Friday, April 8, 2011

Catalonia Press: Ebooks and Synergy in Barcelona

A kind reader asked me yesterday if I was all right, mentioning the fact that I hadn't written since March 5th. Wow, time really does go by fast. Every day I promise to write, both in this blog and in my A Year in Barcelona blog, and then the day flies by. Today, I write first.

Catalonia Press
What I've been doing is starting a new publishing house. It occurred to me the other day that the last time I lived in Barcelona, I did the same thing: I created a little publishing house called Página Uno, that specialized in Macintosh-related books in Spanish (we also did one title in Catalan). I think it's something about living between two cultures and three languages that makes me want to figure out how to bring the two (three!) together and share information from each place with folks from the other.

I also think it's curious that all of the things that I've studied in my life keep coming together and recombining in a very zen-like way. I started college at the Wharton School of Business, in their Entrepreneurial Management program. It was a very fancy, prestigious place to be, and I hated it. Not the school, but the classes, and the emphasis on money. As a kid I had tried to start businesses, going door to door wherever we lived selling homemade candles, bread, greeting cards, whatever I could think of. I had a paper route and got a job in the local drugstore as soon as I turned 16. But it was never about the money, it was about creating things, and about creating a business.

So, I was one of a tiny handful of students that year who transferred from Wharton to the liberal arts College of the University of Pennsylvania, where I eventually ended up creating my own major called "Spanish Studies". Fascinated with languages, my course load included Spanish, Catalan, and Basque, as well as courses in literature, history, and sociolinguistics. Ah, but what do you do with that?

I spent my first year out of college (1986-7) as a Spanish teacher, in a private day school in Princeton, New Jersey. I loved the explaining and talking about language, but I hated getting up in front of semi-motivated kids who mostly wanted to know what would be on the test. I remember listening in my car on the way to school one day when they announced that the Olympics would be held in Barcelona in 1992. I still remember gushing about it at school to my students later that day.

In 1987, I decided to move to Barcelona. I was 22 and, just like now, I loved creating things, thinking up business ideas, teaching, and languages. Thanks to a cutting-edge friend, I was already hooked on the Mac.

I found a job the second day after I arrived... in a company that wanted to market their OCR software in the United States and so needed someone to translate the documentation into English. For the next three years, I translated computer programs and the manuals that went with them: stretching and expanding both my languages and my teaching ability. I learned how to go from one language to another, and I observed which manuals made sense and which should have been organized some other way.

All this time, I spoke Catalan almost exclusively; no English and no Spanish. At one point, I even searched out a Spanish conversation partner because there was no one in my circle of friends or work associates that spoke to me in Spanish. Not because they refused, just because it would have been awkward, since we normally spoke in Catalan.

And I remember this deep need to share what I was learning with my friends and family back home. And of course, people here were constantly asking me what America was like. Did we really eat hamburgers all the time? Live in wooden houses? Drive everywhere we went? How *do* you play baseball? It was so interesting to see my country from their eyes. I don't think I ever saw it quite so clearly—even as I knew their vision was limited mostly to what they saw in the movies, and if they were lucky, a visit to the Empire State Building.

In 1990, I started the publishing house, Página Uno, a sort of continuation of the kind of work I did at the first job, but now as an independent company. And again, it combined everything I loved: language, teaching, and computers. We published 14 books in three years, The Macintosh Bible being the first. I carefully chose the books we would publish, focusing on those with an independent voice that advocated for the reader. Thinking back on it, I can see that part of my goal was to share part of my country with people here. I wanted my Catalan and Spanish friends to be able to get the same fresh, opinionated information that I was privy to.

Fast forward to the present (or else I'll lose the few readers who have made it to this point). My husband and I decided to come live in Barcelona this year mostly so our kids could really get a feel for this culture that they also belong to. We have been here since August and will stay until just after the school year ends in July. And my original plan was just to keep doing what I've been doing for the last 17 years: write computer books in simple but not simplistic language.

But after a few months, I found myself pulled back again to the same goal: to serve as a bridge between two cultures that I love, and that somehow both seem to be mine.

