Electric Book Works Web, mobile and print publications

A format-agnostic workflow

Underpinning your decisions should be this principle: make more and more of your production workflow digital, and less paper-page oriented.

This video shows how valuable aspects of a print magazine might translate into a digital environment. As you watch it, think about how the content of the magazine they’re describing is never constrained by the notion of the page. It has to be stored and reflowed independently of pagination. And yet it’s somehow familiar in the way that a paper product is.

Right now, most publishers think in pages (usually as double-page-spreads). This thinking affects the way your staff work at different stages. For some books, page-based thinking starts as early as the commissioning stage, when an author is briefed to write in terms of page length or DPSes. For others, page-based thinking starts when the designer draws up a design in InDesign and the typesetter implements that. For others, like dictionary publishers who already use XML-based systems to edit and typeset, page-based thinking hardly ever intrudes on your workflow, and only becomes important right at the end when you get final print quotes.

Whatever decisions you make now about ebooks, in the medium to long term you need to be keeping more and more of your workflow page-free. The longer you can keep content format-agnostic, not dependent on any particular way of displaying it, the more flexible you can be when deciding what to sell. For example, if you’ve thought in pages, creating a mobile-phone version of your book will be very difficult and expensive. It will also be expensive (in staff time) to reuse content in other books or provide that content is a usable form to licensees.

Naturally, your ability to do this will depend largely on your resources. You may be able to afford an XML-based DAMS. But you can already ask, or train, your editors, designers and typesetters to work in ways that are less page-based.

EBW’s Designing for Digital course covers a lot of these basic things editors, designers and typesetters should be doing now, in InDesign especially. For instance, they need to be aware of the way they use: text flow; images; fonts; styles and style names; local formatting; pagination and master pages; spacing; text alignment; tables of contents; and metadata.

Arthur Attwell 16 April 2010
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