Publishers Seeking Tools of Change

Gilbane’s Steve Paxhia writes that many publishers are experiencing “Kodak Moments”.:

…changes in customer expectations that are easily as profound as those experienced by the Photography industry. They don’t just want their information to be more timely and less expensive, they also want their information to concisely answer their questions and seamlessly integrate with their work flows or learning styles.
Perhaps the most significant change is the redefinition of the EDU [Economic Delivery Unit]… In the digital world, authors and publishers are potentially freed from the strictures of printing economies. Therefore, information currently found in textbooks, references, magazines and journals can be rendered as as short information objects or more comprehensive content modules. Or publishers can produce information objects or content modules that are not anticipated to ever take book form. The objects can be delivered in many ways including search engines such as Google. These new EDUs can be purchased or licenses separately or mixed and matched to create a course of instruction or a personal reference work.

Drilling down, Steve notes a stumbling block:

To many publishers, the perfectly formatted page has become almost an art form. They consider those pages to have many of the same aesthetic values that Kodak attributed to images produced via their traditional film technologies… Because books and computer screens represent quite different form factors, the value of the perfect page can actually limit rather that enhance the effective presentation of information in digital formats. … Publishers that cling to the page metaphor are putting their futures in jeopardy.

In the digital world it’s clear that the “perfect page” (and its standard representation, PDF) will still have important roles to play. For many kinds of highly composed content – children’s books, elaborately inset textbooks, coffee table books – it doesn’t make much sense to think about “reflowing” to different sized displays, any more than it makes sense to chop up a perfect photograph. But for many types of content, it will pay off to “keep it liquid” for improved reusability, accessibility, and mobile readability. That’s why Adobe is promoting the new IDPF OPS reflow-centric XML format as a complement to PDF . We’re supporting OPS in our new Digital Editions client software and InDesign CS3 publishing tools.
Next month O’Reilly Conferences is holding a new conference on publishing technology: Tools of Change, June 18-20 in San Jose, California. This should be a great venue for exchanging ideas about these tremendous business and technology challenges facing the publishing industry – hosted by an organization that has been at the head of the pack on everything from eBooks to XML content repositories to Web 2.0. Adobe is one of the sponsors of TOC and our CEO Bruce Chizen is speaking. You can look forward to seeing some exciting new stuff from us (after all, it’s taking place in our back yard). So if you are involved in charting the future of publishing, as a publisher or vendor, I hope you will consider joining Tim O’Reilly and team at TOC. Early bird registration ends Monday 5/8, so “act now, operators are standing by“.

3 Responses to Publishers Seeking Tools of Change

  1. bowerbird says:

    we can expect old-school publishers
    will try to instantiate workflows
    that are _expensive_, to keep the _cost_of_entry_ artificially high,
    and ward off the proliferation of
    competition from no-cost publishing.
    let’s see if the rest of the world
    allows them to get away with it…
    as for me, i’ll take the $1,500 that
    i would have spent on this conference
    and use it to pay my i.s.p. bill for
    the next 5 or 10 years…
    -bowerbird

  2. Tamas Simon says:

    You’ve raised a very important question that I haven’t seen answered before: what does “page” mean in the digital world?
    In my opinion a “page” needs to have attributes that are dependent on the device used for presentation:
    – physical dimmensions (size)
    – resolution (pixels)
    – is scrollable (e.g. eInk screen vs. LCD screen)
    The format should then specify the minimum requirements that still allow meaningful rendering of the contents and the presentation application should handle differences in “page” characteristics.
    what do you think?

  3. Bill McCoy says:

    Tamas,
    In general I agree. When you have linear content that is going to be dynamically paginated, there should be some way for authors to express preferences for how this should be handled given different device constraints (size, resolution, etc.).
    This is not standardized in OPS, which concerns itself with representing the structured content, not particular layouts.
    Adobe has created an OPS extension based on XSL-FO that delivers this capability. XSL-FO already provides for specifying different master page sequences. Our extension makes the conditions under which they are used a dynamic XPath expression, which enables some very interesting behaviors – switching number of columns based on the display width is just the beginning.
    We will describe this extension more completely in the near future, and hope that it may be a suitable basis for future standardization of a means of describing this kind of dynamic adaptive layout intent. Meantime you can see the current markup in the XHTML-based sample eBooks at http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/digitaleditions/library .
    Now, this might be called “macro-level layout” of entire publications – there’s also what might be called “micro-level layout” of content that is already broken up into pages or screens, or precisely specified layout within a page during a formatting process. There is a lot of history around this issue especially in the context of application user interface design (e.g. Java GridBagLayout). There’s also the possibility that one might want to specify a very precise visual layout template into which content will be “poured” and be sure to achieve a particular result.
    What we are trying to achieve with OPS does not fully encompass these issues. If you have content that is highly complex and requires explicit positioning you can use PDF, or if only a portion of your content has that characteristic you can use SVG within OPS to ensure that you get that layout (and you can use embedded fonts throughout to convey “house style”). But when you use text flows in OPS you are effectively saying that you have content that you expect to be displayed differently on different reading systems (analgous to an RSS feed, but able to represent a lot more richness and logical structure). Some reading systems might not even be able to handle the embedded fonts, or may be speaking the content aloud, or manipulating it in a semantic processing application, not displaying it visually at all.
    So for example the export feature from InDesign CS3 exports the “stories” from a publication, not its layout. By hand-authoring a custom page master you may be able to achieve a similar page layout as the print version (and over time that’s something we may be able to automate). But if you require exactly the same line layout as InDesign you should export PDF, not OPS: there’s no way to specify a template that will guarantee utilizing a specific line layout result dynamically in our client software (which is designed to be small and fast).