BookMachine Unplugged: Talking Production – exploring the world outside Adobe

Unplugged event header showing panellists

Wednesday 12 February saw the first BookMachine Unplugged event of 2020, with a packed house filling the Arboretum in Covent Garden. Just as with the past two years, our Unplugged season kicked off with a focus on Production, under the guidance of Ken Jones, MD of Circular Software.

As Ken pointed out in his introduction, we can’t talk about publishing, production and technology without talking about Adobe. They created the industry standard, and over the past forty years they have grown into a giant, with annual sales of $9.5 billion. They’re always developing new products, and their tools are everywhere.

But there are alternatives beyond Adobe. The are many smaller software companies that can extend what can be done with Adobe software alone or can even be used as an alternative. Some Adobe tools are judged to be not fit for purpose, and their pivot to a subscription model means that if you want to stay in the Adobe universe, you’ll have to pay forever for the privilege. So it’s worth being brave and taking a look at what’s on offer from other providers. Just before the event began, Ken tweeted a summary of some companies to explore:

Ken’s panellists provided great insights into how publishers can operate in the world outside Adobe. Nick Barreto (Technology Director, Canelo) explained that, as Canelo started with an exclusive focus on digital publishing, they weren’t inevitably led towards InDesign as their primary tool. Three and a half years after the company’s founding, they started to produce print books as well as ebooks, but by this point they were so embedded in a non-Adobe environment that they felt no need to turn to it.

Nick gave a live demonstration of how their production process works. They start with a manuscript file containing semantic markup (with headings, emphases and other text elements described in terms of their function, rather than their appearance). This file is then processed using LaTeX, a powerful typesetting system, and at the touch of a button, a PDF is generated. The file still needs a quality check, but LaTeX does 98% of the work, incredibly quickly.

Another area of publishing that is going to become ever more important as we collaborate with people who aren’t sitting right next to us is file sharing, and this is a topic that Andy Wilson (Principal – Media, Dropbox) is passionate about. Most of us in the publishing industry know Dropbox as a shared filing system, but it offers other valuable functions too.

For example, Lonely Planet uses the creative collaboration tool Paper to gather text and photos from contributors all around the world. It’s synced all the time, meaning that users can always see an up-to-date version, and the preview engine enables users to view content without downloading the full weight of all the files at once, which is handy when you’re using mobile data.

Another service they provide is Dropbox Spaces, which includes Slack and Zoom integration so users can manage tasks together, and for anyone using LaTeX, this is supported by their Paper tool – which could be useful for anyone following the Canelo model.

The final speakers of the evening were Eleanor Long and Trevor Young (Founders, Tapocketa). Their work involves animation and interactive content, and so they come to the publishing world with a fresh point of view, about as far from a B-format page layout as it’s possible to be. They demonstrated their multimedia product Galdo’s Gift, which they describe as a boovie (a book–movie hybrid). Galdo’s Gift contains movie ‘illustrations’, an animated narrator, sound effects and more, so that readers are drawn deeply into the world of the story.

In order to create this project, Eleanor and Trevor used a wide range of tools, which they helpfully keep updated on their website at These include:

  1. Zoom H2n
  2. Reaper
  3. Pond5
  4. Affinity Suite (for more on this, see Ken’s article ‘From here to Affinity’, which we published in 2018)
  5. Handbrake & ImageOptim
  6. Tumult Hype
  7. Slack
  8. TeuxDeux

All of these tools are either free or very affordable, and you can find out more about them at the Tools page linked above.

If there’s one key take-home message from all our panellists, it’s that there truly is life outside the world of Adobe, and if you’re willing to work with new products and services, you may find smarter ways of working – while saving money along the way. And that sounds like a great way to make 2020 a successful year for all of our publishing endeavours.

Join us on 1 April for BookMachine Unplugged: Talking Editorial, hosted by… me! My expert panellists Karen Sullivan (Orenda Books), Kiera Jamison (Icon Books) and Magdalene Abraha (Jacaranda Books) will be shedding light on the mysterious art of editing, and explaining how to work with authors to tell the best story in the right way. Please note the venue: Colours Hoxton.

Abbie Headon is a freelance editor and writer. She has worked as Editorial Director for Duckworth Books, focusing on the Farrago Books humorous fiction imprint, and is currently commissioning gift books for HarperCollins. Abbie is also the author of books including Poetry First Aid Kit, The Power of Yes, The Power of No and LEGO Build Yourself Happy. She is a member of the BookMachine Editorial Board and edits the BookMachine blog. Find Abbie on Twitter at @abbieheadon.

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