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Katie Sweeney, assistant marketing manager at Fordham University Press, attended an ebooks seminar recently, courtesy of Brenna McLaughlin of AAUP and Ted Hill, President of THA Consulting. I asked her to write up her notes for a blog post to Digital Commons. Instead of rehashing her notes verbatim, Katie came up with this clever assessment. I think she hit the nail right on the head. We have been having a lot of fun assigning names to the different types of people in our office. Enjoy!

If I was a Director of a small press and I attended the Publisher’s Launch Conference: eBooks for Everyone Else, I’m not sure I would have taken the leap to create an eBooks Program.  However, that’s why organizations have different types of people.

  • You need the “visionary”—the person who sees the big picture.
  • You need the “techie”—the person who is willing to learn the technology, or at least understand enough of it to make an informed decision on the conversion company to hire.
  • You need the “negotiator”—the person who can get a contract on the table, bargain for better terms, and sign on the dotted line.
  • You need someone who’s “OCD.” They’re the person who will care enough about nitpicking every tiny piece of metadata and scrutinize the finished eBook.
  • You need the “worker bee,” although an entire beehive would be useful. This will be the person who knows the theory of how the workflow should operate, but will actually execute it.
  • You need the “naysayer.” The one who hates change and will be taken kicking and screaming into eBooks. They will be a hindrance, but they will probably spot half a dozen problems that you didn’t anticipate. Foresight is key.
  • You need the “scrooge” to nickel and dime your budget because contrary to popular belief, eBooks don’t just appear from established content. They’re another production stream in their own right.
  • You need everyone else who makes a regular book happen, make it happen for an eBook.

Once you’ve identified these people in your organization, the best thing you can do is educate them because there’s a lot to learn.

Like everything, there are advantages and disadvantages to eBooks. There is 24/7 availability. eBooks are never out of stock and there are no returns. Publishers can experiment with price points, create enhancements to files, or rapidly respond to marketplace events. Bonus: there is no physical inventory to ship or store. On the flip side, the disadvantages include, but are not limited to dealing with DRM, the technical file delivery, piracy, quality assurance, fluid business models, and trying to compute royalties.

Another hurdle is the change in the editorial and production workflows. Will you use an XML workflow at the front end of the editing process? In simplistic terms, this means creating a template and guidelines that copyeditors will use for tagging the manuscript. Further down the line, this will rear its head in production. You are now focused on all things “e,” but can your printers accept these files to make a print book? It’s a give and take between the print business we still need to do and eBusiness we want to do.

Publishers Launch also included some great nitty-gritty topics, such as metadata for eBooks. If you shop on Zappos, you know the importance of locating a perfect kitten heels in black patent leather in less than 20 seconds. Finding your book needs to be that easy.

Books covers were also a source of discussion. Traditionally, a great cover was thought to draw people from 20 feet. Today, finding a good book online is more about search and discovery. A book cover may be the size of a postage stamp. For publishers, this might mean creating a cover for a print book and creating a cover that is smaller, yet still distinguishable online.

Digital Identifiers are also expanding. Besides ISBNs, there is the ISTC —the International Standard Text Code that is a unique identifier for text. That means it belongs to the textual work, not the edition of a book. It is assigned to related works of the same content. There is also the ISNI—the International Standard Name Identifier. It identifies public identities, such as authors making it easier to locate all titles that an author may publish, regardless of the publisher.

And, once you’ve got your eBook made, you’ve got to figure out how to distribute it. Are you doing it all inhouse? That means you need to make sure you have the right type of file and negotiated agreements with every company you want to sell to. Are you hiring a distributor that will take one file and send it to their existing distribution agreements? The variations on these questions are endless. You need to explore you options and find the best fit for your organization.

The bottom line is that creating eBooks will touch all areas of your organization. It infiltrates editorial, production, marketing and sales. It’s not a simple task. One person doesn’t make it all happen. It’s a coordinated group effort that requires a strong leader and a dynamic team. Always have meetings to regroup. You might get frustrated, but you can always improve. For a small organization it can be a challenge. Some days it’s Survivor: Fordham Press, but every once in a while you hit tropical island status. That’s the day you hang up your hammock and take out your Kindle, your Nook, or your iPad and just read.

One the eve of its annual conference, the Association of American University Presses has launched a redesigned website and released the results of its second digital book publishing survey in as many years. The press release announcing the report can be read here, and the report itself is available for download.

