Digital Content Publishing Diversity

2014 is shaping up as a very interesting digital content publishing year. In addition to book publishers, Axis12 are working with government, magazine/newsletter, enterprise and institution publishers who need complete digital content strategies

By the end of February we had:

  • Deployed a significant UK Government report publishing project.
  • Moving on creating production templates for a magazine which publishes 206 language editions monthly
  • Started on a very hi-fi suite of corporate marketing print and e-brochures
  • Worked through the production proof of concept phases for significant historical document archives in 1) Botanical science and 2) the Holocaust

Meanwhile the secondary education textbook conversion and interactive upgrade projects are ramping up while academic and trade content continue on their steady paths.

The interesting trends seen are:

  1. Organisations of every type have a requirement to get content delivered everywhere in multiple formats
  2. Those organisations want to control the content from production to consumption
  3. Content engagement expectations of users and consumers need to be matched
  4. Comprehensive digital content publishing has moved past early adopters

There appears to be a rapid digital content publishing evolution underway that is not being addressed by yesterdays tools.

The 2014 Digital Content World

Government institution and business organisations have long published valuable content using print, file exchange and website tools such as content management systems and learning management systems. These solutions are not working as well, or perhaps as comprehensively, as they need to be.

There is also a clear message that people with significant valuable digital content have released computer desktop applications, such as InDesign, Quark, Sigil, Calibre, etc. are productivity and quality inhibitors. Worse, they are a graveyard for valuable content that needs long-term digital future. Conversion now tools do not deliver a digital content future.

Digital Asset Management and Enterprise Content Management systems address some of these issues as storage for some aspects of digital content but there is a very big difference between 1) use-once and store for statutory compliance business documentation and 2) formally published information. The published information tends to be a poor choice for ECM systems.

Treating publishable content as a static asset that can be stored in some file format in a file management system, is passing quickly, as should be expected.

Here is our list of publishers by organisation type we have worked with this year:

  • Commercial publishing. This is the most simple publishing business to understand. It is what is generally understood when we use the terms publisher or publishing. It contains an incredibly wide range of content and presentation types including: fiction, non-fiction, academic, education and many others.
  • Periodical publishing. This is a specialised variant of the above. Magazines and newspapers have the challenge of hitting the deadline with compelling content for their target audience.
  • Government publishing. Government departments need to publish information for internal, external and public or private consumption.
  • Institution publishing. This is a broad brush where institution is a placeholder for primarily not-for-profit organisations. It includes QUANGOS, standard bodies, education and training institutions, etc.
  • Business publishing. This is generally where publishing is a supporting activity for the primary business. It includes user manuals, guides, training programs, marketing collateral (but explicitly not standard business documentation). It's the information a business gives or sells to customers or prospects.

Here are some of Axis12's 2014 "publishing projects with a difference" in a little more detail. These new digital content projects certainly make you consider the nature of publishing in general and the potential power of digital content fulfilment and delivery as either a compliment (in the near term) or alternative to print.

Government Reports

the National Health Service CQC (Care Quality Commission) has to create and distribute hundreds of reports each month on all aspects of the health care system in every corner of the UK. The large, detailed and formal reports go through a Word document authoring and review process, then typesetting and finally independent extraction of the content for selective content availability on a reporting website. They needed the reports in PDF, Online in two documentation systems and (new) available as e-books. It was a pure digital content publishing play.

The solution has to eliminate production costs, simplify the author and review process and get the reports into all formats instantly and automatically.

Cross Platform Publisher had all the required tools in place. We demonstrated the importing of the Word files and instant output of the formats. It was so successful they required an Online forms report authoring system rather than going through a Word document. The solution was implemented in a matter of a week or two and was executed in six weeks, with available, proven and reliable digital publishing production technology;Cross Platform Publisher.

Multi-language Newsletter Publisher

An organisation has monthly newsletters that need to be translated into 206 languages and published at the same time in six formats: print PDF, online PDF, ePUB, ePUB3, Mobi and antiquated PDB (in two variants). Different editions, formats and languages have different advertisements, inclusions and detail requirements.

This had turned into an unmanageable workflow nightmare on the desktop and many formats could not be delivered.

Each month the English master word processor manuscript is sent to the translators and the translation is returned in two weeks. The translation manuscripts are then imported into Cross Platform Publisher, are processed and are instantly ready for format generation. Cross Platform Publisher handles the mapping of language fonts to language templates using dozens of prepared Font Schemes. The interesting challenge of this was to ensure the languages and fonts are correctly handled. ISO 639-1 worked exceptionally.

In Cross Platform Publisher the workflow is sparse, east and the formats can be modified or increased at any time.We are now evaluating the addition of a custom bulk format generation module so all six formats for a monthly project of 206 language editions (1,236 formats) can be auto generated as a single operation and sent to a distribution system. Everything else is standard Cross Platform Publisher.

Enterprise Catalogue, Training and Communication Documents

Business document strategies have relied on a combination of PDF and online resources for a long time. Solutions like DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) systems, generic CMS and InDesign for print were adequate in slower business days. Now they are proving incredibly expensive and in most cases cannot generate the required delivery formats and packages.

