Tony Palmer from Penguin talks Book Design

Last week I was lucky enough to attend lecture by Tony Palmer from Penguin Books Australia. He took us through how to format a beautiful ebook for the iPad, how to design text and how to design a book cover.

eBooks for the iPad

Tony pointed out that 80% of the Australian ebook-reading market uses an iPad to view their ebooks. This means it is very important as a book designer to know how to work with iPads.

You need a different set of skills to design publications for print and iPad. The biggest change is that the designer must let go their control over how the ebook looks. The iPad user is able to change the font size and type to any number of options and your publication must remain readable. 

The other restriction is that you are only given two rectangles in which to insert your content. The designer cannot adjust anything outside these borders.


Image source

Text Design

Unsurprisingly for a lecture on text design, Tony started with a crash course on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fonts. However, he then went on to say that he doesn’t like to use the word ‘kerning’ because it is not specific enough for his needs. He likes to specify whether there is a problem with ‘word spacing’ or ‘letter spacing.’ And this is the way that InDesign refers to it as well.

He also said that there is no magic equation for choosing the correct typeface, spacing, leading and grid. It simply comes down to experience and intuition.

For the large swathes of text used in books, Tony recommended a serif font like Garamond or a san-serif font like Rotis.


Image source

Book Cover Design

Here are four book covers that Tony created for Penguin:



The first three covers went through the usual stages of briefing, development, crash, redevelopment and commitment. The one on the right was an entry to a prize, so he didn’t have to go through any stages involving the client. This was because he was acting as his own client. This particular book cover simply went from the development to the commitment stage.

His main point when talking about book cover design is that he works for the client. There is no ‘Tony Palmer’ style, he simply makes what he is paid to make. Thats the deal. If the client wants a thriller cover, they get one. If they want an ‘artsy’ looking cover, they get one. If they want a children’s book, then thats what they get.

Underground Digital Library


An ebook seller (and phone provider) has joined with Bucharest Metro Station to install an advertisement in the form of a 2D library.

They have covered the walls in posters from top to bottom which show bookshelves filled with books. Each book has a QR code which, when scanned by a smartphone, takes the user to the ebook store.

Users have access to a few free ebooks when they access the site through a QR code. This is a great idea for commuters who are waiting for a train to play around with. Then, when they are riding the train to work, they can read the free ebooks. The visual impact of the advertisement is also very compelling.

Penguin Capitalises on Classics


(Image source)

Penguin has released a range of 26 hardback classics - one for each letter of the alphabet. A smart way to capitalise on their ‘classics’ range.

The designs were a collaboration between Penguin US art director and designer Jessica Hische.

According to Bookseller+Publisher, Elda Rotor, associate publisher and editorial director of Penguin Classics US, said the series is

‘inspired by typography—its beauty and its power of expression’. ‘With Penguin Drop Caps, we are inspired by the timeless tradition and craft of letters and their endless capacity to communicate.’

Book Review: Book Was There

         Book Was There Detail

In Book Was There, Andrew Piper seeks to reunite books with digital. He believes that the dichotomies of physical vs. digital and old vs. new are not merely obsolete – they were never accurate. He speaks like a historian using examples from art and literature to support his arguments. He believes that we should understand that books and digital content are part of a larger ecosystem which benefits from diversity.

For example, he argues that we can’t accept the idea that books are permanent and ebooks are ephemeral. Books decay over time no matter how well you preserve them. Ebooks on the other hand can be recovered even after being ‘deleted’. The FBI recommends that the only fail-safe way to delete files is still to burn after reading.

His prose leans towards the overly poetic at times and he liberally employs metaphors. The most amusing being the following:
On digital content: “Like a jellyfish the textual whole slips through our fingers.”
On the swipe guesture of the tablet: “Our hands become brooms sweeping away the alphabetic dust before us.”
He also draws the parallel between the act of finishing a book and closing one’s hands in prayer.
The book articulates ideas about reading in the digital age with authority and thoughtfulness and I which I will continue to discuss.

Simulated Books


My local library has just added 713 ebooks to their collection as well as access to all of the Gutenberg Project titles.  They are using the American company, OverDrive, which supports iPad, Mac, Windows, Android, Sony, Kobo and Nook software.

At the moment, it seems as though publishers are offering libraries a system which attempts to simulate the borrowing patterns of physical books. The library has only one ‘copy’ of each book which means that only one patron can download each ebook at a time. After 3 weeks, the ebooks will ‘expire’ and be deleted from the patron’s device.

There is a great summary of the major publisher’s library-lending policies in Forbes. You can see that the main concern is trying to simulate physical books as much as possible. For example, HarperCollins restricts ebook usage to 26 lends before the library must re-purchase the book. Penguin has a similar system where the library must re-purchase the ebook after a year.

Random House – Sells eBooks to libraries through multiple distributors.  Prices were adjusted in 2012.  Although some prices were lowered, the distributor price to libraries for some popular titles such as 50 Shades Of Grey range up to $84 for a single eBook copy – over 8 times the price of the eBook on Amazon.
HarperCollins -  Sells eBooks to libraries through multiple distributors.  On some popular titles it has restricted eBook usage to 26 “lends” after which the library must repurchase the book.
Penguin – Penguin (slated to merge with Random House) is conducting a test of eBook sales to libraries with the New York Public Library system.  eBooks will become available six months after their publication date.  While pricing will be similar to physical books, the books will only be available to the library for one year, after which they will need to be repurchased.
Hachette – Only sells older eBooks to libraries (through the distributor Overdrive).  Hachette increased prices for these older eBooks by an average of 220% in October.
Macmillan – Does not currently sell eBooks to libraries. Macmillan has announced a test of eBook sales to libraries but not announced details.
Simon & Schuster – Simon and Schuster does not yet sell ebooks to libraries. According to Carolyn Reidy, CEO, “We have not yet found a business model that makes us happy. That’s why we’re not in it.”


