The first step in our process was to identify the inefficiencies in our book development process and to leverage technology to make improvements. Like many publishers, our process consisted of editors manually marking up Word documents with instructions to production specialists for laying out books and formatting text. Though some standards were in place, each editor used his or her own judgment on how to tag manuscripts with directions and how to format books. From there, production interpreted the notes, clarified items, and prepared instructions that would enable a third-party vendor to create InDesign pages. It was all a leap forward from the era of paste-up and typesetting, but still not acceptable for a digital environment. The whole process took weeks per book, resulted in more errors and repetition than necessary, chewed up thousands of production hours, and created significant cost in outsourcing.
By converting from a system of manually marking manuscripts to using the styling functionality of Word, our editorial and production teams were able to take the existing manuscript-to-pages process and cut it down to 8 hours or less for basic narrative works. In addition to the cost savings and the significant reduction of internal man hours, our on-time rate to our printers increased from 30% to over 90% within a year, and our on-press accuracy rate rose from 58% to 97% in two years, drastically cutting costs associated with correcting errors at press. Better books, faster, for less money. That’s a big win for the team, and we felt it throughout the company.
While our production process was greatly enhanced through this change, we could see that another challenge still existed. Previous versions of InDesign do not adequately export formatting along with text for use elsewhere. As you start to think about e-books and other digital products, this adds back in a lot of the work and expense that was eliminated in the first step of our process. Because we were creating so many different types of files for e-books, apps, and other digital content, we were forced to send web-ready PDFs and InDesign files to external vendors to render e-book files. So we were back to a process that took weeks for every book, chewed up man hours, and produced errors. There had to be a better way.
Here is where we implemented an XML-supported workflow. XML is a standardized computer “language” that allows various platforms, applications, and systems to identify the format styles within text and then translate those styles for their own use. As we began to research all the opportunities that XML would provide, one immediate benefit became clear: XML forces a level of structure that would radically streamline the entire process. In our new workflow, editors apply custom, XML-compliant styles, which are a more structured and detailed set of Word styles than described above. These new styles are then converted to XML through programmed scripts, and the XML is flowed into formatted InDesign pages. Why does this matter? Because of the combination of the well-formed document (that is created by more rigid styles), the link between Word and InDesign that XML facilitates, and the new exporting features in the latest version of InDesign, Sourcebooks can now create pages for a basic book in less than two hours and then create e-book files in less than two hours—all without the use of external vendors. Not only can we accomplish these tasks in a fraction of the time and at much lower cost, but the final product is also substantially cleaner than those from previous processes. An added benefit is that we now have XML documents that can make the development of apps and web-based solutions much simpler.
One additional (and very important) benefit is that the number of errors in our e-book files has gone WAY down. Have you ever read an e-book and encountered a strange mark or set of marks? While most consumers would view such marks as typos (and think negatively of the creator), they are often the result of the e-book conversion program not understanding an element of formatting in the source files. With XML, this is no longer an issue.
Sounds great, right? It is, but it has not been without its challenges. A few things to consider:
To many established publishers and editors, the thought of embarking on a process like this is frustrating, but the world is changing, and with that change comes opportunity to reach more readers than ever before. A publisher is—and always has been—more than just a book printer. In order to prepare for “what’s next,” we have to lay the right foundation. The decision to advance our workflow was not easy or accidental, but it has created the platform from which we can effectively launch an ever-increasing array of new products at a speed previously unimaginable. The new systems—and more importantly a new attitude towards continual change—have positioned Sourcebooks to take advantage of every opportunity that the digital age can provide.