Print Primacy Vs. Digital Diversity?

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Print Primacy Vs. Digital Diversity?No matter what the trend in ebook sales, digital publishing continues to evolve. New resources have allowed for the development of products that complement and expand the publisher’s mission. Editors have had to give ground to producers and software developers, as new assessment modules, learning objects, multimedia tools and social medial platforms take hold. As a result, traditional production managers are having to rethink workflows and processes. Still, the raw material for all things digital remains the manuscript and, for the most part, that manuscript presupposes a print product in some form.

The challenge now is to maintain the editorial integrity of the ideas, themes and pedagogy central to the content, no matter what the output or format. The problem is most pronounced amongst education publishers, who are now beginning to embrace “digital-first” workflows. Producers of textbook content can no longer afford to take the digital-as-derivative approach.

With digital-first authoring tools (Inkling’s Habitat, MetroDigi’s Chaucer) comes a new siloed workflow and the persistent challenge to maintain a single source of truth. To have the essence of any argument, theorem or syllogism adulterated or obfuscated by a digital interpretation is to defeat the purpose. An author’s meaning and intent cannot be distorted to accommodate a format or media.

And no matter how much content is re-cast, re-shaped and re-presented, axioms, syllogisms, tenets, proofs, dogma, theorems—the building blocks of a lesson—must not be corrupted by the tools through which they are conveyed. Most agree that the text explanation of a lesson remains the definitive interpretation. Perhaps not a quantum leap of faith to suggest that print still holds its own as the single source of truth and therefore the master file to which all others need to comply. How then to enforce the sanctity of that master content?

MS Word, InDesign and its ilk, have dominated the path to print for decades. The tools are ubiquitous, and to introduce alternatives is to risk disenfranchising key stakeholders: authors, editors and graphic designers. Call them “old school” but the fact remains a majority of publishing projects still originate with these stalwart wordsmiths.

And yet, alternative authoring systems and workflows are definitely on the rise. Amongst Higher Ed publishers, the demand for vibrant and captivating online content has established a new paradigm. They must now meet, head on, the demand for learning management systems and assessment modules and software platforms. Content might still be structured to render efficiently and aesthetically on the page, but it is equally imperative that it be tagged to conform to the demands of digital learning objects.

The “digital-first” approach puts the other foot forward, addressing digital demands for content as the more impending priority.

Of late, the ubiquitous EPUB standard has undergone modifications with the introduction of EduPub—a “profile” of EPUB3 with additional tags to enable the greater interoperability of education content. That EduPub winds up being the target format for rich interoperable content seems likely. What isn’t so clear is what platform or device will deliver this content—mobile devices, PCs, or both? And what business models will ensure revenue streams comparable to or better than print? At this point, the technology is evolving faster than the market. But once it catches up, most concur, a print product of some description will remain in place. And within the textbook ecosystem, a print-centric workflow will likely remain the bedrock for editorial development.

At codeMantra, we believe the solution for publishers struggling with an evolving digital landscape and a dogged print market lies in their having a systematic process for capturing well-formed XML—valid against any DTD across the traditional Word-to-InDesign production through-put. And we have created tools to deliver this solution.

Publishers will need an integrated workflow that delivers editorial content (XML) at any time (from Word/from InDesign), which can be fully tagged and IDed. Under such a production model, both digital-first and print are initiated with the same XML instance. The challenge lies in bringing an XML output from both workflows back together for reconciliation. However, in such a workflow, publishers who want to designate print as their master can opt to have the master version of an element (body, headline, annotation, etc.) overwrite any non-conforming instance of the same element in a digital file. Other rules may apply, and a publisher may choose to submit the element to further scrutiny or, indeed, editorial arbitration. In any event, publishers have command and control over their content and the processes required to render it.

The one premise to this model that will not go unchallenged is the role of print as the single source of truth. Alas, the continuing evolution of digital publishing casts a very big shadow over such a premise.


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One thought on “Print Primacy Vs. Digital Diversity?

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Maybe I’m being a bit cynical, but I don’t see a close relationship between textbook and truth described above.

    I’ve been in the game myself. All too many textbooks are driven by an urge to keep the cost of the writing low, which often means using less than skilled writers. And the filtering system for textbook acceptance often creates pressures to conform to contemporary educational fads and politically correct dogmas.

    Talk about “truth” is that context is pointless. It’d probably be better to emphasize a single-source for a textbook’s content, so no errors are introduced and no discovered errors left unchanged between print and digital versions. That’s why I use InDesign. It lets me generate both reflowable and fixed-layout epubs from an existing print version. Change one and I change all.

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