Publishing Mean and Lean
We've always known it's smart to collaborate. Now we're realizing it's stupid not to.
This is one of the profound effects of the digital publishing revolution. Before the digital era, it was easy to talk about cooperation and teamwork, and then go about our business much as we always had. Graphic designers didn't have to care about how an editor did their work. Editors didn't have to care about production technology.
The printer didn't care how the publisher created those stacks of repro, the publisher didn't care if the printer "fixed" mistakes found at the last minute. And those shadowy figures at the periphery of the process, the author and the marketer? Authors just had to write the stuff, marketers just had to sell it.
Nearly everyone in publishing today knows how much that scenario has changed in the world of production. Digital desktop publishing not only democratized the production of graphic content, it also shattered the walls between the "silos" people nested comfortably in.
The graphic designer no longer gets a stack of paper manuscripts, but electronic documents. How those files are created can halve or double the designer's work.
In book publishing, the difference can be dramatic. A fat 800-page reference book can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks to typeset, depending on the kind and condition of the source files. The printer no longer gets repro, but Adobe PostScript or PDF files. And while only a handful of printers and publishers know what "certified PDF" means, ultimately that imbalance will change.
In general, the digital revolution in production is a done deal. Few people realize how much broader and deeper the ramifications of the digital revolution are for all aspects of publishing.
For example, collaboration now extends beyond production. It affects all aspects of the publishing workflow, from authoring and editing to marketing and distribution. It spans time and space, breaking down geographical barriers, making instant communication possible.
It affects the nature of our products themselves: Print is no longer the be-all, end-all, but just one piece of a much larger digital puzzle. The only way to make this truly efficient and productive—and thus profitable and competitive, without wasting time, money and effort—is, in short, to practice lean publishing.
That means collaboration across the production workflow. Editors work in Microsoft Word (usually), and the files they get from writers are almost always a Word file.
To improve the effectiveness of their collaboration, it would be nice if the author used a template. Don't scoff. It can be done, if the template is simple, and the editor's expectations are modest. And if the editor used a template, that would help compositors understand what the various elements are, where they go, and map them to a style sheet.
If the same files compositors used to produce the print pages could be used by the Web publishers, that would avoid a lot of conversion and recoding. If the metadata Web publishers need came straight from the marketing department, that would reduce cycle time, too. (Much of that information originates in the marketing department.)
It's all possible and happening today, albeit in a small minority of cases. The enabler: XML, the Extensible Markup Language.
Most people understand the benefit of PostScript and PDF, but are only beginning to recognize the power of XML. But XML's effects on collaboration are profound, more so than any digital publishing technology that's come before.
XML provides a common language that connects literally all points on the publishing workflow. We can get XML out of the Word files authors and editors worked on. We can get XML out of Star Office and other word processors, too.
The marketing department can continue to store data in whatever database it's now using. Standards such as ONIX and PRISM can extract the marketing database's metadata and provide it to others inside or outside the organization.
XMP, the Extensible Metadata Platform, even enables metadata to be embedded into graphic files produced by Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop (and soon, a host of other programs). As XMP becomes more widely implemented, it promises to dramatically streamline workflows.
With composition technology starting to become XML-savvy, life will become easier for compositors. It will also get easier recipients of those files, who will need to publish them on the Web, license them to others or archive them for untold future uses.
XML, and especially the DOI (Digital Object Identifier), enables virtually all document versions, whether print or electronic, to be found, linked to and purchased in a seamless, dynamic way that was science fiction just a few years back.
It's no longer a dream. It's happening today. I recently edited and produced an 800 page reference book, The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing. It was typeset in hours, thanks to an XML workflow. Then it was published to print and online simultaneously, using exactly the same data. It's proof that XML workflows work!
The publishing industry couldn't do what it does today without desktop publishing software, PostScript, PDF, XML and the Web. But it's important to realize these technologies are fundamentally enabling technologies.
They don't do anything in and of themselves. It's how we publishers use them that matters. We can use them stupidly, and often do. We can continue to work in our silos with blinders on, ignoring the march of progress, and try to keep doing much as we have.
But our colleagues and competitors will pull ahead, making better use of these tools. Remember, collaboration cuts both ways. It also means other people in the value chain—at the next desk or on the other side of the world—can make your job easier or harder. That's what digital publishing is all about: working together to make everybody's life easier.
Finally, we're getting the tools to make lean publishing possible.
Bill Kasdorf (BKasdorf@AA.Impressions.com) is president of Impressions Book and Journal Services Inc., in Madison, Wis. Kasdorf is also the editor of The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing.