R & D

A Hybrid Publishing Consortium

By mrchristian, 20 July 2011
Image: Current eBook and app making process by Julia Child 1953

A Proposal to form a consortium to support the different software tools needed in a multi-platform digital publishing workflow, based on open standards and Open Source.

An example software chain would be can be found here in this Google Docs presentation and as a appendix at the end of the article.


The project would have the aim of supporting existing projects with research, labour time and further resources.Future Publishing

There are a number of seismic changes taking place in publishing. Traditional economic models have been disrupted – first by the Open Web and now by the 'walled garden' model. More recently, Print On Demand and the long awaited advent of new publishing platforms, like eBooks, tablets/mobile, have presented the industry with surprises. POD allowed new entrants into the market, the ePublishing platforms astonished even the most hopeful with their speed of sales. The result is a landscape in which, at one end, we have conglomerates making vast sums of money, on the other, a whole variety of market incompatible publishing fields being forced into near extinction. It seems that, instead of offering a new, more sophisticated phases of access to 'rich content', the normalisation of content-payment behaviours around mobile platforms will benefit the old guard.

These are the key problematic areas that we have identified as urgently needing research and, more importantly, real world solutions.

Three Key Challenges

  • * Developing single source design architecture
  • * Making design tools fit for purpose in a hybrid environment
  • * Creating remuneration systems other than the 'walled garden'
  • * Breaking open the binary between open access and remuneration

Single source design architecture

Single source design means having platform-neutral content so that you can output your publication to any platform available in the present or future; i.e. eBook, tablets, POD, etc.

The need

  • * To make workflow more efficient, less error-prone.


  • * The corrupt nature of document-formatting caused by an evolving set of inconsistent, interacting document formats.


  • * Academic: Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Open Publishing Lab
  • * LShift, London based new media company, experts on publishing, and partners on our TSB funded 'Progressive Publishing System' (PPS)

Making design tools fit for purpose in a hybrid environment

  • * Publishers and designers are not prepared for ePublishing production
  • * Current eBook conversions are being treated as a technical issue only, whereas design should also be regarded as integral
  • * Graphic designers will be challenged to upgrade their skills/role to cover more of the working process from print to ePub
  • * DTP tools for ePublishing are immature
  • * In design and print, both FLOSS and proprietory tools need further development (particular weaknesses are: the DTP tools associated with production for print, eBook, HTML 5 and FLOSS fonts)
  • * A number of important FLOSS projects need an extra 5% of funds, for better architecture, organisation or expertise
  • * Command line and generative data design tools could be further developed

Creating Renumeration systems other than the 'walled garden'

  • * There is a need for further, 'positive' disintermediation (while large publishers presently speak of the disintermediation process in anxious terms, the trend is actually towards reconfigured monopolies).
  • * Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple all embrace open development when it suits them, but keep all the revenue-generating areas ring-fenced (advertising, sales).
  • * Distribution systems need better integration; for content producers, the increase in private networks or 'Walled Gardens' pose problems of revenue and customer data loss, since the terms & conditions for entry are inflexible
  • * Cultural and critical writing stand outside of an appear incompatible with and outside of the market systems, meaning network technologies need to be developed to support them (the current alternatives of donations, pre-funding, crowd-funding and flat rate are not fully adequate). It seems essential, too, to break the binary between open access and remuneration, such that the ethos which drives critical publishing can be maintained, while also supporting it to the degree that it is sustainable.
  • * Can crowd funding be evolved to become more effective?
  • * Can consortia and affinity networks provide greater leverage and pool resources?

NB There has been a failure to recognise the obvious. The traditional book and publishing industry has kept on earning consistently over the entire period in which the experiment of the open net played out, while online publishers have made almost no money. Publishing is the largest creative industry, made of 64,000 companies in the EEA, and grossing 0.5% of EEA GDP.

Strategic considerations

Public infrastructures

The imperative to contribute to the development of public infrastructures, which are the lifeblood of critical projects and benefit the net at large, makes working with FLOSS a key strategy. Apart from offering an effective development environment, FLOSS can be used to support both business and non-market critical/cultural areas, creating a positive continuum for working.

Public infrastructures are able to support two types of business ecology, whose applicability depends on the investment/financing model at play:

  • * A raft of enterprises using one common base source, like Drupal.
  • * An example like Ubuntu OS's 'Canonical', where one company provides blue-chip paid services to professional businesses who need high level SLAs

Wider economic issues

  • * Labour: recognising the pressures and ethical issues raised by the move towards free and/or distributed labour
  • * For quite some time now, the larger publishers have been outsourcing significant portions of their ePublishing workflow and/or business processes to India and other well educated, English-speaking regions. Even if this is not something one would do or agree with, it is an important dimension of the industry - and of any competitor's income/expenditure structure - that has to be taken into consideration
  • * In the face of this phenomenon, how could a project make sure that local skilled labour is supported and maintained?

Proposed project focus areas

HTML 5 over Apps

There are many indications that HTML 5 will take over from apps in terms of delivering rich media content to mobiles and tablets*. The rationale for this derives from:

  • * the lower cost and ease of authoring associated with HTML 5
  • * the association of apps with 'smartphones', which, while increasing dramatically in usage in richer countries, do and will remain outnumbered when one considers global usage.
  • * Any site aiming to achieve global reach would do well to regard non-smartphone oriented authoring environments - like HTML 5 - as the preferred option

*This hypothesis is taken from knowledge gleaned at a presentation by the pioneering developer of The Guardian's mobile site, http://m.guardian.co.uk, who (to our great surprise) dismissed apps as a passing phase!

Academic publishing

For example open, self-run, academic journal publishing system

For an overview of open access academic publishers, see:


And, for OAPEN, the 'Overview of Open Access Models for eBooks in the Humanities and Social Sciences', see:



In aiming for global reach (and the largest possible readership/renumeration base), translation becomes a major consideration.

There are some interesting examples we could look to in this area, e.g.

Der Mundo Social Translation: http://www.dermundo.com/

Computer-aided translation (CAT): http://trados.com


Open Source – technology stack for multi-platform publishing
Software Product Vendor/Maintainers Affiliations Location
Office suite Open Office Apache Oracle US
File Server Ubuntu Samba Server Ubuntu Canonical SA
Project management Mantis Mantis Tom's Gutscheine DE
Knowledge Management System MediaWiki WikiMedia Foundation   US
DTP/PDF/Artwork DTP Scribus Scribus Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie FR
  Images GIMP GNU Free Software Foundation US
  Graphics InkScape Software Freedom Conservancy   US
  PDF annotation Okular KDE Google summer of code DE
Fonts Open Font Library Fabricatorz   ?
  FontForge     ?
Conversion Auto DTP/eBook/Tablet Progressive Publishing System (PPS) Lshift/Skyscraper Digital Publishing/MiniBar Ventures Mute UK
BookData   -    
Content Management System (CMS)   Drupal    
Application Program Interface (API) MetaMeta Mozilla   DE
Semantic markup        
Ecommerce x com eBay PayPal | Magenta US
Payment provider        
Analytics web/ social Pikwik OpenX SAP | AOL | Vcs US
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Sugar CRM Sugar CRM   US
Translation Worlwide Lexicon     US
Digital Asset Management Services (DAMS) Nuxeo Nuxeo    
App – Apple/ Android OS PhoneGap PhoneGap Adobe