/ISBN folder.
Unlike the ePDF and EPUB files, which use lower resolution images, the cover for the POD file should be the high-resolution paperback cover.
This cover should also be the full-wrap cover, with front, back, and spine—not just the front cover.
The back cover should also display the paperback barcode.
This PDF should have the paperback copyright information page (CIP page): i.e., it should list the ISBNs for all formats, print and electronic.
Because this file is destined for print, it will not have a linked ToC or any other interactive features contained in the other ebook files.
Books and Articles
Anderson, Chris. “The Long Tail.” Wired (12.10) October 2004.
Albanese, Andrew. “Macmillan Poised to Test Library E-book Model.” Publishers Weekly September 24, 2004.
Castro, Elizabeth. EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating Ebooks for the Apple iPad and Other Readers. Berkeley, CA: Peach Pit Press, 2011.
“Cook-Book Misprint Costs Australian Publishers Dear.” BBC News Online April 17, 2010.
Coughlan, Sean. “Spelling Mistakes ‘Cost Millions’ in Lost Online Sales.” BBC News Online. July 13, 2011.
Crawley, Devon. “Libraries Experiment with E-book Lending,” Quill & Quire June 1, 2000.
Crawley, Devon. “Online E-book Services Struggle to Survive,” Quill & Quire November 1, 2001.
Lovett, Michael. “Hachette Book Group’s New Library eBook Pricing.” OverDrive Digital Library Blog. September 14, 2012.<http://overdriveblogs.com/library/2012/09/14/hachette-book-group%E2%80%99s-new-library-ebook-pricing/>
“Prioritizing Ebook Production: Which Books Should You Convert First?” eBOUND Canada website, April 19, 2012.
Salo, Dorothea. “A Tale of Two Conversion Houses.” Yarineth Blog. 1 April 2000.<http://yarinareth.net/articles/a-tale-of-two-conversion-houses/>
University of Lethbridge Journal Incubator website.<http://www.uleth.ca/lib/incubator/>
“What is DocBook?” DocBook.org website. <http://www.docbook.org/whatis>
MPub Project Reports
Brand, Megan. “Outsourcing Academia: How Freelancers Facilitate the Scholarly Publishing Process.” Master of Publishing Project Report, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, 2005.
Knight, Alison Elaine. “The Tangled Web: Managing and Confronting Scholarly Ebook Production at UBC Press.” Master of Publishing Project Report, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, 2007.
Aptara. “Uncovering eBooks’ Real Impact: Aptara’s Third Annual eBook Survey of Publishers.” Falls Church, VA: Aptara, September 2011.
Baldwin, John R. and Wulong Gu. “Basic Trends in Outsourcing and Offshoring in Canada.” Ottawa: Micro-Economic Analysis Division, Statistics Canada, 2008.
Goss Gilroy Inc. “Formative Evaluation of the Aid to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP) Part II: Context for Scholarly Publishing.” Ottawa: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, 22 November, 2004.
—. “200 Global Librarian Ebook Survey.” Tahlequah, OK: ebrary, 2007.
Morissette, René, and Anick Johnson. “Offshoring and Employment in Canada: Some Basic Facts.” Ottawa: Business and Labour Market Development Division, Analytical Studies Branch, Statistics Canada, 2007.
UBC Treasury Strategic and Decision Support. “UBC Press Business Model Review (draft).” Vancouver: UBC Treasury, June 28, 2001.
ABSTRACT: Individuals and business people around the world are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment, and Canadian magazine publishers are no exception. In order to help publishers “green” their businesses, Magazines Canada collaborated in 2008 with the environmental organization Markets Initiative (now Canopy) to produce the Magazine Ecokit. This document highlighted a number of ways magazine publishers could reduce their harmful impacts on the environment.
Recognizing climate change as the most pressing environmental issue facing humanity, Magazines Canada and Canopy collaborated again in 2011 to create a guide specifically focused on how Canadian magazine publishers can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions: The Carbon Footprint Compendium.
During an internship with Magazines Canada, I was responsible for assembling the Compendium into a single straightforward and practical document. The process revealed the complexity and controversies surrounding carbon reduction in the magazine industry, as well as the lack of information available on Canadian publishers’ environmental activities. In-depth examinations of either of those topics would not have been appropriate within the context of the Compendium, but both are certainly worthy of study and discussion.
By tackling both subjects together, this report provides a detailed picture of the state of Canadian magazines’ response to climate change, beginning with an analysis of existing studies of magazines’ climate impacts and the strategies they suggest, continuing with case studies of Canadian publishers’ environmental practices, and concluding with an examination of the challenges and possibilities of the future, including possible directions for scientific research and collective action within the publishing industry. Issues examined include the challenges of creating high-quality paper from recycled fibre, paper mills’ claims of carbon neutrality, and whether digital publishing provides environmental benefits.
I dedicate this report to the memory of my grandfather, Derek Lukin Johnston, who loved nothing more than the printed word, and of his father, Rufus, from whom many members of my family inherited the publishing bug.
This report would not have been possible without the passion and support of the entire team at Magazines Canada, most notably the inimitable Barbara Zatyko, and the dynamic duo that are Gary Garland and Chantal Sweeting. Their belief in the importance of the Carbon Footprint Compendium is what made both that document, and this report, possible.
I am indebted to Neva Murtha at Canopy for her willingness to share her understanding of complex climate science and how it relates to publishing. I also wish to thank all of my interview subjects, who took the time to explain to me how their businesses operate, and Keith Neuman of Environics, who shared his company’s valuable research with me free of charge.
I am grateful to my peers in the MPub program—particularly those currently or previously resident at 1408 McLean Drive—for their encouragement, humour and inspiration. And of course the faculty of SFU’s Publishing Program, in particular my ever-gracious senior supervisor Roberto Dosil, and the insightful John Maxwell, for their feedback on this project.
Last but not least, I want to thank my parents, Jane and Lionel, and the rest of my family for their unwavering enthusiasm for each and every endeavour I undertake.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has described climate change as “the single most important challenge which we are facing these days.” Over the last two and a half decades, this issue has achieved prominence thanks to events like the widely publicized (if not always successful) climate change conferences in Kyoto, Copenhagen and Durban; former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental activism and Academy Award-winning documentary; and dramatic natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 flooding in Pakistan, and the East African drought and famine of 2011.
As a result of public concern about climate change—according to polls conducted by Environics, Canadians rated it the most important environmental issue facing the country for all but six months between 2007 and 2011 —industries of all kinds have taken steps to improve their environmental reputations. It is currently possible to buy putatively eco-friendly wine, running shoes, bed sheets, cell phones and laundry detergent, to name just a few “green” products. Members of the publishing industry have also joined the movement toward environmental responsibility, perhaps most notably when Canada’s Raincoast Books chose to publish the Harry Potter series on Ancient Forest Friendly branded paper.
Magazines have also joined the shift toward greener practices, primarily in the United States, where prominent publications—including National Geographic, Time, InStyle, and Backpacker—have commissioned studies assessing the environmental impacts of their operations, and shared the results with the public. In Canada, a partnership between the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association (now Magazines Canada), the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers (now the Maga-zine Association of B.C. or MABC) and the environmental advocacy organization Markets Initiative led to the creation of The Coated Paper Eco Kit in 2004, which outlined ways publishers could reduce their environmental impact through imp-roved paper choices. In 2008, Magazines Canada and Markets Initiative collaborated on an updated Magazine Eco Kit, which examined the same issues in greater detail and was printed on the Wheat Sheet, a newly developed coated paper incorporating agricultural waste into its fibre mix.
Magazines Canada and Markets Initiative (now known as Canopy) collaborated again in the summer of 2011, producing a follow-up to the eco kits called The Carbon Footprint Compendium. This straightforward and practical guide for publishers explaining why they should be concerned about their greenhouse gas emissions, what the major sources of that “carbon footprint” are in magazine publishing, and how they could go about reducing their operations’ contribution to climate change is now available for download from the Magazines Canada website.
I assembled the Compendium as part of an internship with Magazines Canada. The process made me aware of the complexity and controversies surrounding carbon reduction in the magazine industry, as well as the lack of information available on Canadian publishers’ environmental activities. In-depth examinations of either of those topics would not have been appropriate within the context of the Compendium, but both are certainly worthy of study and discussion. By tackling both subjects together, this report will provide a detailed picture of the state of Canadian magazines’ response to climate change, beginning with an analysis of existing studies of magazines’ climate impacts and the strategies they suggest, continuing with case studies of Canadian publishers’ environmental practices, and concluding with an examination of the challenges and possibilities of the future.
2. CARBON FOOTPRINTS: WHAT THEY ARE AND HOW THEY’RE MEASURED
Climate change is a complex process, involving the interaction of both naturally occurring and human-generated factors. The primary human contribution to the current changes in our climate is the release of “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are so called because they trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to global temperature increases the same way a greenhouse’s walls trap heat to warm the plants within. The most common greenhouse gases are water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and human-manufactured aerosol gases like CFCs. By far the most prevalent of all greenhouse gases—both naturally and produced by human sources—is carbon dioxide. As a result, many of the terms used to describe greenhouse gas measurement and reduction refer to “carbon” as a stand-in for greenhouse gases as a group.
A carbon footprint “measures the total greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by a person, organization, event or product.” Carbon footprint measurement grew out of the existing practice of conducting a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), in which the entire environmental impact of a product, process or service is measured, from raw materials extraction and production, through distribution, consumption, and disposal. The central idea of the LCA has been focused specifically on greenhouse gas emissions in what we now call carbon footprint measurement, and the technique has also been extended to allow entire organizations’ footprints to be measured. As such, it can be applied to the operations of magazine publishers.
Unlike the products, processes and services measured by an LCA, organizations do not have clearly defined beginning and end points. In order to analyze an organization’s carbon footprint, then, emissions must be measured over a specific period of time. As a general rule, organizations measure their carbon footprints in terms of the quantity of greenhouse gases released during a single year.
One of the reasons this process is called “carbon footprint” measurement rather than “greenhouse gas footprint” measurement is the way the results are presented. Each greenhouse gas traps heat within the earth’s atmosphere at its own rate, called the gas’ “global warming potential” by environmental scientists. Methane, for instance, has a global warming potential of more than 20 times that of carbon dioxide. In other words, releasing a tonne of methane into the atmosphere has the warming effect of releasing more than 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Because organizations release a combination of greenhouse gases, and because these kinds of analyses are most useful when they can be compared both to similar organizations and within the same organization over time, it was important to develop a standard that would allow these cumulative emissions to be compared.