There is now a strong requirement for all-of-the-above plus off-line digital content delivered for mobile devices. More importantly is the ability to maintain, change and update content faster and more reliably and break the print production hardcoding and delivery deadlocks.

A highly designed print brochure can be replicated as fixed layout ePub as many publishers do. However this business wants to be able to use the digital assets dynamically as well as for the production of print and e-catalogues, which is another story.

Valuable Archives

We have implemented a number of digital archive projects in the past but these are again coming to the fore with the requirement for easy content access, search and format packaging while upholding digital archiving best practices. There are a few projects in the wings which we may be able to report shortly (we have to respect the NDAs). The projects are to make massively important historical, scientific and cultural documents available for research and education.

The Formats

Publishing used to be simpler before the age of the Internet when all content was segregated into audio, video and print and made available through their respective retail outlets.

With the Internet, publishing became more diverse and separated into boxes with web pages being delivered with Content Management Systems and other technologies such as Learning Management Systems. While CMS is good for online content delivery it doesn't have the power, flexibility and tagging patterns for advanced, multi-format, digital content production and management.

Today the content delivery dimensions have become even more complex with all the above plus Apps/Web-apps and standard or custom e-book formats and the market expectation that published information will be available digitally. Here are the main digital content publishing delivery options:

  • Print / Large Print / Print on Demand
  • Internet Controlled webpage publishing / social or community webpage publishing
  • Apps/Web-apps Content containers for mobile devices and computer platforms of all shapes and sizes
  • e-Book formats both open and proprietary, old and new for mobile devices and computer platforms
  • Custom stuff. Strange custom or experimental stuff (probably categorised under Apps)

There is also considerable additional complexity because the inclusion of sub-structures for any but the most simple content needs to be considered.

  • Audio/Video. For narration, instruction or entertainment. This can be the complete content package or a dominant and/or supporting component
  • Interactivity/Widgets. Interactive components can be included because they are entertaining, cute, essential; or define new information interactive paradigms
  • Navigation Strategies. There is a lot of content out their just wanting to be enabled with enhanced navigation, search, discovery and exploration tools. The ground has hardly been scratched here.
  • Questions and Answers. Self evaluation and testing are essential components of education and training content delivery in particular
  • MathML and SVG. These have to be mentioned separately because of their importance and usefulness in digital content management strategies
  • Multi-languages/cultural localisation. Both internationalisation (I18N) and Localisation (L10N) are essential considerations for many types of content

The Digital Content Publishing Sizes

The final dimension is the production and content complexity of any publishing works. Depending on the type of publishing all of the following are factors:

  • Count of books and documents. How many documents do you have under management, do they have reusable content and can you access it all
  • Format count and number of delivery channels. This changes from a trade publisher delivering a range of formats to 5-20 e-retailer channels, to an education publisher delivering a single format via a specialist reading system for multiple viewport sizes to hundreds and even thousands of organisations with millions of users
  • Number and frequency of editions per book or document. Many organisations publish once and forget; or have multiple editions with upgrades and various enhancements
  • Data size of books and documents. This is word/image/media/section counts. Different content types have wildly different data sizes
  • Component count. Number of illustrations, figures, tables, interactive components, equations and all those distinctive sometimes expensive-to-create, often comprehensively linked structured that comprise many published documents
  • Production team size and specialisation. Different subjects and genres require different combinations author/writer, editor, reviewer, illustrator, production editor, etc. It could differ from being one person to a small production group
  • Maintenance and reuse. For certain any reasonable education content publisher is going to be maintaining their content aggressively and want to reuse it in new contexts. These strategies don't sprint off the page when you look at a print book
  • Semantic and other tagging granularity. Some content needs a lot of tagging to make it usable and reusable. Obviously if you are just presenting it in some simple e-reader, dense tagging is a waste of time. If your content is extractable and reusable then it could be a major requirement
  • Metadata density. Depending on the content many types of content need different types of metadata throughout the content, or perhaps it doesn't
  • Number of languages. This one had to be included considering we are currently working on 206 simultaneous language translations for a monthly magazine

Making It Easy

Cross Platform Publisher makes producing and delivery such a wide range of content genres so easy in the production solution domain.

All digital content (except print) is delivered in HTML, which avoids using arcane XML that needs to be expensively processed to create the outputs. ().

Ultimately the quality of digital content production, ownership and publisher distribution never gets netter than the structural, semantic and processing grammars used to manage it. Then the tools can exploit that quality and consistency of tagging. The advantage of (X)HTML(5) is the content is presentation ready in production and in any package.

Most valuable publisher content is not digital distribution ready (although it may be web ready), while there is an emerging need to manage government, institutional and corporate information that has published content value as distributable content for multi-format delivery.

Future digital content production solutions will not be found looking at the existing tools, techniques and skill sets. Irrespective of the size of the publisher, the production dimensions of digital content ownership are:

  • Content Management for authoring, editing and maintenance
  • Flexible, instant and low cost format package creation for any use
  • Reuse and exploitation of the content
  • Tools for handling sub-components and complexities

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About Us

Axis12 specialise in building, hosting and supporting high traffic, content heavy web applications for both the public and private sector that help them achieve their Digital First aspirations. We recently implemented Cross Platform Publisher for the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom, which has transformed the way online reporting and publishing is carried out.