Embracing the Digital: Creating the Oyez Review eBook, Part One

A lot of people have asked about how Oyez Review went about creating its eBook edition. Who did we use as a vendor? What software did we use? How much did it cost?

This post is the first in a two-part series to explain both our motivation and vision for producing a digital copy of the magazine and a venue for talking shop, exploring the details, the frustrations, and the triumphs of the process.

In all honesty, the push for an Oyez Review eBook was the result of a precocious first-year graduate student blurting out the idea on the second week of class.

Yep. I was that guy, walking into a new magazine and basically suggesting a digital strategy where one had previously not existed. Four months later, just as the issue we’d spent all semester putting together was rolling off the press, I was carrying around a digital copy on my iPad, pinching and zooming at the cover art, showing anyone and everyone that would take a look.

Why eBooks—A Reader’s Perspective

In September 2011, there were next to no literary magazines available as an eBook. Coming into Oyez Review and hearing about our ambitions at landing a national distribution deal (which we’re still working on), it made perfect sense to me that an eBook sold via the Nook store, the Kindle store, and the iBookstore was a great way to get in front of readers without the difficult journey of winning a distributor (which we’d still love, to be honest).

We debuted the Oyez eBook at AWP 2012 with Volume 39. For Oyez, it was a step in representing our commitment to seeing the work we publish gaining the widest audience possible while upholding our high standards for quality. While not every aspect of the print edition of a book should be recreated in a digital edition, we were very careful to keep the experience as close as possible.

That care and attention is more than just making sure our branding carries over. It’s too easy to talk about the “reading experience” in this field—including opening that inane, uninformed argument about whether or not print is superior to digital that I’ve covered elsewhere. For Oyez, the reading experience of our eBooks is perhaps even more carefully considered than when we design our print issue. That’s no small feat, I assure you.

We really aim to make the reading experience of a digital copy of Oyez Review as simple and delightful as possible. By offering a digital option, we’re already taking a very portable book and allowing you to take it anywhere. Later this fall, it’ll be able to go even more places as we launch a Kindle version and become available on the iBookstore.

Part of that aim to delight is by empowering users to really get in and experience the great artwork we’ve selected for each issue. Many modern eReaders will let you tap and pinch to zoom in on the pieces by our featured artists, letting you experience Chuck Jones’ fantastic artwork like never before. That’s, of course, in addition to the standard eReading features like highlights and annotations, sharing quotes of your favorite pieces with friends, etc.

Starting with Volume 40, we started targeting the EPUB3 spec for eBooks. To save a lot of very technical jargon I’ll cover in another blog, it’s basically an invisible update to what eBooks can do. With EPUB3, publishers can include video and audio into their eBooks and introduce better typographical elements (including drop caps). For us, though, one of the EPUB3 aspects that was a must was the increase in accessibility for the visually impaired.

With the print version of Oyez, we can’t really do anything to help visually-impaired readers. We don’t produce a Braille or large print edition, but with eBooks, our audience can adjust the font, font size, and, on the iPad and some other eReaders, even enable a text-to-speech function that reads the issue aloud. In recent years, a lot of publishers have been disabling text-to-speech out of fear that it cuts into audiobook sales. From our perspective, that’s mean. We also don’t have an audiobook, so maybe it’s more a matter of disinterest as a staff—I personally think it’s mean.

Another thing we don’t do out of respect for our readers is lock the digital version of Oyez down with digital rights management (DRM) software. DRM does a number of bad things. It can restrict how many and what kind of devices you can read the eBook you’ve purchased on, it can limit the number of times you can download the eBook you purchased, and it can even lock you out of your book if your credit card expires. We dislike all of those scenarios, so where we can, we don’t offer eBooks with DRM enabled.

Why eBooks—An Editor’s Perspective

Personally, completing the first digital copy of Oyez Review was an accomplishment almost two years in the making. I’ll cover why it took that long in the more technical part of this series, particularly because it pre-dates my involvement with Oyez.

eBooks present fantastic opportunities for literary journals of any size. Since 2011, eBook readership has seen considerable growth. Just this week, USA Today reported some very interesting figures on digital readership, finding that eReader ownership has grown by 14 percent since 2011, while tablet ownership has grown by 22 percent. Whether bundled with a print reader’s subscription, a companion to the print edition, or a venue for special issues, they have the potential to grow audience, to branch out, and also address potential economic concerns.

Let’s face it, editors that are abreast of the literary journal marketplace are no strangers to stories of venerable journals folding due to lack of funding. It happens. As many of us are tied to universities, we’re frequently affected in some way when financial instability hits home.

Stripping the glamor and great intentions behind an eBook out, it’s also a viable option for journals that are faced with a slashed print run or complete liquidation. Since Oyez Review is put together as part of a graduate course, we’re able to put together our digital edition without needing a budget. Many of the tools used for print production, namely Adobe InDesign, can also be used in the process, effectively meaning that there’s even less overhead than might be expected.

A Commitment to Content

“Only publish what you’re in love with.” It’s a piece of advice given to me earlier in my editorial career by three great mentors, and it’s something I frequently say to other Oyez Review editors. It’s meant to refer to editorial discussions and taste, but that same commitment should follow into production as well.

Respect the piece by treating it properly. We believe in following the same stringent quality controls we apply to our print issue in our digital issue. In the end, text is text, and the text we’ve chosen to represent and share with the world is as important to us as it is to our authors. So whether you’re reading a print or eBook copy of Oyez Review, we want it to live up to our name.

Check back later this week for part two in our eBook series, where I put my nerd hat on and get physical—er, I mean, technical. More code, less Olivia Newton-John.


About zachtarvin

Zach Tarvin is an editor, writer, occasional designer, and all-around techie based in Chicago. He's currently an MFA-candidate at Roosevelt University where he is the editor of Oyez Review.
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