Because carbon dioxide is both the most common greenhouse gas and has the lowest heat trapping capacity, the accepted standard is to convert all measured emissions into the quantity of carbon dioxide required to generate the same global warming potential. Thus, carbon footprint measurements are expressed in terms of quantities of carbon dioxide, even though the emissions being analyzed are in all likelihood of a variety of greenhouse gases.
Carbon footprint measurement is an extremely complex and expensive undertaking. It requires not only a detailed listing of all the various activities an organization undertakes that cause greenhouse gas emissions, but a calculation of the frequency and duration of those activities throughout the year, plus a measurement or calculation of the quantities of gases each activity releases. Even the first part of the process, identifying relevant carbon emitting activities, is more challenging than it might seem. For example, if a company’s employees drive themselves to work in cars, should their commutes be factored into the company’s carbon footprint? If a publisher’s customers send their reading material to the landfill instead of the recycling plant when they finish with it, should the resulting methane emissions be considered part of the publisher’s total footprint?
To help organizations answer these questions, the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development developed the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP) corporate standard in 2001. Subsequently, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) used the protocol as the basis for its own internationally recognized standard, the Specification with Guidance at the Organiza-tion Level for Quantification and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals (ISO 14064), published in 2006. Carbon footprint measurements that are based on the same standard can easily be compared, either between organizations or within a single establishment over time.
The implementation of such standards is voluntary, however, and some companies choose to set their own boundaries for carbon studies, making the results challenging—if not impossible—to compare. This is the case with most of the publishing-related carbon footprint analyses conducted to date. One reason publishing companies may choose not to follow the GHGP and ISO protocols is that, as generic organizational standards, they don’t take into account the specific issues that arise in particular industries. A print-industry-specific standard for carbon footprint measurement is under development at the ISO (ISO 16759—Quantification and communication for calculating the carbon footprint of print media products) and its publication is expected sometime in 2012. The existence of print-specific measurement guidelines may encourage more publishers to conduct carbon footprint analyses that adhere to established standards.
Because of the complexity and expense of carbon footprint measurement—given the specialized knowledge required, carbon footprints are usually measured by outside consultants—it is not a process many companies can afford. As a result, no Canadian magazine publisher has undertaken a complete carbon footprint analysis of its operations to date, despite the fact that many publishers are concerned with and have taken action to reduce their environmental impacts. In the U.S., however, a handful of publishing organizations have had both the desire and the means to measure their greenhouse gas emissions during the last decade, and analyzed together these studies can provide a picture of the typical sources of emissions in magazine publishers’ carbon footprints.
3. MAGAZINE LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENTS
Between 2006 and 2009, a number of American magazine publishers and a pair of publishing organizations decided to invest in the process of carbon footprint analysis to determine the environmental impacts of the publishing process. Most defined the scope and boundaries of their own study independently, so comparing their results isn’t straightforward. However, there are trends among the studies that make it possible to draw general conclusions about the carbon emissions generated by magazine publishing.
3.1 Time and InStyle
The first study examined two Time Inc. titles: Time and InStyle magazines. The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment analyzed them as part of a larger study titled Following the Paper Trail—The Impact of Magazine and Dimensional Lumber Production on Greenhouse Gas Emissions: A Case Study. The study was conducted in 2006, and measured the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production of both magazines and “dimensional lumber” (lumber cut to standardized dimensions, for instance a 2×4) for sale at Home Depot stores. These products were studied in tandem because wood wastes from the saw mill supplying the Home Depot lumber are used in the pulp that goes into the papers used by Time and InStyle.
The study began its measurement for all three products, with logging operations. The measurement at this first stage was limited to the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the machinery and tools used for logging. Like most publishing studies, no account was made of the lost carbon sequestration capacity of the trees that were cut down. This is an important omission, which will be discussed later in this section.
Following the logging of the timber, a number of areas were identified as causing greenhouse gas emissions in the life cycles of both Time and InStyle. Those sources of emissions were: transportation of wood fibre to pulp and paper mills, transportation of clay (used in coated paper) to the paper mill, production of pulp, production of paper, transportation of paper to printers, printing, distribution of printed magazines, and what the study called the “final fate” of the magazines (whether recycling, landfill or incineration).
For the majority of these sources, the cause of greenhouse gas emissions is easy to grasp—the equipment involved (saws, trucks, printing presses) is either powered directly by fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas), or with electricity generated by burning fossil fuels. “Final fate” emissions are more complicated. Some emissions from the final life cycle stage are typical—the trucks used to transport the magazines to the recycling plant, and the plant itself, use energy resulting from fossil fuel combustion. For incinerated magazines, there is an additional release of carbon dioxide that occurs when paper is burned. The greatest source of emissions, though, is the paper that winds up in the landfill. When paper and wood products decompose in an anaerobic environment (which is typical in a landfill, since waste is quickly covered with other waste, cutting it off from oxygen), it produces methane gas. Since methane has a global warming potential of more than 20 times carbon dioxide’s, the disposal of magazines in the landfill is a significant source of emissions in a publication’s life cycle.
The final results showed the following breakdown of emissions sources for the two magazines: Production at the pulp and paper mills was the most significant, generating 61% of Time’s emissions and 77% of InStyle’s. Next came “final fate,” which generated 16% and 10% of emissions respectively. This was followed by the distribution of the printed magazines to customers, at 9% and 5%, then transportation of raw materials to the pulp and paper mills, at 8% and 3%. The transport of paper to the printer and printing itself constituted a mere 4% and 2% for each magazine. And last of all, the process of harvesting the wood itself contributed 2% of the emissions for each magazine.
3.2 The Green Press Initiative
The next publishing life cycle study did not focus on the magazine industry. However, it is important to consider because it included measurements left out of all the magazine studies. The study in question, Findings from the U.S. Book Industry: Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts was initiated by the Green Press Initiative (GPI) in collaboration with the Book Industry Study Group. The GPI study’s findings are the result of a survey sent in 2007 to 1,000 book industry stakeholders, including publishers, printers, paper manufacturers, retailers and distributors. The study then applied a set of standardized calculations to the data in the survey responses (which were sent back by 13 printers, six paper mills, 76 publishers, eight distributors and three retailers) to come up with the breakdown of carbon emissions within the industry as a whole.
The most significant aspect of the GPI study is that it identifies forest biomass loss as the largest contributor, by far, to the book industry’s carbon footprint. The term “biomass” refers to biological material contained in living, or previously living organisms, such as trees used in paper production. Trees are the most important of the planet’s photosynthesizing allies, with forests responsible for absorbing 67% of the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by living organisms.
When trees are cut down, not only is much of the carbon stored in them released into the atmosphere when processing by-products are used for fuel (this form of energy is known as biomass energy, and will come up for discussion later in this report), but the trees’ capacity to absorb further carbon dioxide is eliminated. Even if new trees are planted immediately in logged areas, the carbon storage capacity of those areas is significantly depleted, because new trees absorb far less carbon than old and middle growth stands. In fact, for their first decades, replanted forests emit more carbon than they absorb, according to the Environmental Paper Network. Old growth forests’ carbon storage capacity continues to increase over time, so even once a replanted forest has begun to absorb carbon, the new forest will never reach the absorption levels the existing forest would have attained by the same date.
The GPI’s inclusion of the carbon impacts of biomass removal sets this study apart from the other print industry carbon footprint analyses conducted to date. With biomass loss included in the calculations, the breakdown of emissions sources changes dramatically. From greatest to least, the emissions sources identified in the GPI study were: biomass removal, 44.4% (resulting from the calculation that 61.2% of the carbon impacts came from biomass removal, but 16.8% of those emissions were recovered in the form of carbon stored in books and biomass used for energy production); paper production, 22.4%; distribution of printed books, 12.7%; methane releases from landfilled books, 8.2%; publishers’ emissions (office energy and paper use, business travel, etc.), 6.6%; printing and binding, 4.2%; harvest and transport of fibre to the mill, 1.5%.
Leaving out the biomass removal and other areas not measured in both studies, the findings in the Time Inc. and GPI studies are not drastically different. (The Time Inc. study focused exclusively on production and transportation of physical magazines, so didn’t measure publisher or retailer emissions.) Paper production is the greatest source of emissions, printing, transport and harvest are the three smallest sources, and distribution and “final fate” fall in between, though these two are reversed between the two studies—perhaps unsurprisingly, as magazines do intuitively seem more likely to wind up in the landfill than books.
The importance of the GPI study, though, lies precisely in the 44% of emissions resulting from biomass removal. Given the rest of the study’s consistency with the findings of the Time Inc. analyses, it is reasonable to extrapolate that were biomass removal considered in the magazine studies (from Time Inc. and those to follow), it would amount to an equally significant portion of the emissions generated.
The next carbon footprint study was probably the most exemplary of the magazine studies (though it too neglected to factor in biomass removal). In 2008, Backpacker magazine engaged energy auditor Cooler to conduct a carbon footprint analysis of their entire operation the previous year, including publisher-related emissions like staff commutes and contributor travel. Because no such study had been conducted by a magazine before, Backpacker and Cooler developed their own parameters, making this study challenging to compare with previous and future analyses.
Backpacker’s research uncovered the following breakdown of emissions sources: paper production, 48%; magazine distribution, 26%; staff and writer travel, 9%; printing and production, 8%; ink, 5%; office, 4%. The results, though not exactly comparable, again fall in line with the two previous studies: paper production is the greatest source of emissions, followed by distribution, with printing and publisher emissions near the bottom. This study doesn’t include any measurements of “final fate” emissions, so those can’t be compared. And the inclusion of staff and writer travel at this adventure-focused publication is a divergence from the previous studies.
The first magazine to take guidance from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for its carbon footprint measurement was Discover, also in 2008. However, their adoption of the GHGP doesn’t make the results any easier to compare with previous studies, as Discover was the first publication to use the standard. Once again, a different list of emission sources was included in the analysis: biomass removal was omitted; disposal, staff transport, ink, and subscription insert cards were included.
The three most important emissions sources were paper manufacturing (63.8%), “afterlife” (what Time Inc. called “final fate”—18.3%) and printing (5.4%). Distri-bution was divided into transport to subscribers (3.3%) and newsstand distribution (.8%) but taken together as they are in the other studies, they make up the fourth most important source at 4.1%. Logging and lumber transport, as well as the manu-facture and transport of the inserts each contributed about 2%. Transport of paper to printer was 1.4%, and ink, office energy use, and staff transport all factored in at 1% or less. The picture, though once again missing some previously measured sources and including others previously neglected, is familiar: paper is the greatest source of emissions, magazines in landfills cause significant carbon impacts, printing and distribution play a role worth measuring, and all other factors have a minor effect.
