XML Standardization Key to Publishing's Future
Metadata's potential for becoming the currency driving the future of digital publishing was the theme of two presentations at last week's Magazine Publishers of America event, "Magazines: From Dimensional to Digital," held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City.
Peter Meirs, vice president of production technologies at Time Inc., and Dianne Kennedy, vice president of media technologies at IDEAlliance, spoke on the push for XML standardization across book and magazine publishing platforms.
"Although it is a very pervasive technology, very few people really understand it," Meirs said of XML. "They understand it conceptually, but they do not understand it in practice."
With the coming of a dizzying array of information delivery modes—e-readers, mobile platforms, tablets, content partnerships with device companies, new licensing models, social media, RSS, print/Web integration strategies—publishers need a technology that can encompass, and unify, a range of platforms, Meirs noted. "Of course," he said, "that technology is XML."
A structured, standardized vocabulary for sharing information, XML is a means to express content independent of proprietary platforms, applications and programming languages. It is available from many sources, understood by all content management (CMS) and digital asset management (DAM) systems, and is license and royalty free, Meirs said, making it the ideal lingua franca in an environment where consumers expect different types of content to be easily transferable across platforms.
Its ability to contain specific standardized instructions tailored to the needs of a particular medium can, however, create problems of device compatibility. Though similar in many ways, books and magazines have important structural differences that led to the development of separate XML formats: ePUB for books and PRISM for magazines. The two formats make it difficult to develop magazines for the growing e-reader market, Meirs told the audience—before announcing a new initiative designed to bridge this gap.
"To make the workflow work," Meirs said, "you need to have an XML format that works for both. And that's what we're calling ePUB Next." A joint venture of the IDEAlliance, the PRISM Working Group and the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), ePUB Next "takes the best of both specifications and will help us move forward in a way we have not been able to do before."
Kennedy outlined the history of PRISM, first introduced in 2001 to address print workflows and updated for cross-platform media and distribution in 2008, at which point a new vocabulary was created to integrate usage rights and descriptive metadata for images (a key component for interactive magazines). "ePUB Next is our big project today," Kennedy said. "We're working with the IDPF so that PRISM can come under that umbrella of standards that will drive the next generation of standards for the e-reader channel."
Key to the effort will be building in specifications for the exchange and management of information on the Web through inclusion of an XML channel called ICE (Information and Content Exchange Specification). Originally developed in the late '90s, ICE came out at the same time as free distribution standards RSS and ATOM, but was designed to be compatible with digital subscription and other paid content distribution "push" models. "We were very much ahead of the curve," Kennedy said. "... Our minds have changed now; we don't want to deliver content free of charge on this new e-reader channel. We want to monetize it. We want to control it. We want people to subscribe, and we want to be able to push the content according to the terms of this subscription. That's what ICE is all about."
IDEAlliance and its partners have set an aggressive timeline for development of ePUB Next, projecting a working draft by September and final recommendation by May 15, 2011. The goal, Kennedy said, is to "have standards in place so that the manufacturers of the next generation devices will understand what form the content will be in when it's delivered to their devices."
"Anyone can participate," she said of the process. "The work will be technical. ...You'll want some of your IT people to be engaged, or at least people who know the business and content, and aren't afraid of a few angle brackets."