On February 24, 2016, the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) hosted a webinar entitled “The Future of XML” (the link is the archived webinar itself — 1 hr. 33 min.). In the webinar, several leaders at university presses like UChicago, Duke, and Princeton discussed what kinds of workflows they are using, how they make use of XML, why they use (or don’t use) XML, how it is going for them, and what they would like to do in the future.

I watched the webinar with great interest, because it was a group of publishers addressing the things that I have made the focus of my career: creating automated and integrated publishing workflows. (Often, the most interesting presentations having to do with the technologies of publishing are when publishers are talking to each other.) The webinar highlighted for me three things:

  1. University Presses, like other publishers, understand their own business very well and don’t need vendors to tell them what they need to do. These people had all spent months if not years exploring options for improving their workflows. Some of them have adopted XML workflows and are producing ebooks in-house. Others have decided — quite rightly, based on their own reasoning — not to adopt an XML workflow at this time. They just don’t see any practical use for it.
  2. For many publishers, an XML workflow remains an elusive ideal with uncertain benefits. XML workflows promise to streamline the book production process and automate the production of ebooks, but often the XML workflow does not streamline the process sufficiently. Several of the university presses mentioned that they would like to implement an XML workflow, but either they don’t know how, or the existing solution providers are too expensive, or the results are ineffective. For many of these presses, even though they would like to attain the “single archival, future-proof content source,” it has been out of reach for them, as they continue to get their ebooks created from pre-press PDFs, and their publications remain in non-archival formats like InDesign’s .INDD file format.
  3. Publishers need practical solutions that they can implement in their own systems, without completely changing what they’re doing, and that give them what they really want: An future-proof archival file, and integrated ebook outputs. It really isn’t that difficult to provide these things, so why don’t more vendors help publishers do so?

The fact is, practical solutions to all of these issues are straightforward.

  • An XML-first workflow is completely within reach for every publisher.
  • Archival XML is available to them without additional costs.
  • EPUB creation is not rocket science, but it does require some specialized tools and/or know-how.
  • Digital production can be integrated very well with print production, and it doesn’t require using InDesign’s terrible EPUB export.
  • Setting up a versioned content archiving to keep everything in a secure, future-proof way can be as painless and cost-free as you want.
  • You don’t need to invest in some vendor’s expensive XML workflow in order to get the job done.

In my work as a publisher and for publishers during the past 19 years, I have implemented solutions to all of these issues, at the levels of complexity required for large-scale academic and reference publishing. An XML workflow shouldn’t be as unattainable as it might seem to be. So over the coming weeks, I’m going to be blogging about all of these questions (I already have drafts for them lined up in my queue). My goal will be to help publishers, like these university presses and others, to realize the benefits of XML in their workflow simply, practically, and affordably.

What about you? Are these issues that you have struggled with in your own publishing endeavors? How have you solved them?

Posted by Sean Harrison

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