3.5 National Geographic
The final, and most problematic, magazine carbon footprint analysis was conducted at National Geographic Magazine (NGM), and was published in 2009. Once again, the parameters for the study were established by the magazine and its measurement partner, Harmony Environmental, this time taking guidance from the ISO’s standards for life cycle assessment, as well as the GHGP’s corporate standard. Like the other magazine studies, NGM’s did not include biomass removal. Also like the other studies, paper production was the greatest contributor to NGM’s carbon footprint (at 70%).
But that is where the similarities end. Unlike any of the other print industry studies cited, NGM found that printing contributed significant greenhouse gas emissions: 26%. The study notes the discrepancy, and suggests that the reason for the divergence is that a greater number of factors were included in the “printing” figure: “The printing step includes cradle-to-gate GHG emissions for the manufacture of solvents for inks, gravure printing of the magazine pages allocated on the basis of the number of pages printed, and transportation by the printer to magazine drop off sites.” Ink solvent manufacture is not mentioned in any of the other studies, so that may provide a partial explanation for the discrepancy.
Another theory offered by the study’s authors is that the relative percentages of emissions between paper manufacturing and printing are unusual because the energy source for their paper manufacturing is Canadian hydro-electricity, while the printer is powered through an electric grid dependent in large part on fossil fuel combustion. While plausible, this argument loses credence when considering the fact that paper manufacturing’s percentage of emissions is not notably low in the NGM study. At 70%, it’s actually higher than the percentages measured by Discover (63.8%), Time (61%) and Backpacker (48%) and not much lower than InStyle’s 77%. If the printing emissions were disproportionately high because of the difference in energy sources, it is surprising that paper emissions were not disproportionately low for the same reason.
Another anomaly in the NGM study is its treatment of what it calls “end of life management” (equivalent to the “final fate” and “afterlife” emissions in other studies). Whereas the studies that examined their “afterlife” (Backpacker didn’t) found a significant contribution to their footprints from the methane released by decomposing paper, NGM claims a greenhouse gas “credit” for the “afterlife” of its magazines. It should be noted that NGM differs significantly from other magazines in that its subscribers are widely known to archive their issues rather than disposing of them. Surveys conducted by the National Geographic Society show that approximately 60% of copies are archived by consumers. Nonetheless, the study assumes that all copies not archived end up in landfills, so it stands to reason that methane emissions would be attributed to those copies as in the other studies.
Instead, NGM makes the following claim:
Coated magazine paper in landfills sequesters more carbon, measured as carbon dioxide equivalents, than is released by the degradation of the magazine paper (Barlaz et al. 1997). This is because the magazine paper contains a significant portion of groundwood pulp. Groundwood contains lignin, which prevents degradation of the wood pulp in landfills.
This claim contradicts the science supporting all the other carbon footprint studies. Hoping to clarify how this statement could be scientifically supported, I consulted the Barlaz article cited in the quotation above: “Biodegradability of Municipal Solid Waste Components in Laboratory-Scale Landfills” by Morton A. Barlaz et al., published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
However, the Barlaz article makes no reference to coated magazine paper sequestering carbon or to the lignin in coated paper preventing it from decomposing. In fact, Barlaz’s study measures the quantity of methane emitted by coated paper as it decomposes within a simulated landfill environment. Even if it is possible that un-degraded coated paper in landfills sequesters more carbon than its decomposing portions release methane (and no scientific studies were found to confirm this claim), that carbon would continue to be sequestered (without methane being released), if the magazines were recycled instead of landfilled. As such, it is disingenuous to attribute a carbon credit to landfilling when it produces more emissions than other methods of magazine disposal, even if all other claims about landfilled coated paper in the NGM study were true.
With paper manufacture and printing taking up a total of 96% of emissions measured, the remaining sources (distribution, pallets and packaging, publisher operations and travel, and “end of life”) were all found to have contributed between -1.7% (the credit for “end of life” management) and 2.5% of the magazine’s carbon footprint.
The final unusual aspect of NGM’s study is that it investigated whether the inclusion of “recycled content” (the study doesn’t specify whether said content would be post- or pre-consumer waste) would have an effect on the magazine’s carbon footprint. Calculations simulated the inclusion of 5% and 10% recycled fibre in the magazine’s paper. According to the study, such changes in the magazine’s fibre makeup would have an “insignificant” effect on the total carbon footprint.
There is, however, a significant problem with this assertion. Like the other magazine studies, NGM’s does not attribute any carbon impacts to the removal of biomass when virgin fibre is sourced from the forest. As such, the reduction in emissions that would be achieved by leaving those trees standing is left out of these calculations. If the carbon impacts of logging had been included in the analysis, the study would undoubtedly have shown reductions in emissions as recycled fibre increased, since the carbon impacts from biomass removal would have decreased. If that reduction remained at an “insignificant” level, it might be appropriate to attribute its insignificance to the fact that the study only measured the change when 5% and 10% of the fibre was switched from virgin to recycled sources. If greater percentages of recycled fibre were considered, the resulting improvements would surely be more evident.
Interestingly, while no such statement is made in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment article describing the NGM study, the webpage where the magazine describes its results claims that using recycled fibre in magazine paper “would do more harm than good.” This claim is then justified as follows: “before they can be used to make high-quality paper of the type we put in our books and magazines, [recycled] fibers must be cleaned and re-bleached—an expensive process that requires the use of toxic substances that may be both non-biodegradable and extremely harmful to the environment.” The validity of this and other claims about the viability of using recycled paper in magazine production will be assessed in the following section of this paper: Strategies, Challenges, and Controversies.
3.6 Findings for the Magazine Industry
As we have seen, the publishing industry carbon footprint studies conducted to date are difficult to compare, as publishers defined the scope and boundaries of their own studies independently. However, even with these differences, trends do emerge, though an effort must be made to ensure that the measurements being compared are as equivalent as possible. Table 1 (on p. 14) is an attempt both to compare the studies, and draw some conclusions about the sources of carbon emissions within the magazine industry.
Since no two studies measured exactly the same emissions sources, the table lists all the categories of emissions studied, and notes are included to explain if and how emissions have been accounted for if a study didn’t provide a specific measurement for that particular source (e.g. some quantified ink-related emissions on their own, others included them in printing emissions). Because the studies have been presented to the public in different forms (the NGM study was published in a scientific journal, the Backpacker and Discover studies were published only as articles directed toward their readers, etc.) it is not always clear whether a particular source of emissions was not measured at all, or simply wasn’t mentioned in a document created for public consumption. The table indicates “not measured” for those sources that clearly were not studied, but “not mentioned” for sources that seem likely to have been measured given the study’s methodology, but for which a specific number was not provided (for instance if a percentage was provided for transport of fibre to the mill, but not transport of paper to the printer). In the instances when a study measured a source that was not mentioned by any of the other studies, that measurement was folded into the source other studies would most likely have included it under. This too is noted in the table (for instance Discover’s measurement of emissions connected to their insert cards).
The table also includes a column for average values. However, given the many differences among the studies, it was not possible simply to calculate the mean percentage from each row. The first step to enabling a comparison between all the studies was to recalculate the results of the GPI study as if biomass removal had not been a factor. While the reality of carbon measurement suggests that the opposite approach is more accurate (i.e. biomass removal should be factored into the other studies, rather than factored out of the GPI study), the fact that only one study has measured the carbon impacts of logging means it is not yet possible to estimate what a realistic percentage of carbon emissions from biomass removal would be. It is the percentages from this recalculated column (not the original numbers from the study—indicated with the light grey background) that were used in calculating the average percentages in the table.
The next step was to ensure that numbers being averaged were as equivalent as possible. Since percentages bundled together in any one study (say ink and printing emissions) can’t be separated out, the averages had to combine those emissions sources across all studies. As a result, Transport to Mill emissions have been included in Harvest emissions, Staff Travel was included in Publisher emissions, and Ink and Transport to Printer were both included in Printing emissions.
The final step to coming up with comparable emissions numbers turned out to be excluding the NGM study. The study used such different methodology from the others—as evidenced by the end of life credit assigned to landfilled magazines and the disproportionately high percentage of emissions attributed to printing—that including it in the calculations would likely obscure any trends that could be detec-ted among the other studies. Additionally, NGM’s decision to combine sources of emissions in a quite different manner from the other studies (Transport to Mill and Transport to Printer are both included in Paper Milling emissions, when other studies either separate them out or include them with Harvest and Printing emissions, respectively) would make the numbers impossible to compare even if the methodologies behind them were similar. To draw any conclusions at all about the data, it was necessary to leave NGM out of the average calculations. Those results are therefore also displayed with a light grey background.
Two additional mathematical steps were taken to reach final average numbers. If a study simply didn’t measure or mention a particular emissions source, it was left out of the average calculation. For instance, the percentage derived from logging was calculated only with figures from Time, InStyle, GPI and Discover, since the Backpacker study did not include it. As a result of each average being based on different combinations of magazines, the average percentages as first calculated added up to 107.7%, instead of 100%. They were thus adjusted so that the total of all the averages would equal 100%.
Table 1: Summary of Print Industry Carbon Footprint Study Findings, with Averages
(Columns with light grey backgrounds were not included in calculating averages.)
It would be unreasonable to adopt these averages as any kind of definitive description of the sources of carbon emissions in the magazine industry, but the trends are certainly instructive. As seen throughout the studies, paper production is the greatest source of emissions (when biomass removal is discounted, as in Table 1), at 54.2%. Next is disposal (called variously “final fate”, “end of life” and “afterlife” in the studies) at 13.7%, followed closely behind by distribution, at 12.4%. Printing, publisher emissions and harvest all come in below 10%.
Since it would be a more accurate reflection of real-world emissions to include biomass removal when calculating the averages, Table 2 presents an example of what the industry-wide averages might be, were biomass removal included. As only the GPI study has measured this emission source so far, it is impossible to know for certain how it might play out in the magazine industry. For the purpose of comparison, I have assigned a figure of 40% (slightly more conservative than the GPI’s 44.4%) for the carbon impacts of biomass removal. The resulting hypothetical percentages are included in Table 2.
Table 2: Hypothetical Magazine Industry Carbon Emissions Percentages with Biomass Removal Included
(The adjusted averages excluding biomass and GPI study results from Table 1 are included for comparison)
It is clear from the results displayed in both tables that the majority of carbon emissions in the production and disposal of magazines result from paper manufacturing, whether or not biomass removal is considered. However, since some of the other emissions sources may be easier to address, they are worth including in any plan to reduce a magazine’s carbon footprint.
