Production Demands Push Publishers to Develop Software

Publishers aren’t software companies, at least according to digital production experts speaking at the International Digital Publishing Forum at Book Expo America in New York City this morning.

But with publishers striving to develop ever more cutting-edge digital products, that could be changing.

On one extreme is O’Reilly Media, which built its own digital production workflow in-house from the ground up. It’s an open source system that has yet to widely catch on even though its benefits are steadily gaining recognition in the industry. Publishers reluctant to open-source the production of their content are nevertheless finding production arrangements to bring some of the technological roles of software companies under their own roofs.

Dave Cramer, senior digital publishing technology specialist at Hachette, estimates just over half of the publisher’s print and ebooks are produced in-house using “Dante,” an XML-based workflow built in collaboration with a software developer. That allows Hachette to continually adjust Dante’s features to its print and digital production needs.

Related: Tailoring Workflows to Digital Content

One challenge impacting publishers’ choice of production workflow is managing the relationship between print products and the growing array of digital ones.

That’s an especially complicated proposition for publishers broadening their menus of apps. Certain apps published by publisher Cambridge Exams, for example, contain digitized print pages redesigned to deliver to several different devices while also including widgets and other features with no print analogs whatsoever. Like Hachette, Pearson Education contracted with an outside developer to help it confront very different considerations, as Blair Brown, Pearson’s associate director of design, explained.

Brown suggested that choice gave the publisher access to the developer’s expertise as well as its tools, including analytics to track user behavior and evaluate the apps’ design.

But even if they’re not building those technological tools themselves, publishers are getting used to applying and fine-tuning them in-house. As digital products grow more sophisticated, publishers’ technological expertise is catching up.


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly attributed a quotation that has since been removed. We regret the error.


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