Chandi Perera is the CEO of Typefi. With a background in the publishing sector, computer and communications engineering, insights into why publishers need to invest in their workflow, and some industry heroes; we interviewed Chandi to learn more about what it takes to make books more accessible and inclusive from his perspective.
What is Typefi?
Typefi is a global leader in single-source automated publishing software, helping organisations around the world publish their content faster and in more formats. Most customers experience production time savings of 50-80 per cent following implementation of Typefi, enabling them to expand product offerings across multiple platforms with minimal increases in production costs.
Typefi’s patented AI technology integrates with the Adobe InDesign Server to intelligently render complex layouts using dynamic InDesign templates and design-driven techniques. At the click of a button, Typefi pulls target content from wherever it is stored and rapidly lays it out in InDesign, trying different combinations of text, images, and other visual elements, and making aesthetic judgements while taking into account a series of rules defined by the template designer.
The result is perfectly-crafted documents that look like they were laid out by a human typesetter, in as many print and digital formats as needed.
Typefi has customer organisations in 20 countries around the world, and individual users of Typefi software in 65 countries. Some long-standing clients include Lonely Planet, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), New England Journal of Medicine, Pioneer, Fodor’s Travel Guides, the World Health Organization, and the International Monetary Fund.
In recent years Typefi has been recognised with numerous awards, including the Premier of Queensland’s Export Award for Small Business (2016/2018) and the Australian Export Award for Small Business (2016). Typefi was a finalist in the Accessible Books Consortium International Excellence Award: Initiative at the 2018 London Book Fair, and in November this year was inducted into the Sunshine Coast Business Awards Hall of Fame.
In terms of industry segmentation, our largest market is standards publishers, followed closely by STM, international organisations, and financial services. We then have a fairly even spread across several other industries, including trade, professional associations, education, travel, manufacturing, and publishing service providers.
When did Typefi begin and when did you join the company?
Typefi was established in 2001 on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, where we still have our head office. One of the founders was an author and self-publisher who wrote his own scripts and macros to reduce repetitive layout tasks, and he saw an opportunity to refine and release a commercial product that offered this functionality to others.
The early vision was to provide automated publishing software for print documents that would speed up the layout process and enable collaborative workflows within workgroups and across enterprises. By 2004, Typefi had built and delivered the world’s first fully automated desktop publishing system.
I joined Typefi in late 2005 to take the product to market, and was appointed CEO in 2006. We expanded to North America in 2006 and then to Europe in 2009.
Typefi’s vision for its products and services broadened as the digital revolution gained momentum and new ways of delivering content emerged. The company is now an established global leader in single-source, multi-format automated publishing, with a team of 45 located in eight countries around the world.
I was born in Sri Lanka and migrated to Australia in my early teens. After finishing my high school in the suburbs of Melbourne I graduated with a Bachelor Applied Science in Computer Science and Bachelor of Engineering with Honours from RMIT in Melbourne. During my final years at university and after graduation I worked as a communications engineer around the world.
In 1995 I joined CSIRO on a week-long engagement as a Communications Engineer. At the end of that engagement I was offered and accepted a role at the newly created CSIRO Publishing. The focus of the role was implementing an e-commerce platform to sell books online, implement a digital production process for the journals and books, and publish and distribute journal and book content via the web.
The ambition to publish and distribute scholarly and technical content online in 1995 was well ahead of any Australian publisher at that time. In many ways, CSIRO Publishing was leading the world in producing and publishing STM content digitally.
As part of these programs I presented workshops for APA members on selling books online, coping with Y2K, and digital publishing processes in the late 1990s. At CSIRO Publishing I was also involved with developing international standards around electronic publishing with GCA (now IDEAlliance), Standards Australia, ISO, W3C and many more.
In 2000 I joined Lonely Planet as their General Manager for Information Technology. At Lonely Planet I had the honour to work with some of the global pioneers and thought leaders in travel publishing and the application of digital technologies for travel information.
At Lonely Planet we built back-end content databases that powered many print and digital products, and in 2003 we built the first travel apps that shipped with the first ever colour Palm Pilot products. I worked as part of the global leadership team at Lonely Planet through the post-September 11 downturn, SARS crisis and other transformational events in the travel industry to bring the business back to profitability by middle of 2004.
In late 2004, a few months after the birth of my first child, I decided to take a family break and resigned from Lonely Planet in January 2005. In mid-2005 I started a small consulting practice helping businesses create new products for the emerging digital markets. In late 2005 I was engaged by the founders of Typefi to help take their concept of an automated publishing solution to market, and I was appointed CEO of Typefi in September 2006.
How do you explain accessibility in book publishing?
