lunchBOX interview 004
Operations Manager | Kogan Page
Content Solutions Manager | Kogan Page
26 November, 2020
lunchBOX: Hello, good day, and welcome to lunchBOX. On the menu today, we're delighted to welcome Martin Klopstock and Arthur Thompson from renowned business publisher, Kogan Page, for a suitably socially distanced lunch. Martin and Arthur are the mild-mannered masterminds behind Kogan Page's award-winning digital publishing workflow, designed with accessibility firmly rooted at its core. We'll find out all about their work, their favourite people, their reading habits, and, of course, we'll answer the burning question of the day: what do they like for lunch? Let's find out. Bon appetit everyone...
1. Who are you and what do you do?
MK: I'm Martin Klopstock, Operations Director at Kogan Page.
AT: And I'm Arthur Thompson, Content Solutions Manager at Kogan Page.
2. How did you come to be involved in the world of accessibility?
MK: We were always aware of the need for progress in this area, ever since the Marrakesh Treaty was announced. Latterly, we realized that when we were developing our own XHTML Schema it was possible to add accessibility metadata and features into our workflow without having to re-engineer it.
AT: A few years ago, we began redesigning the production workflows for our print and ebook products. One of the aims was to create industry leading EPUB 3 files. After a little research, it became clear that designing ebooks for accessibility was tantamount to creating high-quality ebooks that would serve everyone. And so, accessibility became one of our primary goals.
3. What does accessibility mean to you?
MK: We have a responsibility as a publisher to reach the widest possible readership for the content we publish for our authors. Helping those readers who struggle with traditional printed books or digital content that has no accessibility features is therefore high on the list of priorities. Everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue goals they set for themselves and having accessible content is absolutely key in educational settings.
AT: One book format that can be read by everyone, with the same quality of reading experience.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in promoting accessibility?
MK: There was a perception that it would be expensive to implement. Once we had made the decision to develop our own Schema, the decision was much easier, as it was the schema development that needed to be costed, not specifically the accessibility dimension we added.
AT: Making progress seem achievable. There is often the assumption when it comes to improving accessibility in ebooks and websites that it must be all or nothing. But it is possible to make piecemeal adjustments. One could focus on writing image descriptions or improving the structure and navigation. Small, simple changes can make a large difference to screen-reader users.
5. What’s been your biggest success in relation to accessibility?
MK: Providing the best possible files we can to support readers with accessibility requirements. The other aspect is external recognition for our efforts: among these we count Global Certified Accessible™ accreditation, an ASPIRE award for our website accessibility statement and being this year’s winners of the IPG Digital Publishing Award for our Accessible Ebooks Programme. We are very proud of these achievements.
AT: Most recently, being named the first UK publisher to receive Global Certified Accessible™ (GCA) accreditation from Benetech. This certification formally recognises the accessibility of our ebooks.
6. What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
MK: Too many to list – but basically coming up with solutions to business related problems and challenges. These often involve inter-departmental communication and an awareness of all business critical systems and processes. Being part of an indy publisher makes this still (just) possible. Underlying this is the real satisfaction of helping colleagues, customers and (dare I say it) the bottom line.
AT: Learning. Specifically, when its for the purpose of finding solutions to difficult problems that have a beneficial impact on my colleagues or our customers. Working on accessibility has been extremely rewarding for this reason. It’s also pleasant when projects yield unexpected benefits. As I mentioned earlier, improving our ebooks for the print-disabled community has made the reading experience better for all readers, but it has also helped our writers reach a wider audience; the purchasing power of the disabled community is estimated to be $220 billion in the US alone but less than 10 per cent of all publications are currently accessible to people who are blind or have low vison.
7. How have you or your organization made a difference?
MK: Internally by providing solutions in various areas (see above). The most recent example was to find a solution for continuing to fulfil web orders once our distribution centre closed down direct-to-customer fulfilment after the first lockdown. I hope my colleagues find me helpful and engaged and that they can approach me with any issue whatsoever.
AT: I hope, by sharing knowledge. Martin and I have talked at various events, including London and Frankfurt book fairs, about our journey towards improved accessibility. We have also written case studies and articles on the creation of born-accessible workflows. The aim is to encourage other publishers to pursue a similar path and advocate for accessibility within their organisations.
8. If you could click your heels and make one thing easier for yourself at work, what would it be?
MK: Mmmm – not sure, as my sense has always been that problems are like the snake hair of the Medusa: if you cut one off, two re-grow… but overall, it would be great if the critical business systems on which we rely allowed for faster customization.
AT: When reading an ebook, the experience is governed as much by the interface (where readers read the content) as by the quality and accessibility of the ebook itself (the file the publisher produces). It would therefore give me peace of mind if every e-reading app, device and platform was made compatible with the latest accessibility standards. We could then ensure an excellent reading experience for every single customer. Usefully, epubtest.org has data on how well various reading environments perform in terms of accessibility. The results are mixed, but they are improving – accessibility has been pushed up the agenda in the past few years.
9. What is the most exciting development you’ve seen this year in the accessibility sector?
MK: I think there is a much great recognition this year that accessibility is here to stay – it’s addressing real needs and a tokenistic attitude towards it seems to be gradually making way to real concern and lasting effort.