It's frustrating, because few outside of this place have ever heard of Catalonia. Barcelona, perhaps, now that it has climbed the rankings of “most popular tourist site”, or whatever. But Catalonia is so much more than Gaudí and beaches. And as much as I bombard my poor Facebook friends with stories about the independence movement, or the literature, or the popular festivals of sweet onion eating or human castle building, or whatever, it often feels like a lonely pursuit.

Sometime in the fall, I happened upon a website by a guy named Matthew Tree. Matthew was born in London but moved to Barcelona around 25 years ago. He had a whole collection of essays on his site that did just what I've always tried to: explain this place to folks who don't know a thing about it. And his writing is great: he's funny and direct and has a great eye for what's beneath the surface.

So, I wrote him and asked if he'd be interested in me helping him compile an electronic book edition of his essays. And he said yes! (What I didn't know, in all my recently-arrived naiveté, was that Matthew is a renowned author around these parts, and appears regularly in print and in radio, and had his own television show for a while. Every time I tell someone I'm working with him, their eyes get big and they ask me how I did it. The answer is, I just asked.)

Catalonia Press is bornOriginally, we were only going to do electronic editions, but people began asking about print. So, I started exploring Print on Demand, thanks to a couple of books (and emails!) by Aaron Shepard, which I'll explain in more detail in a separate post. It's so exciting what can be done nowadays. A week ago, I sent the print files for Matthew's book to Lightning Source in Tennessee, and yesterday I got my first proof: an actual book! It's not perfect yet; I'm afraid I made a few beginner's mistakes (too much outside margin!), but I am thrilled at the possibilities.

I've got a few more projects in the works that I can't talk about quite yet, but I can already feel myself getting closer and closer to my goal: being able to share Catalonia with my English-speaking compatriots at home (and throughout the world)—which somehow miraculously turns out to be a combination of all the things I love to do: languages, books, teaching, and computers.

And so, I've created a new publishing house: Catalonia Press. You'll find information there about Matthew's book, “Barcelona, Catalonia: A View from the Inside”, other projects that I'll be publishing, as well as news and information about Catalonia that I've found on other sites. I hope you find it worthwhile. Because really, there is so much more to this place than Gaudí and beaches (though I'll admit, I'm a particular fan of both).

One added benefit is that everything I learn in this new venture will help me better explain ebooks (the EPUB version of Matthew's book includes video and is already available in the iBookstore while the Kindle version is available from Amazon) and self-publishing in the real world. (I can't wait to explain everything I've learned about video...)

Update:I've just uploaded sample editions of Matthew's book so you can get an idea of what it's like.


  1. what an amazing story Liz! thanks for sharing it! :-)

  2. "The answer is, I just asked." <- so few people understand that sometimes that's all it takes!

  3. Very interested in seeing this, both to look at the epub code and because I'd love to go to Barcelona.

  4. Congratulations Liz! Best of luck in your new ventures. I look forward to hearing about your experiences, as always.

  5. Welcome to the world of POD, Liz. We look forward to hearing about all your projects. And thanks again for helping us out as we took our first steps in the ePub world. We are having a lot of fun getting our books up for Kindle and iPad (six books as of today!)

    And we enjoyed hearing a bit more of your life story. Let's plan on getting together again soon.

    Your Girona neighbors, Gary and Elyn

  6. . . . and, BTW, I loved Aaron Shepard's cat book!

    Best, Gary

  7. Hi Liz,
    Have not given any input before, but have been visiting your Site since early December 2010 after benefiting immensely from your "Publishing a Blog with Blogger" book.

    You are fascinatingly interesting, and so very alive. Reading your Posts are always absorbing.

    Thank you for the interesting way you share of your Life.
    Heaps of good wishes and fulfilling success with your present new Adventure.

    This one Post has presented me with avenues to explore and discover even more again.

    From Magda(Australia) with appreciation.

  8. Liz, you say (emphasis mine) "the EPUB version of Matthew's book includes video and is already available in the iBookstore" - except it isn't. Well, in may be in the US (and/or Canada (and/or the UK)), but far as I can find, nowhere else, in no other "geographically defined bookseller market" (jurisdiction or something, don't ask me).