As a result of their carbon footprint measurement activities, many of the magazines discussed above undertook various actions to reduce their carbon footprints. The next section of this report will examine the strategies employed by these magazines, as well as other potentially helpful ways to approach carbon reduction, the challenges presented by some of these strategies, and the controversies surrounding others.
4. STRATEGIES, CHALLENGES, AND CONTROVERSIES
4.1 Certified Paper
In its 2009-2010 Sustainability Report, Time Inc. identified purchasing paper from certified sources as one of the pillars of the company’s sustainability strategy. Forestry certification schemes arose in the 1990s as a tool that would enable con-sumers (whether corporate or individual) to better understand where their wood products came from. The first forest certification scheme was the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), founded in Toronto in 1993. In the following years, a number of other certification systems with comparable objectives have arisen: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) in 1994, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Sustainable Forest Management System in 1996, and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) in 1999.
Since FSC certification is the system with the most support from environmental organizations, it will serve as the example for explaining how forestry certification works. The FSC creates forest management standards for forestry activities around the world according to a single set of guiding principles, which includes: compliance with local laws, clearly defined land tenure and land use rights, respect for indigenous peoples’ and workers’ rights, positive community relations, biological diversity, protection of endangered species and high conservation value forests, maintenance of ecosystems, the creation of management plans, and proper plantation management. For example, there are currently three accredited FSC management standards in Canada: the National Boreal Standard, the B.C. Standard, and the Maritimes Standard. Once a management standard has been accredited, forestry practitioners can apply for a particular forest in which they operate to be certified by a designated third-party FSC certifier.
In order to guarantee that forestry products originating from a certified forest are not contaminated with non-certified wood once the trees have been cut down, the FSC has also implemented a program of Chain of Custody (CoC) certification. For a product (whether paper or lumber) to bear the FSC logo, the FSC-certified fibre from which it was manufactured must at all times remain in the possession of companies that have received FSC’s CoC certification. The logo can be applied to products manufactured from wood harvested in FSC-certified tenures as well as those manufactured from recycled post-consumer-waste (PCW) paper fibre that has remained in the possession of a certified Chain of Custody (and thus is verifiably recycled).
Not only does the CoC certification reassure customers that products bearing the FSC label truly are manufactured from certified forestry (or recycling) activities, but the record of a forestry product’s journey that is created through CoC certification makes it possible for paper purchasers to reliably track the fibre in their paper back to its source. For instance, a publisher could measure the distance their paper has been transported throughout its life or assess whether the forest it came from had a high carbon storage capacity.
Clearly the work of the FSC is a positive addition to the forestry landscape, and Time Inc.’s stated goal of having 80% of its paper come from certified sources is a laudable one. The fact that CoC certification makes it significantly easier for paper purchasers to determine the distances timber, pulp, and paper travel before they reach the printer certainly makes certification a boon for publishers looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
That said, there is a limit to certification schemes’ ability to help reduce carbon footprints. Not all forests sequester carbon at the same rate. Intact old growth forests store carbon at a far higher rate than young, middle growth or plantation forests. In particular, the Boreal forest in both Canada and Russia, temperate rainforests in British Columbia, Alaska, and Chile, and intact tropical rainforests in Indonesia and the Amazon have a significant carbon storage capacity that simply cannot be replaced if they are logged. While certification schemes like FSC may refuse to certify the logging of some parts of those forests if it would violate any of the principles of the relevant forest management standard, any logging operations that met all the criteria within these regions could be certified, despite the more significant climate impacts of logging these forests. For instance, significant areas of British Columbia temperate rainforest, and Boreal forest in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec are currently FSC-certified. It is clear that while FSC certification is a positive step toward environmental and human rights protections in the forestry industry, it is not the end of the story when it comes to carbon footprint reduction.
Although not strictly a certification scheme, another program for identifying environ-mentally preferable paper is worth including in this discussion. The Ancient Forest Friendly (AFF) designation is assigned by Canopy (the environmental advocacy organization formerly known as Markets Initiative) to papers that are chlorine-free and contain a minimum of 50% PCW fibre, and whose other fibres are either pre-consumer recycled, agricultural residue, or virgin fibre from sources that fall outside the criteria for three different definitions of “ancient” forests: high conservation value forests, endangered forests and large intact forest landscapes.
To date, no papers containing virgin fibre meet all the AFF standards, so for now, all AFF papers contain only recycled or agricultural residue fibre. As such, the AFF designated papers currently on the market are some of the lowest-carbon options available. While its standards are certainly more rigorous than any certification scheme’s, and the focus on preserving “ancient” forests ought to exclude many high carbon value forests, none of the AFF guidelines explicitly protect them either. There is thus still no designation on the market that specifically excludes fibre extracted from the forests that store the most carbon per square kilometre.
4.2 Low-Carbon Paper Production
Another strategy highlighted by Time Inc. in its 2009-2010 Sustainability Report is the adoption of renewable energy sources in the paper manufacturing process. Given that paper manufacturing is the greatest source of emissions identified in all the magazine studies (and comes second only to biomass removal in the GPI study), this is an excellent strategy for reducing magazines’ carbon footprints. Because of its enormous purchasing power (Time Inc. buys paper from four major suppliers to print its 21 magazine titles), the company is in a position to influence its suppliers to reduce their emissions. After conducting the life cycle assessments for Time and InStyle, Time Inc. gave its paper suppliers a choice of three different carbon reduction targets, one of which they had to meet by 2012. While this may not be possible for publishers on a smaller scale, they can at least seek out paper manufacturers that make use of low-carbon energy sources to power their mills.
Forms of low-carbon energy that can help paper manufacturers lower their emissions include: hydro-electricity, solar power, wind power, geothermal energy, wave or tidal energy, combined heat and power (CHP—also known as cogeneration—which is heat energy generated by power stations), and biogas (gas generated by waste decomposing in landfills). An example of a mill powered by renewable energy is Cascades’ Rolland Mill in Quebec. Not only does Cascades produce papers that all contain at least 50% PCW recycled fibre (with six of their nine product lines featuring 100% post-consumer fibre), but it uses hydroelectricity combined with biogas piped in from a landfill 13 kilometres away to manufacture all of its papers. Another paper manufacturer that makes use of renewable energy is New Leaf Paper, which purchases renewable energy credits that inject electricity from wind power and other sources into the electrical grid to make up for non-renewable sources used in its mills.
One challenge facing publishers seeking low-carbon fuels is the paper industry’s use of inappropriate terms to describe biomass energy. Biomass energy is derived from burning wood and wood by-products—including bark, wood chips, and “black liquor” (a combustible by-product of the “kraft” method of manufacturing wood pulp, which uses chemicals instead of a mechanical process). It is common for paper manufacturers and other users of biomass energy to refer to it as “renewable” and “carbon neutral.” Both of these claims, however, are misleading.
According to National Resources Canada (NRCan), renewable energy “is energy obtained from natural resources that can be naturally replenished or renewed within a human lifespan, that is, the resource is a sustainable source of energy.” While it is of course true that logged trees can be replaced with new plantations, the same quantity of fibre will not grow back within a human lifespan if the forest was itself more than a human lifespan old. As the NRCan website states, biomass “is a renewable resource only if its rate of consumption does not exceed its rate of regeneration.” Given these two facts, it can safely be stated that not all biomass energy would qualify as renewable in a meaningful sense. This is important because paper mills will often describe their energy source only as “renewable” up front, and require further investigation on the part of customers to determine what the nature of that “renewable” energy is.
The term “carbon neutral” generally refers to the idea that the greenhouse gas emissions of a process, organization, or individual can be “neutralized,” usually through a combination of emissions reductions and carbon offset purchases. When used in reference to energy, it is intended to indicate that no greenhouse gases are emitted by the energy source. Examples of carbon neutral energy sources (which, incidentally, are also renewable according to the NRCan definition) are: wind power, solar power, geothermal energy, and wave energy.
The problem with claiming that biomass energy is “carbon neutral” is, simply, that it’s not. Burning wood and wood by-products does release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It seems biomass energy users have decided that energy derived from trees is “carbon neutral” because it replaces the burning of fossil fuels. While avoiding fossil fuels is always a step in the right direction, that step does not in and of itself guarantee “carbon neutrality.”
This is not to say that paper mills ought not to make use of any biomass as an energy source. “Reuse” is the second of the environmentalist’s “three Rs,” and the transformation of pulping wastes and by-products into energy is certainly preferable to dumping those wastes somewhere where they would either decompose and release methane (in the case of wood chips) or pollute water courses (in the case of black liquor).
All of that said, the first of the “three Rs” is “Reduce”, and while making energy from mill by-products makes some environmental sense, the industry’s long-term goal should be to minimize the creation of those by-products so that an increasing amount of energy can be obtained instead from non-greenhouse-gas-emitting sources. And certainly, purchasing additional biomass that isn’t a mill by-product in order to burn it for fuel—something mills must certainly feel justified in doing having termed biomass energy “carbon neutral”—is very much a step away from emissions reduction.
Given the carbon impacts of biomass energy and the tendency to gloss over them within the paper industry, magazine publishers concerned about their carbon footprint should be wary of any claims of “carbon neutral” or unspecified “renewable” energy used in paper manufacturing, and if possible favour papers known to be manufactured with truly renewable power sources like biogas and wind energy.
4.3 Recycled Paper
Since the Green Press Initiative study found that publishing’s greatest carbon impact is caused by the removal of biomass through logging, it follows that the best way to mitigate the environmental impact of magazines would be to print on paper made from 100% recycled post-consumer-waste fibre. Unfortunately, it is a solution much easier to propose than to enact.
Paper manufacturers have been recyclers for years, long before it was something that concerned the general public. Initially, they were not recycling paper that had been used and thrown away. Like biomass energy, recycling was a way of keeping mill by-products out of the landfill: offcuts and any other paper waste from the milling process would be re-pulped and made into new paper. When paper is specified as made from recycled—but not PCW—fibre, the source of that fibre is the same paper mill waste that has always been re-pulped. The importance of post-consumer-waste fibre is that it keeps used paper out of the landfill, and prevents more trees from being cut down.
While it is easy to say that magazines should switch to 100% PCW fibre papers, it isn’t actually easy for them to do. It’s true that there has been a massive increase in the quality, availability and affordability of 100% PCW uncoated fine papers in the last decade. “The paper quality of uncoated papers in 100% post-consumer recycled is great,” Eric Kouwenhoven, an account manager with Vancouver’s Hemlock printers said in an interview. “I would use the 100% ‘post’ over virgin any day. There’s no limitation in terms of quality there anymore.”
However, the vast majority of magazines are printed on coated paper. A survey of a portion of the magazine rack at Vancouver’s Chapters store at Granville and Broadway revealed the extent of the preference for coated stock. On February 28, 2012, a total of 336 magazines were examined (out of approximately 1500 different titles on display). Of those 336—which covered a wide range of subjects: celebrity, current affairs, travel, film, fashion, wristwatch design, and women’s, men’s, and gay lifestyle—only 16 (or less than 5%) were found to use some uncoated paper in their production. Only nine used uncoated paper throughout, and four of those were printed on newsprint, not fine paper. Of the 16 using some uncoated stock, the only widely recognized consumer magazine was Spin, which used uncoated paper for its cover and some back-of-book signatures, but incorporated glossy coated stock for the valuable ad inventory in the front of the book.
Coated paper made from 100% PCW fibre is almost unheard of in North America. The closest readily available option is the 100% PCW Rolland Enviro100 Satin sheet produced by Cascades, which their website describes as a “hybrid between coated and uncoated paper.” New Leaf Paper out of San Francisco sells two 100% PCW coated stocks, Revival Bright and Cyclus Print, but they are only available on a made-to-order basis, and must be ordered by the full truckload. And that is the complete list of 100% PCW coated fine papers made in North America.
There are a number of explanations for this scarcity. The first is connected to fibre supply: not all papers can be recycled after use (think household products like paper towel), and not all paper that can be recycled is. According to the Environmental Paper Network’s 2011 State of the Paper Industry report, paper is only recovered for recycling at a rate of around 65% in North America (63% in the U.S., 66% in Canada). Unless North American paper consumption were to decrease by about 40% per year (the current rate of paper use reduction is about 8%), it would be impossible to produce all papers from 100% PCW fibre—some paper would still need to contain virgin fibre. (Additionally, when rates of paper recovery do increase, it can have an adverse effect on the quality of PCW fibre available for paper manufacturing. Brian Kozlowski, director of sustainable development at North America’s largest coated paper manufacturer, NewPage, pointed out in a telephone interview: “When you improve your recovery rate, you are collecting lower quality papers that are more contaminated [for instance with oil or food]. Paper is more contaminated than it’s ever been.”)
Second, fibres lose strength each time they are re-used, another reason why virgin fibre will probably always be incorporated into the paper manufacturing process to some degree. There are paper manufacturers who argue that as a result of this reduction in strength, it is impractical to manufacture coated paper (which typically contains 20-40% clay and 60-80% fibre) with recycled fibre, as it would no longer be strong enough to run on offset presses. NewPage’s Kozlowski believes there are risks to producing paper with more than 30% PCW fibre (the highest percentage of PCW fibre in any NewPage product). “Customers would have to sacrifice quality and compromise functionality, the look, and the feel,” he said. “You’re going to lose brightness, you’re going to lose strength. There would be a quality loss.”
Michelle Thornton of New Leaf Paper—the makers of the only two 100% PCW coated papers manufactured in North America—says those “taboos” about recycled fibre simply aren’t true: “We’ve found that we can make a sheet that’s just as bright as its virgin fibre counterparts, that runs just as well, that prints just as well, and that can stay true to being green and helping the environment.” From New Leaf’s perspective, all of the explanations for why more fine papers don’t have higher PCW content are just excuses.
Both the lack of sufficient fibre and reduction in strength with recycling are well documented and agreed upon by paper industry stakeholders (though, as we have seen, there are still disagreements about the ramifications of these facts). There are, however, other explanations for the lack of quality coated papers made from PCW fibre that are more controversial. Time Inc.’s 2009-2010 Sustainability Report, contains the following statement:
Recovered paper used in products like corrugated boxes, brown paper grocery bags and newsprint requires much less re-processing than recovered content needed for whiter, higher-quality magazine papers. Less processing means less fossil-fuel energy consumption, less solid waste generation and lower production costs. Using reco-vered content in magazine paper would divert a valuable resource from other uses that are better for the environment and better for the bottom line.
These and similar statements (like the NGM assertion that recycled paper “does more harm than good”) have provoked the ire of environmental paper manufacturers like New Leaf. In a blog post subtitled “Virgin Paper Manufacturers Confuse Paper Buyers with Misleading Comparisons of the Environmental Impacts of Virgin Paper vs. Recycled Paper,” New Leaf president Jeff Mendelsohn writes:
To be clear—making fine paper from waste paper is a more efficient process than making paper from trees, using less energy, less water, creating less effluent, and generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions. These facts are supported by the most comprehensive, independent, scientific lifecycle analysis of the impacts of paper manufacturing, the paper task force final report.
At first this quote might seem the obvious response of a business owner whose livelihood depends on recycled paper, but it is actually borne out by research. The Paper Task Force was a collaboration between the Environmental Defense Fund, Time Inc., Prudential Insurance, Duke University, McDonald’s, and Johnson & Johnson, which convened in the early ‘90s and published its findings after two years worth of research in 1995. The Task Force studied the entire life cycles—from fibre procurement to disposal—of a number of kinds of paper, including office paper (which uses high-quality, bright white fibre equivalent to publishing paper’s). Environmental impacts examined included energy use and sources, water usage, polluting effluents and solid waste production.
The Task Force’s final report is 248 pages long, not counting the 16 detailed technical white papers that accompany it, but the most important two sentences relating to fine paper production are these (emphasis from the original):
The lifecycle comparison of virgin and recycled office paper systems developed by the Task Force examined a total of 16 parameters, including total and purchased energy, eight categories of pollutant releases to air and four to water, and quantities of effluent and solid waste. Ton-for-ton, 100% recycled paper made from deinked used office paper is preferable (for most parameters) or comparable (for three parameters) to 100% virgin paper.
The only parameters where recycled paper’s impacts exceeded virgin paper’s were purchased energy and fossil fuel energy, both of which were used in greater amounts in recycling processes because of the lack of self-generated biomass energy used in virgin pulp and paper plants. Total energy used by virgin processes, however, was almost twice the total energy required by recycled paper processes.
While many paper manufacturers and purchasers have made claims about the negative environmental impacts of recycled paper, none have yet produced research that actually refutes the findings of the Paper Task Force. Still, the relative lack of availability of 100% PCW coated papers does mean magazines are hard-pressed to print on them. The options for now include switching to an uncoated or hybrid stock, using an available coated paper with the highest possible PCW content (New Leaf has 60% PCW magazine papers that don’t require a custom order), special ordering large quantities of a made-to-order stock, or looking overseas for paper (which could introduce massive transport-related emissions to a publisher’s carbon footprint, depending on the means of transport and distance traveled). For the long term, the best hope for high PCW-content coated papers is for major paper purchasers to put pressure on their suppliers to up the recycled fibre content of their products.
4.4 Other Paper Strategies
While increasing PCW fibre content and using certified and/or low-carbon paper are the most discussed ways to reduce the climate impacts of publishing, there are other paper-related strategies available too. Backpacker, for instance, reduced the basis weight of its stock (already 10% recycled), thereby lowering its annual paper use by over 150,000 pounds. The magazine also moved all of its regional pages online, a strategy whose complicated impacts will be discussed below. Additional paper-reduction strategies could include optimizing a magazine’s trim size to limit the amount of waste, or reducing the number of pages per issue.
Another aspect of publishing operations with major potential for paper use reduction (or modification) is direct mail marketing. According to Industry Canada, approximately 13 billion pieces of direct mail are delivered in Canada each year —and a significant proportion of that that volume consists of subscriber recruitment and retention pieces sent out by magazine publishers. (In the U.S., advertising mail volumes hit 84.7 billion pieces in 2011.) Direct mail wasn’t specifically examined by any of the magazine publishing studies (though some may have included it in their Publisher emissions category), so it’s impossible to estimate what percentage of publishers’ emissions comes from direct mail.
Given the quantity of paper involved, though, and the high contribution to emissions of biomass removal and paper production, it is reasonable to assume that direct mail sent on virgin paper, if measured, would contribute significantly to publishers’ carbon footprints. Given the continuing belief among marketers that direct mail is an effective —in some views necessary—tool for the magazine industry, it is unlikely that publishers will dispense with it in the near future. However, efforts could certainly be made both to decrease the quantity of virgin fibre used in magazine marketing (through a com-bination of switching to recycled fibre and reducing mail volumes through more efficient campaigns) and to invest in marketing methods not dependent on paper.
4.5 Public Education
A percentage of all papers that could be recycled in North America still end up in a landfill or incinerator. Obviously, publishers are not in a position to oblige their readers to recycle magazines after reading. But, as content creators and branding professionals, they are in a position to effectively encourage eco-friendly behaviour.
Time Inc., for example, has participated in two recycling promotions: ReMIX (REcycling Magazines Is eXcellent)—a public education campaign conducted in New York and four other American cities—and Please Recycle This Magazine, a campaign that includes recycling messages in magazines themselves. Similarly, both Backpacker and Discover published the results of their carbon footprint analyses in their magazines to help readers understand the sources of the magazine’s emissions, and encourage them to reduce the part of the footprint they have control over. Like their American counterparts, Canadian magazines have the opportunity to promote recycling to their readers. One way is to participate in Magazines Canada’s “Read. Share. Recycle” program, which provides member magazines with logos and full-page ads encouraging recycling.
4.6 Reducing Print Runs
Reducing print runs is a strategy that is rarely discussed by magazines looking to reduce their environmental impact, but which could quickly bring about a massive improvement. In 2011, the typical North American magazine averaged a newsstand sell-through rate of 33%. While there are arguments to be made that a sell-through rate approaching 100% would not only be impossible, but also undesirable (it would mean somewhere copies were unavailable where they could have been sold), there is surely a middle ground between 33% and 100% that could maximize newsstand exposure while minimizing the waste inherent in a system in which all unsold magazines are sent straight to the recycling depot. There is a significant opportunity for greater efficiency to be introduced into the magazine supply chain to reduce the quantity of paper waste (and related carbon impacts) it creates.