In addition to providing interesting statistical breakdown as to the number of presses participating in a wide variety of digital publication efforts, it also reveals the widespread (unavoidable?) use of digital technology in traditional print publishing, particularly print-on-demand.

For most presses  (53 of 71 who participated in the survey) revenue from sales of electronic editions remains below 3%. It will be interesting to see how/if that changes in the coming year, particularly since the percentage of presses now reporting as participating in site licenses to libraries has nearly doubled (from 34% in the 2009-2010 survey to 65% in the Spring 2011 survey).

Overall, finding a working business model and creating systems to best allocate limited resources remain the biggest obstacles faced by university presses when it comes to digital publishing. As the report clearly demonstrates, despite these concerns, AAUP member presses are actively and enthusiastically embracing the possibilities. And if history is any indicator, following this weekend’s annual conference, “The Next Wave: Toward a Culture of Collaboration,” that enthusiasm will be redoubled throughout the summer.

By Guest Blogger Lenny Allen

The title of the classic Philip K. Dick story asks whether androids dream of electric sheep. I don’t know the answer to that particular question, but I do know that we’re all–at this very moment, asleep or awake–dreaming of a digital monograph platform that is financially viable, intuitive, sustainable from the perspective of a rapidly shifting market environment, and adaptable enough to be able to meet both the short and long-term needs of scholarly research at all levels as well as the development of new business and acquisition models.

Our shared mission dictates that we disseminate scholarly content as widely as possible. But how best to fulfill this mission and meet the ongoing needs of academic research all while satisfying the above criteria? Simply publishing our content in electronic format is no longer enough.

Oxford Scholarship Online, launched nearly a decade ago and conceived of when ebooks were in what was then a virtually embryonic phase of development, has blazed a trail that is only now being followed in the marketplace. The use of XML and the precise nature of the text tagging it provided was an early and fundamental decision and has been instrumental to OSO’s success.

XML provides us the ability to do more than give users what is essentially a static “picture” of a book, offering instead a rich, robust text that meets the needs of scholarly research today and for the foreseeable future. In spite of all the rapid technological developments and the ensuing seismic shifts in the market, one thing has remained constant:  the nature and methodology of scholarly research. This is often lost in the clamor of our current discussion so it’s worth reminding ourselves from time to time that this is at the very heart of what we do and why we do it.

As OSO now evolves into University Press Scholarship Online and we begin the process of including other university press content on our platform, — see our recently launched pilot partner Fordham Scholarship Online–we’re more focused than ever on the viability of the monograph as a key medium of scholarly communication. The ability to conduct precisely targeted searches across multiple presses within the same platform is an exciting development and one that promises to do much in the way of advancing scholarly research.

XML is what makes that long-held dream a fully-functioning reality. Rather than merely replicating the confining linearity of the print book usage experience, XML instead offers accurate search-and-discoverability tools that greatly enhance research. Even in its latest incarnation, PDF cannot replicate the advantages provided by XML tagging, which identifies each piece of data and allows it to be found in the context of the search being made. By contrast, PDF searches are analogous to those made on the open web. Improvements made recently to PDF are all ‘bolt-on’ pieces of functionality applied to something which is intrinsically static. XML, in contrast, is designed from the ground up as a dynamic, repurposeable method of managing sophisticated data.

Students, researchers, and scholars are becoming ever more sophisticated consumers of electronic content. We need only look to the latest generation of discoverability services for evidence of the absolute importance of feature-rich metadata. In the newly dawning era of demand-driven acquisition (aka Patron Driven Acquisition) the discoverability of content has become of paramount importance. If the new formula for library acquisitions can be posited as “access = purchase,” no academic publisher can afford to exert less than a herculean effort at ensuring their content discoverability. The higher the quality of the XML tagging, the easier it becomes to discover the content users are looking for amid the ocean of online information, much of which is lacking in the authority guaranteed by the peer-review process.

OSO, UPSO, and all other Oxford online products have been built under the umbrella of a digital strategy that is in many ways dependent on the XML format. We continue to believe that will hold true going forward and that XML provides enormous benefits to researchers and consumers of scholarly content–our own and that of the presses with whom we partner on the UPSO platform.

Lenny Allen is Director of Sales, Wholesale & Online, Oxford University Press. More about University Press Scholarship Online can be found here.

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