Skip to main content

The XML Paradox

I have been working on my tutorial for the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference. I'm presenting PDF as a cost-effective option to create revenue from the the backlist as an alternative to XML. As a dedicated markup advocate from the days of SGML, and someone who helped simplify SGML down to XML, I still find it odd to be talking about other kinds of solutions, but I think I learned something from my custom web site customers... The XML Paradox is that XML is a high-quality archival medium, and obviously then, books and scholarly content would make the jump first. It just makes sense that everyone would use the high-value format for the longest-lived, highest value content. Wrong! The economics of publishing have played out the opposite way. The more ephemeral the content, the faster production methods can change. So newspapers were doing full-text databases from very early on. In the scholarly markets, journals are now almost all electronic. Books, however, are only starting to move fitfully in the XML direction, and are mostly not digital at all. So the least archivable stuff, moves to the best archival format fastest — because serial content does not have a legacy that needs conversion to make a new channel profitable, so the payoff from a production change can be pretty fast. A publisher with a rich backfile has items that can earn for 20 years or more — as long as costs can be controlled. So any change to the book production process has to pay off immediately on new books. And for any large-scale change across a publisher's line to be successful, it must be very cheap for old books. And that's where e-books stand, revenue unearned because there's not a clear path to get it. XML is great, and enables the production of an optimized presentation for a new media format, but it's not cheap at all. It's an expensive and tricky management challenge to change editorial production processes for new content, and data-conversion costs for old content are very high. Once the data is in hand, the development cost to create a new output format (print, web, handheld, or whatever) is not cheap either. Problems like typesetting, layout and display all have to be solved anew for each output format. It takes work to optimize presentation, especially from the level of abstraction gives good XML that power. So page images (and especially PDF) get a big boost from the XML paradox because they capture a lot of the production value of the existing process and they're the cheapest searchable format to produce from paper. So here I am, a guy who courted his wife over conversations about markup, working with page images. We are managing them with very rich metadata at a fine level, to capture much of the commercial benefit of XML, but still, I'm enabling something I used to rail against. And it's not easy to make page images work over the web, let publishers control the presentation, and still be good to readers. In this discussion I am leaving out the small number of crown-jewel properties that earn large amounts quickly in a new channel, and thus merit technology investment — Projects like that are important, but don't shift the business as a whole. And their emphasis on frequent updates makes them similar to serials in the need for continuous editorial management. Coming soon: I used to think that page scanning projects were a waste of money in terms of long-term investment, and I hope to post soon about why I no longer believe that either.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

AppGap: Tizra more than just a "great tool for content sellers"

Bill Ives has been writing about knowledge management since the days when for most people that meant color coding your files, so we were really pleased when he agreed to evaluate Tizra Publisher in The AppGap , a blog on the future of work. We were even more pleased when he said "I see this service as a great tool for content sellers." But we thought his keenest insight was into applications beyond traditional publishing... [Tizra Publisher] can also be a useful content distribution system for enterprises that need to manage the presentation of their information. This will be especially useful for verticals with a lot of internal content such as legal firms, pharma, and other research oriented enterprises. Ives saw Tizra's combination of easy and yet precisely controlled content distribution as key for these users, and others needing to share marketing and technical information. Read the full review .

Free Webinar: How to get off the mult-format content treadmill

Free Webinar: Friday, September 21 12-12:30 pm (ET) How to wrangle ALL your content types into one beautiful online hub… and get off the treadmill for good! It never lets up. First it was publications and conference materials. Then blogs and social media. Then webinars, infographics, podcasts and online courses. You keep cranking them out, but where do they all go? How can you keep your communications investment from evaporating at the speed of Twitter? Tizra lets you bring it all together into a great-looking, searchable, mobile-friendly website that delivers long-lasting value to your audience. In 30 minutes you will learn... How to broadcast and curate mixed media types for maximum impact. How to categorize content for ease of use and maintenance. How a well-tuned search can reveal hidden gems. REGISTER NOW!