Conversation with alumna and instructor Amanda Gomm

Amanda Gomm graduated from the book publishing program in 2011. Since then, she’s started her own ebook press, Digital Bindery, and started helping Ooligan students learn digital languages and the process of converting print books to ebooks as an instructor in the program. This spring Amanda was kind enough to share some of her insights into the world of ebooks and ereaders and talk about how her time in Ooligan Press has influenced her career.


How did you first become involved in e-books?

I got involved with the Digital Content department before I had started the program. It was a lot of fun and combined a bunch of things I knew how to do into a nice package of nerdy bookness. Tom McCluskey (another Ooligan grad) and I were always discussing the tragic state of ebooks during class, and one day we decided that we should do something about it. We started Digital Bindery right before I graduated from the program.

How did your time in Ooligan help prepare you for your current work?

My experience at Ooligan Press helped prepare me for the broad requirements of digital publishing. It taught me the vocabulary I needed to communicate effectively with publishers who are still unsure about this newfangled ebook thing. Digital publishing also requires an understanding of editing, design, production, marketing, and management strategies. Being able to work with all of the departments at Ooligan gave me the foundation I needed to translate all of that to the digital platform.

What was your favorite class or project that you worked on in Ooligan?

My favorite class was Intro to Publishing. I took it during the summer with Dennis Stovall. I wasn’t in the program yet so this was my first real glimpse into what publishing was all about. The class was inspiring and convinced me that this was the direction I wanted to go. I still wear the shirt we made for our fictitious publishing house—The Beat Press.

One question many people ask, and have been asking for a while now, is whether or not ebooks will replace printed texts or simply exist as supplemental components to their printed counterparts. What are your thoughts on the question?

I think we’ll eventually get to the point that printed books are the supplemental counterpart to the digital book. A quick survey of what’s happening in educational, academic, and technical publishing illustrates that print books are no longer enough. Technology, current events, discoveries, and rapid changes in the way we communicate make the printed book at high risk for obsolescence before it gets into the hands of readers. Print books will always have a place where readers read for pleasure or [where] the book is art in itself, but that’s only a fraction of why people read. When it comes to reading for information, where do you go first? A book or the internet? The internet is quick, easy, and current. If an ebook can be that in addition to being a credible, curated resource, it will trump a printed book (and Wikipedia) every time.

Michael Shatzkin, author of the Shatzkin Files blog, argues that the limited discoverability associated with ereaders is one of the primary reasons bestsellers remain ebook bestsellers. Do you have any thoughts on how discoverability might evolve or what the next step could be to help optimize the variety of choices for consumers and provide the diversity this technology seemed to initially promise?

Discoverability has always been an issue for books. In the current landscape, the only reason ebooks would be any more discoverable than a print book is because they’re easier to distribute. Ebook retailers tend to function in very traditional ways, leaning on the old brick-and-mortar model of bookselling. Ebook retailers with their own ereading platform have been experimenting with in-book social experiences for years but these have been pretty clunky, underused, and distracting. So far all of the best discoverability tools made possible by changing technologies are also available for print books. Therefore, best sellers are best sellers regardless of format.

Ebooks have provided massive diversity in the book market already. We are flooded with new titles to read; the problem now is sifting through the noise. Recommendation algorithms and social recommendation sites are where we will see discoverability focus for the next few years. This fits with how our media consumption habits are changing. We are happy to take recommendations as long as they are tailored to our specific wants and needs.

What are some of the main misconceptions people have about ebooks that you encounter in your work at Digital Bindery?

I work with publishers, so we avoid a lot of the misconceptions readers have about ebooks (like that ebooks are free to make). When I work with a publisher for the first time, there’s always an educational process where we explain the differences in designing for digital, limitations of the reflowable format, and different retailer requirements. Occasionally we run into a publisher that has to be convinced to thoroughly proof the ebooks, but as ebooks have become more legitimized as “real” books this has happened less and less frequently.

What, in your opinion, are the best ereaders and why? Or is it really a matter of individual preferences?

The best ereader is mostly a matter of personal preference. eInk versus LCD displays, the weight and size of the device, amount you’re willing to spend, where you choose to purchase your ebooks, whether you want a dedicated or multifunctional device—these things have no right or wrong answers. As far as fidelity to the digital design, there are some that are better than others, but they’re all developing very rapidly. Kobo ereaders are the most interesting to me at the moment. They come in the largest variety of sizes and displays and they support independent bookstores.

As a consumer, if I have a choice of where to purchase an ebook, I will always look for a retailer that offers the book DRM free. I don’t intend to violate copyright, but I will read it on my computer, my phone, my tablet, and my eInk device and I don’t want to have to commit to one reading app or brand of ereader. An ebook that has DRM will be associated with the account I used to download it and I cannot transfer the file around and read it when and where I want to.

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