4.7 Low-Carbon Printing
Just as the carbon impacts of paper manufacturing can be reduced by employing renewable, non-carbon emitting energy sources at pulp and paper mills, the emissions from printing can be reduced with the help of sustainable energy and efficiency measures. Hemlock, for example, has worked with the company Offsetters to document their sources of emissions, reduce them as much as possible, and then purchase offsets to make up for those that can’t be eliminated. In addition, they offer clients the opportunity to offset the emissions caused by their own print jobs. And, as a result of being powered through British Columbia’s electrical grid, their electricity comes primarily from non-emitting hydro power.
4.8 Sustainable Transportation Methods
The transportation of raw materials, paper, and printed magazines are all significant contributors to magazines’ carbon footprints, so switching to lower emitting forms of transportation could significantly reduce publishing carbon footprints. Shipping has been estimated to produce only 5-10% of the emissions of trucking freight the equivalent distance, and rail produces about 15% of road transport’s emissions. Obviously neither of these means of transportation is available for all the transport required for the production and distribution of printed magazines, but it would certainly behoove publishers to inquire about the means of transport used at each stage, give preference to paper manufacturers and printers that make use of transport by ship and rail, and pressure their suppliers to make use of the lower-emitting forms of transport whenever possible.
If it’s not possible for a publisher to influence the way a magazine and its paper travels those larger distances, there are still things that can be done about shorter distances. Hemlock, for instance, started making smaller deliveries within Vancouver by hybrid vehicle shortly before Kouwenhoven was interviewed for this report. Smaller magazines with primarily local distribution could easily encourage their printer to adopt a similar strategy, or even employ a cycle-based delivery system like Vancouver’s Shift Urban Cargo.
4.9 Office and Travel Strategies
Both Backpacker and National Geographic have identified a litany of ways to reduce carbon emissions within their offices and among their staff. After its footprint measure-ment exercise, Backpacker set a goal of converting its headquarters to a “zero-waste facility,” in which all office waste would be either recycled or composted. Since contributor travel was considered a necessary evil of their subject matter, office staff committed to collectively walk, bike or take transit 25,000 miles over the course of 2008. Other changes included adopting energy efficient bulbs, adjusting thermostat settings, switching to 100% recycled office paper and developing a workflow that minimizes paper use. To date, no subsequent updates have been published to indi-cate whether their zero-waste or commuting goals have been reached.
The National Geographic Society as a whole has adopted a number of environmental initiatives at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. Energy savings were found by eliminating unnecessary lighting, installing energy efficient bulbs, putting lights on motion sensor switches, setting thermostats lower in winter and higher in summer, closing the office for ten Fridays every year and shutting down boilers during off hours. Headquarters keeps 60% of its waste out of landfills with extensive composting and recycling programs, and the organization promotes carpools, tele-commuting and public transit commuting among employees. Society staff are encouraged to keep printing to a minimum, and to print on 30% PCW paper if necessary.
Even though office and contributor emissions are typically one of the smaller sources of a magazine carbon footprint, reducing them is often the low-hanging fruit of emissions reduction. There are many small steps that can be taken around an office to reduce its greenhouse gas output. Additionally, if an office is located in an area whose electrical grid doesn’t source power from non-emitting sources, one of the best options is to invest in renewable energy through a program like that offered by Bullfrog Power. This Canadian company produces energy from renewable sources, and customers pay a premium to have the quantity of energy they purchase monthly from their local utility injected into the grid from Bullfrog Power’s generators.
The last major strategy that publishers can consider adopting is purchasing carbon offsets. The reason this strategy should come last is that it is preferable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible before attempting to compensate for what remains. “Reduce” is, after all, the first of the environmentalist’s “three Rs.”
The David Suzuki Foundation defines carbon offsets as “credit for greenhouse gas reductions achieved by one party that can be purchased and used to compensate (offset) the emissions of another party.” Examples include investing in non-emitting energy sources, energy efficiency improvements, and carbon sequestration projects. Backpacker and the National Geographic Society both included ongoing offset purchases among their carbon footprint reduction efforts.
Like Backpacker, Discover claimed to undertake their carbon footprint measurement process as a first step toward making their operations more environmentally friendly. After the study, Discover purchased $4,796 worth of carbon offsets from the organization Carbonfund.org, enough to compensate for the emissions produced by the issue in which the carbon measurement information was published. It is not clear, however, whether Discover has gone on to purchase any additional offsets, or undertake further carbon reduction activities, as they have never published an update to their original report.
One additional factor is worth mentioning regarding Discover’s offset purchase, which funded both renewable energy projects and tree planting. While tree planting in and of itself is valuable, and can certainly contribute to reducing the greenhouse effect, it is problematic as a form of carbon offset. Among the reasons the David Suzuki Foundation does not recommend tree planting as an offset is the fact that tree plantations are not permanent, and their potential to succumb to disease or fire (or logging) means that all the carbon they sequester initially could be emitted into the atmosphere in future. Another is a lack of land—there isn’t enough space for the number of trees needed to compensate for the quantity of greenhouse gases humans will emit in coming years. Most importantly, tree planting does not contribute to reducing humans’ dependence on fossil fuels. By putting offset dollars into projects geared towards reducing fossil fuel use (like all Gold Standard certified offsets), companies can contribute to long-term solutions to the climate change crisis, instead of short-term “band-aid” fixes.
5. CANADIAN CASE STUDIES
Having summarized the research undertaken and carbon reduction strategies adop-ted by a number of American magazines, this report will now focus on actions being taken by Canadian publications. No Canadian publisher to date has invested in a carbon footprint measurement project of its own, but that hasn’t stopped publishers north of the border from taking steps to reduce their contributions to climate change. The following case studies were compiled from a combination of publicly available documents and interviews conducted expressly for this report, and cover carbon footprint reduction strategies adopted by Canadian publishers large and small.
5.1 Alternatives Journal
Canada’s oldest environmentalist magazine, Alternatives Journal was founded in 1971. The publication is a hybrid consumer magazine and scholarly journal published bi-monthly by the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of the Environment. Given its subject matter, environmental practices have always been central to the magazine’s operations. Marcia Ruby, Alternatives’ production co-ordinator, described those practices in a telephone interview.
The magazine has been printed on paper containing recycled content for two decades. Initially, Alternatives applied for and received a grant of $20,000 to help pay for the then-expensive paper. After that first grant, their paper has always contained some recycled content. Since mid-2011, the magazine’s interior has been printed on Cascades’ 100% PCW Rolland Enviro100 Satin sheet, the hybrid paper previously discussed (p.15). The cover is currently printed on an FSC-certified, 30% PCW glossy coated stock. Ruby says she has experimented with cover stock with more recycled content, but has yet to find one that prints images in a way that they still “jump out on the newsstand.”
One of the considerations Ruby says Alternatives has always weighed in its paper choices is where the paper comes from.
There started to be 100% recycled paper available at a price point that we probably could have gone for, but it wasn’t domestic. So then you have to weigh ‘whether ‘tis nobler’ to buy 100% recycled from across the sea, or to buy domestic paper. North America would be the second choice, and the first choice was Canadian… It became really important to me to keep our dollar in Canada.
Another area where Alternatives has tried to make improvements is newsstand waste. In the past the magazine tried to have retailers and distributors send unsold copies to Alternatives’ office rather than recycle them, but Ruby says she hasn’t been able to arrange those kinds of returns since a small American distributor she worked with went out of business. Still, the magazine has been reducing draws where appropriate so that not too many copies are sent straight to recycling. Alternatives has also attempted to limit paper waste by eliminating direct mail campaigns from its promotional activities, but to date has found it impossible to do so without losing subscribers. “Direct mail is still the necessary evil,” says Ruby.
Within the office itself, emissions are reduced through telecommuting (the editor is only present physically two days a week), printing double-sided, walking and biking to work, and purchasing Bullfrog Power. Alternatives also benefits from being part of the Faculty of the Environment, where eco-friendly practices are an institutional priority, taking some of the burden off the magazine staff’s shoulders. “Our office is in a place where it’s somebody else’s business to be handling that,” says Ruby. “We’re in a nice little island.”
Last but not least, the magazine is in the business of teaching people about making their own lives greener. Says Ruby: “I think the very act of us informing people should count for something.”
5.2 The Ark
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) publishes three issues of The Ark each year. The magazine serves as the organization’s newsletter for members, and features lush wildlife photography alongside updates on the NCC’s work. In a telephone interview, editor Christine Beevis shared some of the eco-friendly practices at this conservation-minded publication.
Like Alternatives, The Ark is printed on Cascades’ Rolland Enviro100 Satin, and has been since 2006. The magazine is printed by Warren’s Waterless Printing, which, in addition to its unique waterless technology, uses Bullfrog Power to run its operations, reducing carbon emissions from the printing process. The NCC’s main Ontario office is also Bullfrog powered, as is Beevis’ home, from which she telecommutes some days every week. (Beevis is based in the Nova Scotia office, a donated space, so Bullfrog energy isn’t purchased there.) To reduce the impact of working so far from the NCC’s national headquarters, Beevis has as many meetings as possible through online conference calls, and proofs are sent back and forth as PDFs, rather than printed and couriered. Other simple office practices include double-sided printing, printing on scrap paper, and an active recycling program.
In future, The Ark is considering moving in a more digital direction as a carbon reduction strategy. The NCC’s annual report is already exclusively online. Says Beevis, “The move to digital is really something we’re investigating quite strongly.”
5.3 Corporate Knights
Tagged “the magazine for clean capitalism,” Corporate Knights was founded in 2002, and is distributed quarterly along with copies of The Globe and Mail in Canada, and the Washington Post in the U.S. It is also sold on the newsstand, but single copy sales form only a tiny percentage of the magazine’s circulation. Co-founder, publisher and CEO Toby Heaps discussed the company’s carbon reduction efforts in a telephone interview.
Five years ago, Heaps says Corporate Knights made the decision to “reflect our mission in our medium” by printing on eco-friendly paper. Its cover stock is now one of the ubiquitous-seeming Rolland Enviro100 sheets, and inside pages are printed on an FSC-certified stock manufactured by Catalyst, which claims its manufacturing practices are “carbon neutral” in part thanks investing in reforestation carbon offset programs.
Beyond paper and printing, the magazine also ships its printed copies by train when timing allows (tight timelines occasionally get in the way). Around the office, they’ve reduced heating and cooling energy use (employees wear sweaters in the winter) and installed a bike rack for cyclists (none of the 15 or so staffers drive to work). Corporate Knights also obtains carbon offsets and Bullfrog Power for all events they run. Next up on their eco-checklist: convincing the magazine’s landlord to install solar panels on the roof of their office building, and investing more in digital offerings.
