DPInnovation BLOG

Digital Publishing Innovation and David McKnight

Five Things To Know About XML

XML is at the foundation of what is driving digital content today.   Most eBooks have an XML foundation.  Many websites are driven by XML content.  So it is important if you are considering expanding your digital publishing efforts that you have an understanding about XML, how it can be useful to your Association and what you need to know when making this investment.

There are other solutions than XML to managing content and less expensive ones.    As you search for ways to bring more value to your content you should consider these five core elements of content organization.

#1 – Meta-data

XML allows publishers to surround information with information – meta-data.  Common examples of meta-data are title, author, topics, length, key words.  This information is helpful to allow digital solutions to create summaries or listings of publications.  It helps to sort and categorize information.  It brings structure and adds important information to help the reader.

#2 – Provides Structure

Besides adding information to content XML also helps provide structure to the content itself.   For example breaking content into sections – chapters or sections.   This provides a reader with more ways to navigate especially large documents.  It can also help publishers by giving them new ways to organize content based on topics.  We live in an age when it may not be possible to consume all of the content in a publication but by having some structure to it we can more easily find relevant information.

#3 – Don’t Scrimp on Conversion

To start using XML you may want to convert our existing publications into an XML format.  To sell an eBook on Amazon, the first step is converting to XML.   Things like fonts, symbols and equations can add complexity.     The process of converting is becoming easier with far more tools.

In many cases it is a labor-intensive process and why offshore providers are able to provide lower costs.   I’ve seen conversion prices from 50 cents to $5 per page or more.  But be careful.  It may be worth spending a few extra dollars to work with a vendor that can produce high quality conversion.  I’ve seen great work by offshore providers and often it is still more about their process than just how many people they throw at a project.

Many providers expect you, the publisher to catch the mistakes.  I often ask Association leaders how much they think they can afford to publish a document with a few errors in it.   In some cases – it can’t be tolerated at all…others it might be OK for the occasional typo.   My advice for most is not to scrimp and use a vendor that has the experience and reputation for quality.

#4 – XML Workflow

To make the decision to move to XML for anything but an occasional title, you should also consider your workflow and the process of getting content into XML at the author level.   Conversion works on a short-term basis but for larger publishers you will need to invest in your workflow.  The good news is, there are now some excellent solutions that will provide you with a workflow and greatly increase your ability to rapidly publish digital content.  Maybe the bad news is, it is expensive unless you have a large amount of content to publish on an ongoing basis.

#5 – Standardize and Convert to Many Outputs

One of the biggest advantages of XML is that once your content is in an XML format it can be converted to many other formats – .mobi (Amazon format), 3Pub (the most common eBook format),  and even into PDF for printing or online use.   However, there often is a small cost to convert each, yet for the publisher that needs to reach a wide audience on many different devices, XML is appealing.


While XML can bring a lot of value to digital content it does come at a price. What is important is that as you explore digital publishing you consider each of these points: 1) Meta-data 2) Structure 3) Conversion 4) Workflow 5) Outputs.   As you look for solutions and vendors then explore the COSTS (both in terms of dollars and impact on your staff), TIME (to get published and into the hands of your readers) and QUALITY (both in terms of accuracy and in formats readers can continue to learn and be informed by).


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