Sundman: Friedlander on the Future of Publishing

POSTED ON Oct 28, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Wetmachine, a “group blog on telecom policy, software, science, technology, and writing” is the online home of author John Sundman. John has self-published his novels for 11 years.

Recently he inaugurated what he calls “a continuing series of interviews with movers & shakers in the rapidly changing world of publishing.” Previous interviewees were Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest, and Mark Coker of Smashwords.

I was really pleased when John asked me to do an interview, and took the opportunity to expand at some length on his questions, most of which centered around the future of print books and ebooks. And who isn’t interested in ebooks these days?

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the interview. To read the whole thing, see the link at the end of the article.

Q: Your website is called The Book Designer, and yet you blog about electronic publishing, in which authors/publishers have less and less to say about the design of their books, because the target delivery device is not defined. A cell phone is not the same thing as a large computer screen or a kindle, any yet your ebook may end up on any of them. What does it mean to “design” a book these days, when the concept of “book” is so fluid and the variety of reading devices so great?

As I write this, printed book still far outnumber ebooks, and books that are published only in e-formats are rare. Most ebooks start off as print books, so book designers are still busy.

Ebooks are growing and everyone knows that the move to electronic delivery of text is unstoppable. Economic pressures are also pushing this transition

The problems that designers face with ebooks are primarily a result of the primitive nature of the tools available to us to create the files that will be read on these devices. I’m mostly a print guy, and have no particular expertise in EPUB or other ebook formats, but it’s obvious that better software standards and better interpreters on the hardware end will make a huge difference about how we can design these books.

Even now there’s a big difference between ebooks that are produced without much thought, or through automated processing engines, and ebooks that are crafted by knowledgeable and attentive designers. Just look at Elizabeth Castro’s EPUB Straight to the Point for a well-designed ebook built for EPUB format. The best of the translations from print to ebook display their origin in print typography while still being flowable and readable on various screen sizes.

The EPUB version that Joshua Tallent created for my client Lisa Alpine is a good example, where the artwork used in chapter openings was carefully preserved and really does a good job of translating the print design into electronic form.

So the short answer to your question, John, is that while we have entered a dark age for design on ebook formats, it looks like there’s a light up ahead.

To read the entire interview, go to John Sundman’s Wetmachine blog. Here’s the link:

Book designer and self-publishing guru Joel Friedlander talks with Wetmachine about the future of publishing

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by edvvc,

Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander

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