Accessibility in general is the creation and use of products and services for people with disabilities. In the case of publishing, accessibility refers to access to information for people with disabilities. The goal of accessibility is to create an inclusive society for people with visual, auditory, physical, or cognitive disabilities.
Historically, disabilities were thought to be caused by demons or angry deities and, therefore, seen as if they were somehow “deserved”. This belief is still held by some. Until relatively recently (1970s), disability was seen as a deviation from a statistical norm and something to be fixed. In the most extreme interpretations, this led to the rise of eugenics, which led to sterilisation, institutionalisation of those deemed unfit, and, in some cases, death.
In the 1970s there was a fundamental change in how disabled people were treated, and the medical approach to disability. This led to work on physical accessibility.
That said, since the early 1800s, many systems were developed to enable people with disability to access information. Today accessibility, or universal access to information, is seen as a human right. This right has been enshrined in international treaties like “The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” and the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities”.
These rights have also been enshrined in legislation like the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 of Australia, Equality Act 2010 in the UK, European Accessibility Act in the EU, and many separate items of legislation and regulations in the United States of America.
Why is it important for publishers to think about accessibility of their copyright material?
Accessibility for publishers is important for three reasons. Firstly, it is ethically the right thing to do. In a society where equal opportunity is an accepted social value, providing accessible information should be seen no differently than having a vegan or diabetic friendly option for food in a cafeteria. The World Blind Union has stated that “over 90% of all published materials cannot be read by blind or print-disabled people” currently.
Secondly, readers with a print disability form a large percentage of a potential market. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life, and those who survive to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning. According the World Health Organization, 10% of the world’s population—650 million people—live with some form of disability. An estimated 253 million people live with vision impairment: 36 million are blind and 217 million have moderate to severe vision impairment. 81% of people who are blind or have moderate or severe vision impairment are aged 50 and above.
Between 2015 and 2030, the number of older persons—those aged 60 years or over—in the world is projected to grow by 56 per cent, from 901 million to more than 1.4 billion. By 2030, older persons will outnumber children aged 0-9 years (1.4 billion vs. 1.3 billion); by 2050, there will be more people aged 60 or over than adolescents and youth aged 10-24 years (2.1 billion vs. 2.0 billion). As a publisher can you afford to ignore and alienate this market?
Then there are regulatory requirements—ranging from national legislation and international treaties—compelling publishers to publish accessible content. One of the earliest examples of the regulatory risk in ignoring accessibility was Bruce Lindsay Maguire vs Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. A more recent example is the National Federation of the Blind vs Target Corp litigation in the USA, which resulted in class damages of $USD 6 million, plaintiff legal fees over $3 million, undisclosed defence legal fees and court oversight for several years.
Who are the leaders in the accessible book space, in your opinion?
I admire leaders who have either driven change in the publishing industry or have seen the change over the horizon and decided to use it to their advantage.
In 1995, Mr Paul Reekie, the newly appointed head of CSIRO Publishing, saw the internet as a big opportunity. He would often note that the internet would remove the tyranny of distance for Australian book and journal publishers. He pushed to have a web-based bookshop up and running by 1996. He wanted electronic subscriptions for journal articles the same year. Content was produced for digital delivery first by 1997. Not only did these initiatives provide significant boosts to revenue, it provided faster access to Australian science for readers around the world. This also resulted in turning around a publishing business dependent on tax payer subsidies a self-funding sustainable publisher.
Today, under Mr Andrew Stammer, CSIRO Publishing remains a gold standard in scholarly publishing globally and still drives to benefit from the inevitable changes in the industry. This contrasts with many publishers who have tried to ignore or hold back the changes and found themselves having to sell the business or close.
Another publisher that focused on the export market is Lonely Planet. From its inception, Tony and Maureen Wheeler focused on their customer, the traveller. Travel has changed significantly since the founding of Lonely Planet in 1974. Under the Wheelers, Lonely Planet thrived and rode the wave of change. They were early adopters of technology and have always implemented changes to more efficiently produce books in-house than they could if they outsourced or offshored.
I also admire thought leaders like Matthew Reilly, Australian-born best-selling author. Matthew Reilly is a case study of an author publishing and distributing a book through advances in technology. By the late 90,s producing book with a print run of a thousand was more economical than it had ever been before.
Bill Newlin, Publisher at Avalon Travel, is another who has embraced, accepted and thrived with change. Bill is very skilled at reading the changes in publishing and distinguishing changes that will be valued by the reader.
Overall, I admire leaders who thrive with change. In the publishing industry, which has undergone significant changes in the past decade and will do so in to the future, a leader who capitalises, embraces and drives change is more likely to succeed than not.