Future Publishing Tools

This is a set of thoughts about what future publishing tools might look like. As a.l.e. writes, an epub plugin for Scribus is not enough for the future of publishing.

White birds

Current Problems in Modern Publishing Tools

The main problems for publishing are workflow optimization and platform diversity. By workflow optimization, cutting down in the steps involved, and time involved in each step, as well as improving the quality output. Related is the issue of digital library/assets and their storage/retrieval.

There are some proprietary approaches which help out a lot during the creation part, as well as the editing part, but the final format generation is very time-consuming.

Add to this the need to have a cloud-based repository, support multiple platforms as well as users, and the problems multiply.

Current Trends in Publishing and Computing

Proliferation of platforms and devices, increasing complexity and functionality in formats (ePub3, K8), ongoing print medium, as well as proliferation of print-on-demand use. The adoption of color ebooks in the near future will re-invigorate the ereader market while tablets and large smartphones (5") are becoming more reading-friendly.

A Parallel Discussion

There may be something to be learned from the html5/web apps vs. native apps discussion. Web apps are (sometimes) faster to develop, fit more platforms, but at the expense of speed and functionality (and in many cases portability/offline use).

Where the Flexibility Need Be

The fundamental issue of ebook publishing and book publishing (the nature of fixed vs. fluid layout) is a dichotomy that should be embraced in future publishing tools. The current idea that print and ebook/web publishing simply deal with things differently is to ignore the need to produce both from a single set of media assets. Examples:

  • PDF documents should be able to be published as Web pages
  • Web pages should be published as PDFs (this is largely supported through printer drivers)
  • Ebooks should be publishable as books (with no new formatting needed, rather only an interpretation of ebook markup (chapter, section headers, page numbering, table of contents, etc.)
  • Book layouts should be easily published as ebooks

Constraints for Sanity

This said, an infinite variety of options need not be supported (at least at first). There are a few aspects of the workflow and the final destination documents that can be supported which can cover much of the functional space needed:

  • RGB workflow only need be supported
  • PDF x/3 output
  • Epub2, Epub3
  • KF8, Mobi
  • Markdown + LaTeX

Target Creation Flexibility

The Scrivener tool is a good one to look at in terms of what kind of creation flexibility they offer. However, there are fundamental problems with a lack of cross-platform and multi-device use, as well as too much flexibility that doesn't convert into a streamlined output.

Epub, Pdf, KF8 and Mobi should be print options. The use of Markdown Extra rather than (or in addition to) MultiMarkdown is desired.

The idea that everything should be possible using Markdown (essentially, HTML) along with CSS should not be shocking but seems to be a foreign concept (unfortunately).

Some Inspiration

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