When I was asked to open the Production and Distribution track that I programmed for the recent Digital Book World conference with a “State of the Union” presentation addressing the most important issues the attendees needed to be aware of, the first thing I realized is that talking about “digital publishing” is soon going to be obsolete.
All publishing is digital now. There isn’t any other kind.
Just think about it. How content is authored, acquired, developed, edited, designed, produced, promoted, distributed, and discovered—all of that is digital today. It’s how we do what we do.
That’s not to say “digital fatigue” isn’t real. One explanation for why the sales of trade ebooks have plateaued is that we spend so much of our time looking at screens—as I’m doing writing this, and as you’re doing reading it—that at a certain point we just want to sit in a comfortable chair with a book that isn’t going to tempt us to click away to the Web or distract us with an urgent message about the 20%-off coupon we’ve got for Bed Bath & Beyond. I’m a tech evangelist, and yet I got the latest Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon novels as nice fat hardcovers for Christmas. I love ’em.
We’re not talking only about novels. One other major theme of my track was how important print still is. “Multiformat” includes print. Although its relative importance varies from sector to sector, there isn’t a single sector where print is totally irrelevant. Even STM: Apex produces the journals of PLOS, the Public Library of Science, a cutting edge open access publisher, and one of the deliverables from our workflow is PDF. Scientists like to print the articles out.
“Multiformat” includes print.
Which brings me to probably the most important theme of the track: the complexity we are dealing with in our ever more multiformat, multichannel world. Many of the track’s sessions were devoted to how to re-engineer our workflows to deal with this complexity. How to get our people—staff and partners—realigned for this new reality. How to take control of how our books get into the hands of readers—and how the readers find them in the first place.
The good news is that the standards behind all this are converging. The combination of IDPF, the organization responsible for the EPUB standard, and the W3C, the organization that develops and governs most of the standards of the Open Web, has just been officially confirmed. This is a watershed development in our industry. It makes EPUB a first-class citizen of the web and ensures that publishers will have a role in shaping its future. We’re getting ever closer to having a single format that just works, online or offline.
And works for everybody. EPUB is an inherently accessible format. Most publishers don’t realize that if they have properly structured EPUBs, they are 80% of the way there to having properly accessible content. In the standards convergence I’ve been speaking about for the past few years, accessibility standards are part of the picture. EPUB Accessibility 1.0 became official on January 5. It’s based on all the fundamental accessibility standards of the web. And it provides a baseline specification and guidelines for what publishers need to do to make their books properly accessible. The print disabled shouldn’t have to get special versions—usually at great cost and delay—of the books they need. They should be able to buy the same ebook everybody else does. We’re getting close to making that a reality—and a standard part of publishing workflows, making books “born accessible.”
We’re getting ever closer to having a single format that just works, online or offline.
What this all means is that despite the complexity and challenge we’re facing today, the processes we use in publishing are actually getting easier. We’re moving away from proprietary standards and specifications and technologies that create barriers and become obsolete. We’re moving to standards that enable us to adapt more easily to advancing technology. That make our books more accessible to everybody. In whatever format is needed.
That enable us to COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere.
You can view my DBW presentation below. And yes, I know, it’s actually a PDF. I didn’t say we were all the way there yet <smile>.