<< Return

Get Up to Speed on Digital Book Publishing - 11/27/2012 -

In the second of this two-part series on taking your book publishing to the next level, ASCE’s Betsy Kulamer explains the terms and technologies you’ll need to know to go digital.

By Joe Vallina, MSM

Editor’s note: Review part one of this article.

At a November Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn titled "Take Book Publishing to the Next Level” (sponsored by AGS Print & Marketing Communications), content leaders Mary Ellen Flannery, senior writer and editor at the National Education Association, and Betsy Kulamer, director of books at the American Society of Civil Engineers, introduced attendees to many of the new terms and technologies needed to understand the world of digital book publishing.

The Lowdown on Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Kulamer focused her remarks on "the technical vocabulary of digital publishing,” giving attendees a crash course on the most important buzz words in digital publishing, such as DRM, DAM, metadata, and XML.

Kulamer explains DRM as the "management of rights for digital content,” as opposed to "digital systems for managing rights.” DRM is the means by which publishers decide who can use their content and what they can do with it. She notes that the decision to use DRM is a philosophical one: Publishers must find the right balance between giving users enough control to be satisfied with the product, yet institute enough controls to keep that content from being pirated and distributed without the permission of or remuneration to the rights holders.

She notes that ebooks are really more closely aligned with software licenses than to traditional books, which are tangible products, and thus subject to the first-purchase doctrine that says the publisher can only control the product up to the first sale; subsequent sales are out of the publisher’s control. With ebooks this is not the case. The user is actually licensing the use of the content, not buying a product—an important distinction, according to Kulamer.

That assumes that your organization decides to implement DRM at all, of course. Kulamer points out that while DRM protects intellectual property, revenue streams, and placates authors, it also has downsides. These negatives include frustrating your members and customers with controls that restrict the ways they can use the content (complicating your journey into the marketplace), and the fact that the Internet is rife with turnkey, downloadable software that can defeat most DRM easily. This last point is an important one: How much is your organization willing to spend in time and money to institute protections that any 13-year-old kid with an Internet connection can defeat?

Kulamer outlined several methods of implementing DRM, including:

  • Keeping content in the cloud so there is nothing to steal;
  • Applying a customized "wrapper” to tie downloads to a customer account (Amazon and Adobe Digital Editions employ this method); and
  • Applying a customized watermark that identifies the PDF purchaser to each file (the method Kulamer uses at ASCE).

In the end, Kulamer notes that deciding what type of DRM is appropriate for your organization "requires broad discussion about your mission and acceptable risks.”


What the Heck is MetaData, Anyway?

Technically, metadata is "data about data.” But what does that mean for association publishers? In a nutshell, according to Kulamer, metadata is the data about the content, but not the content itself. For example, metadata for a book would include the title, the ISBN number, the page count, the format, the subtitle, the author, the date of publication, etc.

While publishers can use spreadsheets to manage and submit metadata to partners (such as printers, online distributors who use the metadata to help sell the book, and libraries), ONIX (online information exchange) XML databases are much more powerful. Kulamer notes that for publishers, better metadata equals more sales because it is easier for Internet search engines to index your content information and easier for distributors to sell the books.

She notes that metadata "mapping,” ensuring that data fields match one to another, is critical when designing your metadata capturing system; for example, a field should not be "binding” in one entry and "format” in another. Having an organized workflow is critical to getting the most out of metadata, according to Kulamer, so it behooves publishers to get their houses in order before embarking on the metadata journey in earnest.


Digital Asset Management: Do You Need It?

Kulamer defined digital asset management (DAM) as a "platform that holds files, distributes them, and stays up to date on the electronic requirements of your vendors.” She notes that while this can be accomplished with spreadsheet tracking and good file naming, that method quickly becomes cumbersome as the number of titles and different end uses grows.

In outlining what publishers should look for in a DAM system, Kulamer suggests five questions to consider when looking at potential vendors:

  1. Do I want to submit both pre-publication metadata and post-publication metadata and files?
  2. How many books do I want to manage?
  3. How many places do I need to send data?
  4. Do I need the service to handle file conversions?
  5. How user friendly is the system?


How XML Will Change the Way We Publish

To conclude her remarks, Kulamer discussed the concept of extensible markup language, or XML, and told attendees why it was so important in the move to digital content.

XML is a markup language programmers use to identify certain parts of content so that formatting and other actions can be applied later on, depending on the final production method. For example, the XML tag <book-title> will denote the name of the book as the title in the file and allow the computer to quickly and easily identify and process that bit of information according to predetermined programming specifications, such as setting the text in a bold, 12-point typeface (in this example, XML is being used much like a style sheet in a desktop publishing program).

The beauty of XML is that one master document can be used to generate many different types of content, such as print, PDF, HTML, EPUB editions, etc. What’s more, according to Kulamer, having robust XML in content makes it more likely to be ranked high in Google searches and other search engine results. It is also the technology behind Amazon’s "if you like this, you might also like this” algorithms.

The catch is that there are several types of XML coding "dialects.” These include the following:

  • NLM DTD: Pioneered by the National Library of Medicine.
  • JATS DTD: Journal Article Tag Suite, a NISO-compliant evolution of the NLM DTD.
  • DocBook DTD: Widely used, maintained by OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards).
  • BTS DTD: Book Tag Set, evolving from NLM/JATS (not common yet, but probably will become so).

Kulamer suggests book publishers do some research to determine what flavor of XML is used in their subject area before making the decision on which to implement. For example, medical and health care publishers would probably adopt the JATS DTD format, which is tailored to medical content.


Joe Vallina is the publisher of NursesBooks, the book-publishing arm of the American Nurses Association, and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee. Association Media & Publishing thanks Joe for covering this event for our members who were unable to attend.


© Copyright 2017, Association Media and Publishing. All rights reserved.