Digital Directions: ‘Manuscript First’
The "Print First" strategy is easy to implement, but less than ideal. The service can cost from $150-$600 per title, not including the costs of the publishers' staff to perform quality assurance on the conversions. Second, the semi-manual process is not instantaneous, and there may be latencies to completing conversions. Third, the service provider—and not the publisher—becomes the expert of the process, which fosters dependence on the provider.
An alternative approach is for the publisher to build and maintain a technology platform that can produce versions of content for each platform. This is often based on the philosophy of "XML First" in which content is created in a format that is device-agnostic—not visually styled for any specific device. This "XML First" approach generally involves the acquisition and integration of complex and often expensive software, such as digital asset repositories, XML databases and workflow management systems.
The challenge with such a capital-intensive approach is that even if an organization had access to such capital resources (often in the millions of dollars) the technology may become obsolete before it is fully amortized. Worse, the "XML First" approach typically involves a wholesale reworking of core publishing business processes, which tends to be met with suspicion by a sometimes-dubious staff.
Over the past year, a number of cross-platform publishing success stories have emerged that indicate a third practical approach. It is, in some ways, a cross between "XML First" and "Print First." This third approach, which might be named "Manuscript First," involves the creation of a manuscript that conforms to specific conventions or standards as defined by the publisher. This is most often implemented in Microsoft Word by the use of standard Word style names to create a "well-formed" manuscript. (A "well-formed" document is one that adheres to pre-defined conventions.)