The APE Dissertation Prize, supported by the Publisher's Training Centre (PTC) was awarded at the London Book Fair by the Association for Publishing Education. It is open to universities teaching publishing and judged by a panel of professionals working in the publishing industry. I was one of the judges and wanted to interview the winners and showcase their projects and abilities.
Nigel Graves studied at Anglia Ruskin University and won the prize for best MA dissertation.
What was your project on?
My dissertation, titled Complex e-book Production, was an examination of the processes involved in producing complex content in various e-book formats and an evaluation of the ereader devices that are designed to display this content. The term Complex content refers to content that is typographically complex as well as books that have complex non-linear structures and integral systems to help readers navigate that content (e.g. tables of contents and indexes). The aim of the dissertation was to ascertain what an e-book can offer users of complex content that either a printed book or a website can’t and how easy or diffcult it can be to produce such a product. It also presented the views of both complex ebook users and producers.
The dissertation concluded that there is a future for the complex ebook but only if publishers and producers make full use of all the features that the EPUB3 format is capable of.
Why choose that topic?
During a work experience placement in the Academic Production department of Cambridge University Press I noticed a number of quality assurance (QA) issues that CUP were having with the refowable content of certain academic ebook titles. Through the QA testing of ebooks I was working on, I became aware of the limitations of the ebook formats currently favoured by the market as well as the devices that are designed to display these ebooks. This insight into complex e-book production was the foundation for the dissertation and enabled me to identify suitable participants for the primary research.
Were there key things you researched that were more challenging than others?
It is diffcult to say whether the designed methodology of my dissertation was as effective in practice as intended owing to the failure of certain participants to respond to their questionnaires within the agreed time. As a result, it was not possible to fully explore the topic of complex digital content from a non-academic point of view – for example, illustrated children’s books, comic books, atlases, and other consumer reference books.
Did you find anything that surprised you?
The evidence gathered both from the recent studies and the original contribution of my study’s participants suggested that whereas there is a great deal of functionality and versatility to be found in the refowable EPUB, there is a certain tolerance of the sub-standard functionality of certain mobile devices – particularly EPD readers. Whether or not this is because parts of the industry are now resigned to the obsolescence of the EPD reader is a matter of speculation, but what was apparent was that for the time being students seem happy enough to at least access complex e-book and journal content – even in PDF formats – as it stands on their PCs and laptops.
Where and how do you see you career progressing?
As it happens, about two days after I found out about winning the APE prize I was offered a job by Cambridge University Press in their academic production department as an assistant digital production controller. I am currently working on various academic online publishing projects for the press ensuring that both front and backlist book content is properly converted for the new web-based platforms. I am very happy to be back in the same department where the story of my dissertation began.
Victoria Love, also from Anglia Ruskin University won the best project award and also the overall prize for her publishing students blog Blurbify.
What was the topic? Why did you choose it?
The concept of Blurbify came from an amalgamation of ideas and experiences, from my previous work on CambridgeSchoolofArt.com and the struggles of undergraduates in finding employment without demonstrative experience. I learnt for myself that experience is key in clinching those all-important entry roles post-graduation and wanted to afford an opportunity to other students.
From the first day of the MA Publishing course at Anglia Ruskin University, students are encouraged to engage with publishing industry by blogging and responding to current industry news and issues, connecting on social media, as well as delivering a weekly, in-class ‘newsflash’. This helped foster the idea for a collective blogging platform that would benefit both the students and Anglia Ruskin University. This also blended well with my previous experience in web design and an interest in digital publishing.
How could this benefit the publishing industry?
Many publishers already use social media to engage directly with their consumers, but in a world where I would like to see publishing move further towards a B2C model, the opportunities for direct interaction are increasingly beneficial and expected; corporate blogging provides another, more expansive channel for publishers to communicate directly with end users.
My research concluded that corporate blogging is a powerful tool, especially when content originates from employees; personal and informal promotion engages better in its subtlety than communication from a faceless, formal entity.
Publishing products, no matter the format, directly enrich lives through leisure and education. This personal connection is a publisher’s natural strength. By using the mutual interests of employees and consumers, and a blend of formal and informal content, publishers can foster a consumer-centric relationship, strengthen their brand’s position and increase engagement with the company.
As part of MA Publishing course at Anglia Ruskin University, another benefit of Blurbify is that it works to produce forward-thinking, interested and insightful publishing students who will directly benefit the industry in their future employment. In turn, their positive contributions help encourage industry engagement with the course and its students ensuring a continual stream of engaged, bright individuals entering the industry.
What key things were more challenging than others?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was that there are no textbooks on ‘How to Build a Publishing Blog’. Instead it was fundamental to accrue my own primary research from students, publishing educators and industry professionals to identify the needs and aims of the project. It was this that provided the foundations of Blurbify upon which I could begin construction.
By drawing on my previous web design experience, plus further research into the best principles and practice of information architecture, web editing, blogging, social media and web design, I was able to begin the physical construction of Blurbify. Wrestling with WordPress and PHP coding was another challenge, but one which I loved.
Did you find anything that surprised you?
There were no ground-breaking discoveries during my research, but the variety of opinions and ideas garnered through my surveys were a surprise in their almost unanimous support of the project. In fact, my greatest surprise has been the overwhelmingly positive reception and praise that Blurbify has garnered since its launch. Winning the Book Production Consultants prize for Innovation and recently the APE Award for Best Student Project and the Overall Award, each has astounded me and been completely unexpected.
My success is thanks to the support and patience of my MA Publishing tutor, Dr Leah Tether and family. Both of whom have – surprisingly - survived my continual questions, stresses and musings for months on end!
How do you see your career progressing?
I have recently begun working for Penguin Random House as a Global Fonts Assistant which I am loving as it allows me to indulge my keen interest in typography and design, as well as building my knowledge in the area of licensing; a subject which I had no experience of prior to starting the MA Publishing course. During my studies, I had the opportunity to hear lectures from industry professionals, partake in short courses and attend specialist masterclasses that opened my eyes to the variety of roles and specialisms in which I could build my publishing career.
I have always been open to every opportunity, but I believe my existing digital skills and experiences will remain key in my employment. Whether that be in marketing, production, or another role entirely, I ideally hope to remain within trade publishing.
Luckily, as part of my APE prize, I have the opportunity to receive a careers consultation with Bookcareers.com and attend a two-day course at the Publishers Training Centre, both of which will be undeniably beneficial at the start of my publishing career.
I want to pass on my congratulations to the winners and hope they get to carry on their amazing work in their future careers.