Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Don Leeper

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I believe these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Don Leeper is the founder of Bookmobile, based outside of Minneapolis, providing outsourced production services to independent and academic publishers all over the world.  The company was founded as Stanton Publication Services in 1982, and has grown significantly over the years, now offering not only pre-press services for print books, as well as growing digital printing business, an expanding range of digital book production services, including ebooks and apps, and even an off-shoot business for book distribution.  OR Books has hired Bookmobile to provide all of its production services, as some other publishers have also done.

What attracted my attention most recently to this company is their announcement of Ampersand, an iPad app created to preserve the layout and pagination of poetry (and of course any other book for which specific line and page layouts are critical).  It’s been one of the raps on ebooks that poetry essentially does not work in the Kindle (mobi) and other popular reading devices or platforms that use ePub as the format for their content.  Ampersand enables publishers (and poets who want to publish their own work) to preserve complex page compositions easily and as an app provides both a reading environment and a sales structure on the iPad (and presumably the iPhone and iPod as well).

Clearly Leeper and his crew are creative and working hard to provide a wide range of needed services for independent and academic publishers, for whom the fast changing digital environment presents significant challenges.  He’s also a great example of someone who has been agile in moving from traditional publishing workflows into new digital realms while retaining a strong commitment to the important values of design and interface that will always be necessary for writers, publishers and readers, whatever the devices or delivery systems they use for reading.

Ampersand shows alot of promise for many independent publishers of poetry and other types of work where the actual page concept still matters, especially because cost of production matters most for small circulation content (there are certainly other PDF based e-book publishing methods available, but most are more costly and not highly automated).  A few poetry publishers are on board with Bookmobile to pilot the Ampersand project, and we’ll be interested to see some finished work in coming months.

In this interview, Don and I had a wide ranging and lively conversation about digital publishing, poetry, and the future of print and ebooks.

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