5.4 Cottage Life
Cottage Life has been recognized numerous times for its eco-friendly printing practices, including a pair of Aveda Environmental Printing Awards in 2007 and 2009. The magazine is printed on FSC-certified Ancient Forest Friendly paper produced by Leipa in Germany, which contains between 85% and 100% PCW fibre for inside pages, and 30% PCW fibre for the cover.
Beyond making low-carbon paper choices, the magazine has lowered office and staff emissions through a number of emission-reduction practices, including: programmable thermostats; secure bike lock-up and showers for cyclists; compact fluorescent lightbulbs; double-sided printing; and replacing paper filing with digital filing. The magazine also promotes its (and others’) environmental endeavours by giving out an annual Environment Grant and spreading the word on a web page called “Cottage Life Helps Out.”
5.5 Rogers Publishing
In 2007, Canada’s largest magazine publisher, Rogers Publishing, created a Magazine Paper Procurement Policy, which can be viewed on the company’s website. The publisher behind Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Today’s Parent, and MoneySense (among many others) committed to purchasing all its paper from suppliers with chain-of-custody certification from CSA, SFI or FSC—with preference for FSC-certified papers if possible. Rogers also claimed it would “strive” to increase the average PCW content of its magazine papers from 10% to 15% by 2009. In addition, the company said it would “aim to reduce paper waste, promote paper recycling, promote manufacturing advances in fibre efficiency, and where possible, use lighter weight paper.” Despite a stated goal of annually reviewing the policy and providing updates, none have been published since the policy was posted online in 2007, so it is unclear how successful Rogers has been in its carbon reduction efforts.
5.6 St. Joseph Communications
St. Joseph is both a publisher of magazines in its own right—including Toronto Life, Quill & Quire, and Fashion—and operates printing facilities where other magazines are printed. St. Joseph Print’s facilities are all CoC certified by FSC, PEFC and SFI. In 2005, the company switched to printing Quill & Quire on an Ancient Forest Friendly stock, and the company’s website mentions an “Ancient Forest Friendly Stew-ardship Policy” adopted in 2006, though the text of the policy does not appear to be posted online. St. Joseph is also heavily involved in tree-planting, having collaborated since 1990 with Scouts Canada on the Partners in Growth reforestation project, and encouraging staff to get in on the action with designated volunteering days.
The B.C. Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) publishes a member “newsmagazine” seven times a year called Teacher. Along with fellow case study subjects Corporate Knights and The Ark, the BCTF is a member of Green America’s Better Paper Project, which encourages magazines to print on environmentally friendly papers by promoting them to consumers as environmental leaders. In a telephone interview, Donna Coulombe, who works in the BCTF’s executive office, provided information about the carbon cutting efforts involved in publishing Teacher.
The magazine has been printed on BPM’s 100% PCW uncoated Envirographic 100 paper since 2009. In recent years, they have also reduced their run from 442,000 copies to 402,000 copies per issue, a significant reduction in both paper use and printer emissions. The magazine is printed by Mitchell Press, which outlines a number of carbon reduction measures on its website, including: using warmth generated by industrial processes to heat the plant, high efficiency lighting on motion sensors, cooling presses with water cooled by ambient air temperature in rooftop units, and a significant recycling program. Coulombe says the organization is considering encouraging more teachers to access the magazine digitally (it’s posted online in PDF and HTML formats) in the future.
Like Alternatives, Teacher benefits from being published by a larger organization with strong environmental initiatives. The BCTF has an internal Green Work Group that examines practices throughout the union’s headquarters. Major initiatives include office composting and recycling endeavours that reduced landfill waste generated by employees by 67% between 2008 and 2009. Staff are encouraged to recycle and compost by having only very small trash bins by their desks that they are required to empty themselves. Staff receive subsidized transit passes, and carpoolers have designated stalls in the otherwise limited parking garage. Efficient light bulbs have been installed, and office lights shut down at 6 p.m. In addition to its own internal strategies, the BCTF makes significant contributions to the environmental charity Evergreen, whose school-ground greening projects—though not technically a carbon offset—contribute to environmental education for children. The donation, says Coulombe, is “in keeping more with the BCTF’s objectives” than a typical carbon offset.
Like St. Joseph Communications, Transcontinental is an integrated printing and publishing operation, putting out its own magazines—including Canadian Living, Elle Canada, and The Hockey News—and providing printing services to other publishers, including Rogers. In 2009, Transcontinental published a white paper titled Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Magazines, which summarized some existing research and provided guidance for publishers, as well as touting some of the com-pany’s own carbon reduction practices. Those measures included: FSC, SFI and PEFC certification of their printing facilities, digital workflows to eliminate paper waste from the proofing process and “paper purchasing policies that promote the use of environmentally preferable papers.”
Additionally, the company has an environmental policy that it proudly points out was developed as early as 1993, and overall makes public significantly more information about its environmental policies and practices than other major publishers. The environmental policy, paper purchasing policy (introduced in 2007), internally developed classification of environmental papers and sustainability reports for the years 2009 through 2011 are all available for download on the company’s site. The Environmental Policy itself is vague, identifying intentions rather than clearly defined and measurable goals. The items in the policy that would contribute to carbon reduction are: cooperating with other organizations to increase recovery and recycling of Transcontinental’s products, using energy and resources more efficiently, encouraging “the use of papers with maximized post consumer and deinked recycled fibre and maximized agricultural residue fibre,” giving preference to certified sources when virgin fibre is purchased, and seeking to transition to low carbon and renewable energy sources.
The company’s paper purchasing policy echoes the statement quoted above, and adds the intention to avoid paper from “high conservation value” forests, and provides a definition of the qualities that identify those forests. Like the environmental policy, the paper purchasing policy avoids quantitative goals or measurable targets. Transcontinental’s internally developed environmental paper classification system does, however, include specific percentages for things like the quantity of PCW or certified virgin fibre required for each of the five classes of environmental paper defined within it.
It is in Transcontinental’s annual sustainability reports (first published in 2009) that quantitative goals set by the company are identified, and progress measured. For instance, in 2011 Transcontinental met the goals it had set for 2012, to increase the use of paper it defines as Gold Plus and Gold (containing high percentages of PCW, recycled, certified and agricultural waste fibres) to 55%, and reduce the quantity of Bronze papers to 10%. (This latter goal was actually surpassed; Bronze purchases were reduced to 6%.) Other goals include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption at printing and office facilities. In order to reduce energy use, Transcontinental has created a fund dedicated to energy efficiency pro-jects that its various business units can apply to. The report highlights a handful of projects that contributed to the company’s overall 20% reduction in energy consumption since 2008.
Other actions identified in the sustainability report include supporting the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement and the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements, establishing a Sustainable Development Steering Committee involving representatives from all sectors of the company, and introducing an energy policy (which, unlike their other sustainability documents, is not available online).
5.9 The Watershed Sentinel
Founded in 1980, The Watershed Sentinel is an environmentally minded magazine published six times a year out of Comox, B.C. At the time that editor and publisher Delores Broten was interviewed for this report, the magazine was trying to cope with the recent closure of their paper supplier, Grays Harbor, and searching for a new stock to replace the chlorine-free 100% PCW paper they had been printing on for many years.
Because The Watershed Sentinel is a very small operation, its non-paper and printing emissions are negligible. The magazine is published out of a home office, so Broten has no commute, and all office appliances are plugged into power bars, so it’s easy to avoid unnecessary energy usage. The magazine has tried to move as much as possible of its interaction with subscribers online, and now only sends renewal notices by mail if subscribers request it specifically. Broten also expressed an interest in moving more content online as a way of reducing paper use. And last, but not least, The Watershed Sentinel, like the other environmental publications profiled, uses its platform to educate consumers about their own environmental impacts.
6. THE FUTURE
Magazine publishers already have options available to them if they are interested in reducing their carbon footprints, as evidenced by the many strategies employed by the publishers profiled above. Not all of these options—printing on 100% PCW coated paper, for instance—are as readily available as they ought to be, however. And other solutions, like moving content from print to digital formats, are more complex than they may first appear. There is definitely room for improvement in the future, both in terms of the availability of environmentally friendly papers suitable for magazine printing, and our understanding of the environmental impacts of digital publishing.
6.1 Availability of Eco-Paper
While the case studies show the multitude of small ways magazine publishers can reduce their carbon footprints, the only way to make a major dent in the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions is to significantly increase the percentage of PCW fibre in the paper magazines are printed on, and to purchase those papers from mills using non-emitting sources of energy in their manufacturing processes—i.e. energy from hydro power, biogas, wind, solar and geothermal energy. Unfortunately, the availability of these kinds of papers is not something magazine publishers—particularly small ones—have any control over.
It is true that a number of smaller magazines (including some profiled in this report) have switched to papers with high percentages of PCW content, so it is not impossible to do in the current market. However, most of those magazines are printing on either uncoated or “hybrid” stock like Cascades’ Enviro100, an option most publishers will probably not be willing to consider (evidenced by the overwhelming percentage of magazines printed on coated paper). It is also easier for smaller magazines to switch to papers that are available in limited quantities (like New Leaf’s made-to-order coated stocks), because they require much smaller quantities of paper than large, multi-title publishers. Major players in the magazine industry need to know that a given paper is available in large volumes whenever they choose to print before they will consider adopting it. For that same reason, it is unreasonable to expect most companies to follow in Cottage Life’s footsteps and order their paper from overseas. The odds of the paper being at sea when it needs to be on press are just too high. For a significant number of Candian magazines to switch to paper with a significant proportion of PCW fibre, it will need to be manufactured in large quantities, and on North American soil.
Individual publishers might not be able to influence the multi-billion-dollar paper industry to make such a change, but there is the possibility that large-scale cooperation between publishers could prove fruitful. If magazine publishers—potentially organized by an industry group like Magazines Canada—pledged to seek out papers with higher PCW content immediately, rather than waiting to see what the paper industry chose to provide, they might inspire manufacturers to develop higher PCW-content magazine papers sooner rather than later.
Equally, magazine publishers could potentially band together with other major paper purchasers (book and newspaper publishers, printers, office supply companies) to apply pressure to mills to seek out non-emitting sources of energy. Coast Paper specification representative Brenda Cofield pointed out in an interview that the vast majority of paper mills in North America are over a century old: “Paper mills are really, really old. They’re not something that just pops up and you have them the length of a cell phone,” says Cofield. “The majority of all paper mills that we represent would be well over 100 years old. Many of them would be going back to about the 1880s-1890s.” As long as the industry can get away with using century-old technology without losing business, there is no incentive to upgrade to energy efficient equipment optimized for PCW fibre and run using non-emitting energy. The technology already exists, and if major paper purchasers demand it, suppliers will find it difficult not to update their operations.
