Why Yale Says 'Yes' to Apps and Epublications
Academic in-plants may produce a great deal of printed material, but printing isn’t the sole definition of what they do. Just ask Jason England, communications officer and prepress design manager for Yale University’s Printing & Publishing Services (YPPS) unit. He declares that the mission of his in-plant is to “encompass more media than just print” — an objective that now includes the development of apps and epublications.
With five apps and a recently released ebook to its credit, YPPS is mastering the intricacies of app building and epublishing at its own pace with tools it has become increasingly adept at using. The undertaking began about four years ago, England says, when the in-plant was asked to evaluate various digital publishing solutions that vendors had been encouraging the university to try.
It wasn’t a foregone conclusion at that time that YPPS would get a green light from Yale to establish an epublishing program. Because of the nature of the in-plant’s relationship with the school, says England, “we’re not a mandated service on campus — we’re just an option.” The in-plant would have to win the assignment on its own merits, and this is precisely what England and his team proceeded to do.
They worked first with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite, a high-end multimedia publishing platform, on a project for the School of Music: a mobile app offering an inside look into the school for current and prospective students, alumni and donors. Emerging over time as a companion method, England says, was publishing with GTxcel: an SaaS solution that lets users turn existing content into apps and other formats with rich media enhancement.
‘Epub Living in an App’
GTxcel, which integrates with Xerox’s FreeFlow Digital Publisher software, has a replica edition feature that places a printable PDF into an “app container” where it can be overlaid with rich-media content and interactive features. The resulting “epub living in an app,” as England describes it, is then made ready for distribution through Google Play, Apple’s App store, and other exchanges.
Apps built by YPPS in this way include titles on cardiology, dyslexia and other clinical topics for Yale’s medical studies and public health programs. Armed with knowledge gained from these projects, says England, YPPS was able to make a natural progression to ebooks: a leap taken for the first time with the publication of “A Handbook on Faith and Money” for the Yale Divinity School in April.
“A Handbook on Faith and Money” began as a Word document submitted by its author, the writer, social activist and Divinity School graduate Bob Massie. The manuscript then went into the hands of YPPS Prepress Specialist Michael Ferguson, whom England credits with being “the man in the weeds,” doing everything that had to be done to turn Massie’s book into an agile digital publication.
Working with the author, Ferguson prepped the content so that it would hold its pagination and design across the screen sizes and orientations of smartphones, Kindles, iPads, Nooks and other popular ereading devices. It’s currently downloadable free of charge in epub format from the App Store; as a mobi file from Amazon; and as a PDF from the Divinity School.
Google Play will carry it in ereading format, and an enhanced app version, says England, will be available soon. YPPS also has produced it in physical form as a perfect bound soft cover volume. The Divinity School, which has a bookstore of its own, is responsible for advertising and promoting the title.
No technical problems arose in any of these projects that couldn’t be solved with the help of customer support from the software vendors and patience on the part of YPPS staff, England says. Everything was done by existing personnel after training in the software; no outside assistance was needed.
A Natural and Necessary Step
How has Yale, an educational bastion of the printed word since 1701, reacted to the availability of apps and epubs from its in-plant? England says that while the response hasn’t been overwhelming, venturing into the non-print realm was vital to establishing YPPS’s credentials as a deliverer of content in all of the media that the university population has grown accustomed to using.
A strong selling point for apps is the fact that, unlike printed materials, they generate data that can be analyzed for patterns of activity by end users. Their level of engagement with the apps can be measured according to open rates, time spent with subject matter and the relative popularity of the articles and other content that users are looking at.
A “smart department,” says England, will know how to take advantage of this information and the valuable insights it yields into audience behavior.
‘A Relevancy Flagstone’
Nevertheless, initial expectations of producing six apps per year haven’t panned out, and England admits that the work has been more of a loss leader than a source of revenue for the in-plant’s cost-recovery business model. But, he’s convinced that app development and digital publishing have planted “a relevancy flagstone” for the in-plant that showcases both its technical talent and its responsiveness to Yale’s informational needs.
Some in-plants might worry that providing epubs and apps could undercut the role of their basic product, print. But, the former don’t cannibalize the latter, according to England, who says that in-plants today have to satisfy a “blend” of demand for information in both print and non-print form.
He also points to the example of “A Handbook on Faith and Money.” He says the fact it existed as an ebook before it went to ink on paper proves that digital publication in no way precludes publishing books in the time-honored way.
Related story: E-publications: A New Opportunity for In-plants