    From what you write, the Catalonia Press imprint is incorporated/ housed in Catalonia/ Spain, Europe – yet this ebook ["Barcelona, Catalonia" (Enhanced Version) by Matthew Tree], and presumably all your other titles, has been published, i.e. made available for purchase, solely in one, or a few (same-tongue-defined) iBookstores plural. This is the sad reality of global barely-access to e-books, of which you of course are not the villain, but which you don't seem to have recognized as important limitation to fight, bypass and rectify.

    For the record, I am in a major EU-but-not-English-speaking country [I'd have stated it outright were it not for cumulative privacy reasons], in which the total contents of the iBooks catalog can only be described as ABYSMAL. In fact, apart from some but, strangely, not very many out-of-copyright English and local classics, few of which have been written after 1900, and narrowly selected local modern bestsellers with prices approaching and often surpassing their printed versions, i.e. specialty editions, the virtual bookshelves of this iBookstore are bare. Not even the usually or occasionally free promo EPUBs in the US iStore are made available here (or elsewhere that I know of - and I'd be surprised if situation was much different in other such "book markets").

    While I and everybody else can buy any physical/ printed book from the usual e-sellers, and have them shipped to our doors (at additional surcharge), when it comes to local iBookstore e-matter we're supposed to make do with the demo "Winnie the Pooh," some Austen, Eliot, Dickens, Darwin, and the iPhone Users Guide (not in English, mind—apparently that'd be pushing it). And the strangest thing of all is that hardly anyone, and certainly not the publishers, not the authors, no bloggers, are making much of a fuss over it. Just so you know it.

  9. Thank you for the kind comments. I really appreciate them.

  10. @ianf: These are important questions. First, I have published “Barcelona, Catalonia” in every possible iBookstore: currently US, UK, Germany, France, Australia, and New Zealand. I asked Apple specifically when it would be possible to publish to the Spanish iBookstore, and they told me that they were not yet accepting ebooks for the Spanish iBookstore and that they would notify me when that changed.

    My only alternative is to offer the ebook, with and without video, directly, so that it is available to anyone in any country. You can find those links here:

    EPUB with video:

    EPUB and Kindle/Mobi without video:

    It's not a perfect solution, but it's all I have until they open the other iBookstores.

  11. Thank you. I seem to have missed the link to e-seller KAGI on the landing page, and wish now there was a way to retract one of my claims above... still, am I alone in looking askance at this Euro publishing house's (=yours) going through U.S. sales outlet in order to sell back to Europe? Also, all is not well with that particular storefront either (watch this space).

    I realize this isn't the place for raising wider e-book publishing issues, but then don't know where else to post it.... apart from Future of the Book Institute's blog, which deals mostly with digital formats' development, rather than real-world deployment, there do not seem to be any widely-read vendor-independent fora (while dominant American bloggers suffer from myopic affluenza, thus have no need to bother with problems of Other). And so e-books remain shackled to some archaic "agency" bookstock selling model, even though the economy of their aboutcoming and dissemination are vastly different from conventional methods.

  12. Well, this "Euro-publishing" house is actually American. I just happen to be in Barcelona right now, but I'll be going home soon!

  13. Speaking of Barcelona... oddly enough, just as some wacko tried to set the perpetually unfinished Gaudi masterpiece[*] Sagrada Familia ablaze, I was gazing at truly remarkable, dynamic Barcelona 3D birds' eye views complete with photo-textured buildings, admiring the city grid in ways that would never be possible in RL from the ground.

    Nokia has released an OviMaps plugin for the Mac (sort of competitor to Google Earth), which allows ogling of a number of notable cities, among them Barcelona, right within the Safari browser (6.7MB plugin needs to be installed first).

    It is still beta software, so, currently, it doesn't support extracting targeted URIs, otherwise I'd have supplied you one to the Casa Mila (aka La Perdita - not easy to find without superimposed street names; a few local landmarks have been preindexed and are thus reachable in more direct fashion, but of Gaudi's only the aforementioned building site). Still, it is a find: - and I'd love to see dynamic panoramas like this incorporated in ebooks (next e-edition, Liz? ;-)).

    [^*] this written by an atheist who doesn't give a toss about churches, but recognizes a grand design when he sees one.


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