6.2 The Digital Question
A number of the publications discussed in this report, from Backpacker and Corporate Knights to The Ark and Watershed Sentinel, identified offering magazine content digitally (whether online, on mobile devices, or both) as a way of lessening their environmental impact. In a very simple way, it is true that if a publisher replaces a paper copy of a magazine with a digital equivalent, the publisher eliminates the emissions that would have been generated by creating that paper copy. But, for digital publishing to be a truly environmental choice, it would also have to be true that the emissions released by producing, distributing, and reading the magazine digitally were less than what would be emitted to produce, distribute, and read the paper copy. Otherwise, switching from print to digital is simply off-loading part of the magazine’s emissions from the publisher to the reader.
Over the last 11 years, a handful of studies have compared the environmental effects of digital and print reading. While the overall trend identified among the studies is that digital reading is less harmful to the environment than reading from paper, there are some significant caveats to those findings. An additional caveat is that none of these studies focused specifically on magazines. Newspapers, books, telephone directories and scholarly journals have all been examined, but each presents a slightly different reading scenario from a magazine, and the differences tend to be in the areas that matter most when it comes to emissions. A third caveat is that it is not clear from any of these studies whether biomass removal was factored into the measurement of the emissions resulting from reading on paper. If it was omitted (which seems likely given how frequently that has happened in other publishing studies), then the carbon impacts of reading from paper would have been significantly underestimated in all of these studies.
The first such study was conducted by Hischier and Reichart in 2001. They examined a number of “digital vs. print” scenarios, including the aforementioned telephone directory. The part of their study most relevant to this report examined newspaper reading. They compared both the environmental impact of reading a single article, and of the larger activity of getting the daily news from a physical newspaper, television, or an online newspaper. The study found that reading online caused fewer greenhouse gas emissions than reading printed material if it was “not very time-consuming.”
Once reading online reached a duration of 20 minutes, it produced the same quantity of emissions as reading from paper. Any additional reading beyond the 20-minute mark would have increased the emissions above those generated by print. It should also be noted that these findings were based on the power mix in Switzerland’s electrical grid, which is primarily hydro (like Canada’s). If the study had been conducted in the U.S.—where almost 70% of electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels—the results would have favoured paper even earlier. Given that magazine readers average 42 minutes with each issue, a similar study looking at magazine reading might have come down in favour of print.
A study by Gard and Keolian in 2003 looking at academic journals reached a conclusion complementary to Hischier and Reichart’s. Journals are different from consumer magazines in that their subscribers tend to be institutions rather than individuals, and they are generally accessed by multiple members of those institutions. That said, the overall finding was that the traditional paper format was more environmentally costly for “low-traffic” journals, while sticking to print resulted in environmental benefits for popular journals. Again, if a work was read at length (or by a high number of readers), it was more environmentally sound for it to remain in print than switch to digital. It follows that publishing in print form is probably a benefit for magazines with high numbers of readers per copy.
The next two studies both came down unequivocally on the side of digital reading, however. Kozak compared a 40-volume academic library to its digital equivalent. This scenario is so different in both size and usage from a magazine or even an entire subscription, however, that it seems unwise to extend those findings to the magazine industry. And Toffel and Horvath’s comparison of receiving daily copies of the New York Times for a year with reading New York Times articles on a personal digital assistant (PDA) for an hour every day is again comparing a quantity of paper so much more vast than would ever be generated by a magazine subscription that extrapolating from it to magazine reading would be difficult to justify.
The most recent examinations of this issue have all been led by Åsa Moberg, who has compared print reading and e-reading in a number of studies. Her 2007 paper identified the major sources of emissions for three kinds of newspaper reading: print, online and on a dedicated e-reader. For print, as we have already seen, the major source is paper. Online reading generates the bulk of its emissions through the power used by the computer. Once again, when online reading reached a duration of 30 minutes or longer, it generated impacts in the same range as the printed newspaper.
Using a dedicated e-reader—with its significant reduction in power usage relative to a computer—generated most of its emissions from the production of the device itself. Despite e-readers’ lower energy requirements, their use for magazine reading does not guarantee a lower environmental impact than paper. Because the major source of emissions resulting from e-readers is their manufacturing, moving a magazine from print to a version optimized for an e-reader is only an environmental advantage if the reader is getting the most from their device—i.e. they are using it for purposes beyond magazine reading, and keeping the device for a number of years before replacing it.
In her 2011 study comparing paper and e-books, Moberg writes that in order for it to be an environmentally preferable choice,
an e-book reader should be used frequently, the lifetime of the device should be prolonged, as far as possible, and when not in use anymore, the device should be disposed of in a proper way, making material recycling possible. In addition, the production of the e-reader should be energy efficient and striving towards minimization of toxic and rare substances.
The question of toxic and rare substances in e-readers, while not directly related to carbon emissions, is certainly an important one to consider. Rare metals used in electronic devices are often sourced from—and the source of conflict in—war-ravaged areas like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One other key issue Moberg highlights is that, because e-reader devices are made in China, their manufacture is generally powered by coal—which contributes 72% of the Chinese power grid. So if publishers make a point of seeking out paper manufactured with non-emitting renewable energy, they could significantly reduce the relative emissions of print compared to e-reading.
Given the possibility that biomass removal was omitted from some or all of these studies, their findings must be taken with at least a grain of salt. That said, they are also the only research currently published on the subject, and there are certainly lessons that can be learned from them. To begin with, the relative emissions of paper and digital reading depend on a number of factors. The first is the source of the energy used to power any digital device. Readers in areas powered by fossil fuels may be better off reading from paper (as long as it wasn’t also manufactured using fossil fuels). The second is duration of reading. The longer spent reading a particular publication, the fewer relative emissions caused by the print version. The third is sharing—a magazine that is often passed hand-to-hand may be preferable in print form, environmentally speaking. And the fourth is appropriate use and disposal of e-reading devices. Used properly, these devices can certainly reduce the carbon footprint of magazine reading, but if their owners get caught up in the cycle of planned obsolescence and replace their device whenever a new one comes on the market, they could instead cause significant greenhouse gas emissions. “Digital comes with a price too,” says Alternatives’ Ruby.
What should magazine publishers do, then, in response to the existing research? First they should inform themselves and understand the studies that have been done, rather than assume that “digital equals green.” Next, they should strive to inform their audience. Instead of simply making both print and digital versions available to subscribers, they could educate readers that casual digital reading is preferable to casual print reading, but for reading a magazine cover to cover and passing it between many readers, print may be preferable. Furthermore, in the same way they encourage print readers to recycle their magazines, publishers should encourage digital readers to use and dispose of their devices appropriately in order to minimize their environmental impact.
Another useful step would be for a group of publishers—again perhaps through an organization like Magazines Canada—to commission a study explicitly comparing the life cycle of a printed magazine to its digital equivalent, rather than being forced to draw on research conducted on newspapers, books and scholarly journals. Such a study ought, of course, to include the removal of biomass in any calculations relating to print-related emissions in order to ensure that all significant sources are accounted for. Last, publishers should—as this entire paper has argued—seek out the lowest emitting papers available, so that the discrepancy between print and e-reading is further reduced.
6.3 Cradle to Cradle Certification
One other approach to sustainable development is worth briefly mentioning as a potential future help to publishers wishing to reduce their carbon footprints. The Cradle to Cradle (C2C) framework has been developed over the last two decades by architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart and their consulting firm MBDC. Intended to recognize manufacturers for “using safe materials that can be disassembled and recycled as technical nutrients or composted and absorbed as biological nutrients,” C2C certification is now conducted by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, and assesses five criteria: material health, material reutilization, energy, water, and social responsibility. The parameters for assessing each of these criteria are compatible with other established standards, including the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and FSC guidelines.
To date, only one paper product has been C2C certified, a 100% recycled office paper whose Dutch manufacturer provides it to the same companies whose waste paper was used to make it. Clearly, there is enormous potential for paper manufacturers to pursue this holistic level of sustainability. Another publishing-related realm that would benefit greatly from C2C principles is the manufacturing of electronics, notably those used for reading. The environmental implications of the paper vs. digital discussion would be significantly altered if any e-reader manufacturer pursued Cradle to Cradle design. As it stands, no electronic device has achieved C2C certification yet.
Thanks to the studies conducted by American publishers and publishing organizations, Canadian magazines are in a good position to understand the nature of their carbon footprints and take actions to reduce them. Unfortunately, the largest area for improvement lies in the hands of another industry entirely: the paper industry. Individual publishers may not be able to pressure their paper manufacturers to adopt lower-carbon fibre and energy sources, but by banding together (and possibly joining forces with other major paper buyers), they certainly have the potential to influence their suppliers. In addition, because of their role as trusted purveyors of information to the public, Canadian magazine publishers have a platform from which they can educate consumers about these issues and engage them in a campaign for lower carbon papers.
As can be seen from the case studies, there are many ways that publishers large and small can immediately reduce in their carbon footprints, even if they can’t afford to measure those reductions. It is important, however, that industry players make a point of understanding the science of magazine carbon footprints clearly, or working with those who do, so that apparent solutions—like going digital, investing heavily in tree planting, and purchasing paper manufactured with biomass energy—aren’t adopted without a complete grasp of the ways in which they do, and don’t, contribute to a reduction in greenhouse emissions.
103 Delores Broten (editor and publisher, The Watershed Sentinel), in discussion with the author, November 2, 2011. RETURN
104 Brenda Cofield (specification representative, Coast Paper), in discussion with the author, February 21, 2012, in Vancouver, British Columbia. RETURN
105 Hischier and Reichart, “Multifunctional Electronic Media,” 2003, 397. RETURN
106 U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Net Generation by Energy Source,” 2012. RETURN
107 Magazines Canada, Put Magazines to Work for You 2011, 2011, 10. RETURN
108 Gard and Keoleian, “Digital versus Print,” 2003, 129. RETURN
109 Kozak, Printed Scholarly Books and E-book Reading Devices, 2003, ii. RETURN
110 Toffel and Horvath, “Environmental Implications of Wireless Technologies,” 2004. RETURN
111 Moberg et al., Screening Environmental Life Cycle Assessment, 2007, 6. RETURN
112 Moberg et al., “Books from an environmental perspective,” 2011, 238. RETURN
113 Moberg et al., Screening Environmental Life Cycle Assessment, 2007, 93. RETURN
114 Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, “Program Details,” 2012. RETURN
Books and Articles
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