Can You Really Own An Ebook?


(Image source)

This week, Publishing Trendsetter published the first of my monthly articles. It is called Libraries and Ebooks: An Australian Perspective.

The issue of ebook ownership has come up on this blog before. However, in this article I look at the differences between the Australian and American ebook industries in relation to libraries.

The article was written after it was revealed that Barnes & Noble can stop already-purchased ebooks from being downloaded by customers if the credit card they used to pay has since expired. This is the most recent example of the way that the ownership of ebooks is put under the spotlight, but there are many other examples which I outline in the article:

A Norwegian Amazon customer alleged that her entire Kindle library had been wiped… In 2009, Amazon made George Orwell’s novel, 1984, disappear from Kindles across the world when they realized their version of the ebook had been sold without a license. These and other incidents have helped us understand that there are varying degrees of owning ebooks. You can own the rights; you can have access to the ebook indefinitely; you can have permission to sell copies of the ebook; and you can have permission to “loan” the ebook for certain periods of time.

I believe that we need a simple, uniform system for buying and owning ebooks. There is a veracious appetite for reading and libraries will continue to cater for this need. Publishers and libraries need to work together to create a system that is fair and profitable for all.

How to Sell: Books

This segment was aired a couple of weeks ago on the ABC TV show The Gruen Planet

The premise is that, each week they invite two guest advertising agencies to produce an ad to “sell the unsellable”. In this episode, it was books.

The first ad was presented by Darren Ralph from thinkbone. It begins with a dramatic scene with a young girl holding a mysterious briefcase. She walks towards a dark car, and the window rolls down. Then a “low battery” symbol flashes, and we see frustrated young man at a bus stop yell “who was it?” and frighten a middle aged lady reading a book. 

The second ad was presented by Mike Preston from Enigma. This ad shows text being manipulated by an invisible hand as the reader looks on, helpless. The words change from “In 2007, investment banks brought the financial world to its knees through the invention of subprime home loans” to “In 2007, investment banks financed schools for disadvantaged communities across the globe.”

The winner was the first ad, mainly because it was funnier. Essentially, both of the ads brought up the same difference between ebooks and physical books. Basically, you don’t own the ebook- you pay for access to it. If your battery dies, or if someone wants to change the content, there isn’t much you can do about it.

Paywalls Survey

New York Times Paywall

(Image source)

I wrote about paywalls a few weeks ago and since then I have been wondering about how consumers feel about them. 

If you would like to contribute your opinion on paywalls, please follow this link for a survey I am currently running.

It’s just a few questions, and they are all multiple choice except one.

The survey will be closing on 17/10 and I then will publish the results here, so keep an eye out!



“Publishers have been reluctant to play with libraries in order to protect their profits and sales and have yet to figure out what role they want libraries to have. As long as publishers control the rights to library distribution  rather than push to take full advantage of the role of libraries to promote and expose an author’s book to the hundreds of thousands of people with library cards that visit libraries daily in communities, schools, and Universities across the world they will choose to put up barriers and stall and limit ebook distribution to them.” -ebookporn

This is a really important point. Authors, students, parents and readers expect publishers to cooperate with libraries and publishers need to come up with a viable system to take advantage of the strengths of libraries.

My local library had 10,800 new members sign up last year, making up 106, 659 members. That is 40% of the population in the area. They are taking out 3.1 million loans per year. The patrons also attend author events, subscribe to the library newsletter, and follow the library on social media.

Having your books in the library gives you access to a huge community of book reading, book buying people. In the annual customer service survey, respondents rated the library as an average of 9.2 out of 10 when asked about the library’s “importance to the community,” which is higher than any other of the categories.

People will continue to value libraries and expect that the government to provide them. Publishers should try and find a way to work with them, not against them.

Why Cookbooks are So Good at Being Books

Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals

(Image source: The Graphic Foodie)

Australian journal Kill Your Darlings published a piece on their website by Carody Culver called I won’t be eating my words: narrative in cookbooks. She is completing her PhD thesis on cookbooks so she knows what she is talking about.

She is writing in response to an article on the Sydney Morning Herald that predicts the demise of the cookbook.

The answer to our obsession, I think, lies not in any sort of practical need, but an emotional and imaginative one. – Carody Culver. 

She says the value for the consumer lies in the narrative which surrounds the recipes. The family traditions, the asides, the beautifully written passages are all what will save the cookbook in the ebook age. This is a compelling argument but, as she acknowledges, some blogs can provide this type of content, too.

In addition to Culver’s arguments, one of the reasons cookbooks still sell is because they are the perfect gift. There is a reason that Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals is the fastest selling non-fiction book of all time and the biggest seller in both Australia and Britain last year. Cookbooks sell particularly strongly in May and December when they are bought for Mother’s Day and Christmas presents.

Cookbooks represent the person who owns them. Where the e-reader is anonymous, the bookshelf is a display of who you are. People want to display their collection in the kitchen so their guests can see what kind of cook they are. They want to show their collection of Stephanie Alexander and Charmane Solomon books on a big, beautiful bookshelf. 

Dan Lepard said on the BBC food blog:

One agent told me “forget recipes…no-one’s interested. They can Google for that. What readers want from a cookbook is lifestyle, an enviable homely lifestyle that they might in their dreams aspire to one day.”  - Dan Lepard