One of the most interesting publishing houses I encountered while in Sweden was Telegram Studios, which describes itself as “a brand new type of publisher for music, books and apps, powered by talents and the latest technology,” and pretty much lives up to that headline – both in a local and an international context.
As Telegram editor Carl Torstensson explains:
Telegram started in the late 80s as a record label, signing many of the most defining artists in Sweden during the entire duration of the 90s. In the beginning of 2000 the brand was dissolved, and in 2009 Telegram was brought to life again, but this time as a book publisher (with many of the people from the music era backing it). To start out with we were a very traditional book publisher, printing books in advance based on guesses of how many we were going to sell. What separated us though was our belief and focus in the ebook. We started experimenting with the format and released several ‘e-albums’, music albums as e-books (EPUB, not apps – even though we did the first iPad book app ever in Sweden), the idea being that in the digital age most listeners lose the artwork part of music, and for the artist it was a way to be more creative in their relationship with the listeners, providing lyrics, sheet music, back stories, videos, etc. The first one we did (with the band Deportees) was actually nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Innovator of the year’ category.
Telegram has another very interesting journalism-focused initiative called Telegram Journalistik, which I’ll cover later in a separate article. For now, though, I’d like to focus on their achievements in ebook and EPUB formats. The demo example that Carl showed me – in iBooks on an iPad – of an album/ebook publication is a fully interactive multimedia publication, which not only scrolls easily and smoothly, but also plays music. However, it’s a fully EPUB-compliant ebook, and Carl said that it only took him, as a non-specialist editor, four days to create.
This shows what full utilization of EPUB 3’s features can achieve, if a publisher like Telegram is prepared to push the envelope beyond the usual bog-standard basics of Amazon-compatible text-only books – and, crucially, if a standard-compliant ereader app is also available to deliver it. Paradoxically, considering their usual walled garden approach, Apple with iBooks is one of the best implementers of this open standard. And you’d hope that instances like this would be enough to push Amazon to upgrade the Kindle format accordingly.
Carl gives more details on the company’s strategy:
As the traditional side of the book publishing got tougher and tougher (in Sweden bookstores are allowed two years legal right to return books …), we started looking towards print-on-demand, and now everything we do in house we release solely as print-on-demand and ebooks. In addition to that we have a collaboration with Stevali where, if a book has a lot of potential, we can print traditionally. That way we can work back-end (POD) and front-end titles (traditional). We don’t have a specific niche, but do everything from classics to cookbooks and music biographies. All with the focus of being high end products within the POD possibilities, and at the same time pushing the boundaries for the digital format.
That’s how a small independent publisher should be looking to move forward and grow with the times.