AT: The rapid improvement of text-to-speech technology. There are numerous start-ups, using a combination of machine learning algorithms and voice generation technology, capable of producing synthesised, but natural-sounding, speech for text. Soon, in one fell swoop, it will be financially viable to make all of the books that would never be turned into an audiobook available in audio, in a voice of the reader’s choosing. These new developments have the potential to increase the quality, and therefore pleasure, of a reading experience, not simply the functionality, for customers that use screen readers.
10. Where do you see accessibility in 10 years? Any new developments you are keeping a close eye on?
MK: I think it should by then be the new ‘normal’ and perhaps not even require a specific mention. I also hope that by then the standards and techniques promoted by organizations like W3C, DAISY and textBOX will have become completely mainstream.
AT: I doubt there will be accessible ebooks – simply books that can be read by everyone, no matter what their specific reading needs are. It seems clear that AI will continue to facilitate and accelerate accessibility developments; for example, by aiding the creation of image descriptions. Though I doubt they will be as well-crafted as yours, Huw.
11. How and where do you learn about new accessibility initiatives in the sector?
MK: Inclusive Publishing is a great resource, and now that we are GCA accredited, we receive a Technical Bulletin from Benetech that alerts us to new developments we need to incorporate into our schema and validation tools. Arthur definitely has eagle eyes for new initiatives and news.
AT: Twitter (#a11y) and email updates from the Publishers Association Accessibility Action Group, the DAISY Consortium, International Association of Accessibility Professionals, Inclusive Publishing, Benetech, The A11Y Project and Deque.
12. What or who is your accessibility inspiration?
AT: One shouldn’t need inspiration to do the right thing, but we owe a debt to Bill Kasdorf. As a long-time champion of accessibility, he has helped publishers take small, achievable steps towards born-accessible workflows.
13. Which single accessibility tool do you use the most?
MK: I don’t use any personally, but the validation tool we built is probably the single most useful thing we’ve done to guarantee the quality of our accessible ebooks.
AT: Ace, by DAISY, is an excellent (and free) open-source tool that helps evaluate the accessibility of an EPUB. We also rely heavily on our own validation tools, developed by Sean Harrison of BookGenesis, which ensure that every book we produce meets the rigorous requirements of GCA accreditation.
14. Tell us your favourite accessibility story.
MK: Getting great feedback from George Kerscher on a file we submitted to the publishers’ face-off at the last CSUN. Feedback from a reader who needs to use the accessibility features we include in our ebooks is probably the most valuable feedback we can get. It’s the ultimate proof of the pudding.
AT: Last year, we wanted to assess how well our ebooks performed in a university virtual learning environment (VLE). We needed to know if students who were blind or had low-vision were able to easily find and access our ebooks and also if the ebooks were easy to navigate and read. Alistair McNaught organised for James Scholes, a blind accessibility expert and screen-reader user, to demonstrate his experience inside the VLE and of reading our ebooks. It was eye-opening for both us and the academic librarians we were with. You can implement best practice and conform to the latest standards documentation, but to truly see how the composition of your content makes a difference for disabled students, you must understand the real-world implications.
15. Which lunch would describe your organization and why?
AT: A Naked Lunch because we all work from home now.
16. What would be your favourite setting for that lunch?
MK: Ideally a park in walking distance. There are a few nearby. On days when we all need special TLC I would switch the above to ramen.
AT: A very dark room.
17. Which 10 people from any time or place would you invite to your lunch?
18. What are you reading at the moment?
The Patterning Instinct - Jeremy Lent
The Future Starts Here - John Higgs
The Maltese Falcon - Dashiel Hammett
Utopia for Realists - Rutger Bregman
The Secret of our Success - Joseph Henrich
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis (translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson)
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Jennifer Croft)
In Search of Unicorns by Susannah York (this book, in name, plays a role in Robert Altman’s film Images, which stars Susannah York)
Zama by Antonio di Benedetto (translated by Esther Allen)
19. What are the applications/services that you couldn’t live without at work or personally?
Sublime Text (for reading ONIX)
AT: Currently, Mubi (which is streaming Images), Letterboxd (for reviewing films), Borderless Book Club (for book discussions on translated fiction), Instagram (for recipes) and Too Good to Go (to prevent food waste). I had to delete TikTok.
20. Anything totally secret to tell us? We’re amongst friends…
MK: I don’t have many secrets among friends. I’m an open book.
AT: As the nights draw in, I suggest you make Aumm Aumm. In the Neapolitan dialect, it means hush hush or a secret. The best version of this pasta recipe involves deep frying the aubergines and adding a smoked cheese such as scamorza.
lunchBOX: Open, accessible, books and recipe tips. What more can we ask for as the nights close in?
And on that note of smoked cheese goodness, thank you for sharing your lunch with us today, Martin and Arthur. The work you have both done at Kogan Page in recent years has been awe-inspiring and a great example to the industry. Congratulations on your thoroughly deserved IPG award and thank you so much for your time in sharing your insights and tips.
Thank you for your patronage and compliments. We know that you could choose other luncheon establishments. We'll happily take care of the bill...
If you'd like to learn more about the amazing work that Martin and Arthur are doing at Kogan Page or just to chat about food, philosophy and fiction, then please feel free to contact them:
Martin Klopstock: firstname.lastname@example.org
Arthur Thompson: email@example.com