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DIGITAL PUBLISHING 101: BASIC LESSONS

The publishing process has undergone a series of radical changes brought on by the availability of low-cost personal computers, versatile page layout software, and professional-quality output produced by affordable desktop printers. These significant developments have forever changed the processes and procedures comprising the activity of publishing. Among the basic lessons to be learned about the new age of digital publishing are:

  • Software is never purchased once—it is purchased again and again in the form of software updates, upgrades, and revisions. Software is a work in progress, which, when it reaches version 1.0 level, is offered for sale. The development process continues; however, to rid the software of bugs, expand its compatibility with complimentary applications, further accommodate the host operating system (and perhaps support additional operating systems), and, most important, to add new features. Users are willing to pay for new features to reduce the time and effort required to generate output, to advance and enhance their production capabilities, and in some cases, to remain compatible with their customers and colleagues. Although it is often more comfortable, and less expensive, to remain with a familiar version of a software product, to do so is usually shortsighted, and potentially damaging from a business and productivity perspective.

  • Software usually takes on a life of its own. The upgrade cycles of most applications run, on average, from six to twelve months. This means that users must take the time to upgrade their systems and learn new software capabilities on a routine basis.

  • The software developer community is large and broad-based. Although the market is dominated by several software heavyweights, such as Adobe and Macromedia, there are also countless small companies, even one-person companies, which produce and market valuable applications. Many of the niche market solutions come from small companies that are formed to sell and support applications that they have developed to address their own company-specific needs. They recognize that their software solution is likely to have general applicability.

  • Hardware is a consumable that is likely to be obsolesced by new technology long before it wears out or fails to perform properly. The rapid advances in hardware technology have provided increasingly more powerful machines at lower cost, which has served to hasten replacement cycles. Replacing, setting-up, and maintaining one or more complex computer systems is a time-consuming and technically challenging job. In addition, powerful, yet affordable, computers, such as the Apple iMac (which is uniquely user-friendly), which are classified as consumer computers, have been used successfully in a variety of commercial publishing applications.

  • Add to the whirlpool of activity in hardware and software design the element of confusion that exists regarding the implementation of standards, and the general acceptance of popular file formats. There are literally hundreds of text and graphic file formats in use, which serve to unnecessarily complicate the exchange process between customer and service provider.

  • New system capabilities, new technologies, new forms of media, new methods of distribution, and other innovations compete for mindshare. How does one assess what is most important? How does one know which innovations will survive in the marketplace? How can one determine how new technologies can work with those that are already in place?

  • Despite the years of acrimony between advocates for the Macintosh and PC platforms, and the lack of native compatibility between them, they continue to exist as separate, though non-exclusive, environments. A Macintosh computer can read and open many PC file formats directly. Those that it can’t read, can be translated using commercial software applications. A PC can read some Macintosh files that have been saved on a PC-formatted disk. Software solutions are available so that PCs can read Macintosh disks directly, and to translate files between the platforms. Many applications, such as Microsoft Word and QuarkXPress, are available for both platforms, and support direct access to files that originate on the foreign system.

  • Today, there are heightened expectations regarding the appearance of printed and displayed materials. The prevalence of graphic-based computers, page layout and design software, and high-resolution desktop printers, 5 has provided the average computer user with tools that can produce professional-looking output. This has lead to the decline of plain-looking materials and typewriter-like output. This is not to suggest that everyone can produce graphic arts quality materials—only that the potential to do so exists.

  • The general availability of low-cost desktop and Web publishing technology has put powerful publishing capabilities into the hands of literally anyone who wants it. A logical and predictable consequence of such widespread access would be the emergence of a new golden age of authors, supported by the easy capture of thoughts and ideas through powerful word processing and publishing applications, voice input, and digital transcription. Although services such as Fatbrain (www.mightywords.com) and iUniverse (www.iuniverse.com) make it exceedingly easy to self-publish, as yet there hasn’t been another Shakespeare, Whitman, or Hemingway.

  • Just as the finest oil paints, brushes and canvas don’t ensure the production of an artistic masterpiece, so it is with publishing software. This observation is often expressed as “content is king.” A publishing project is basically composed of two parts: form and content. A successful publishing project must have quality form and quality content.

  • Digital publishing advances the reach of desktop publishing, which, by definition, is a process that serves to produce a single unit of a publication. That single, reader-ready original, or digital file, then generally enters a mass reproduction system, producing copies for distribution. The publishing process, however, must include both the creation of a publication and its distribution to a readership. Publishing is, after all, the process of preparing and issuing printed or displayed material for public distribution or announcement, often in exchange for money. A message that is not distributed or made known to the public is not published. Desktop publishing addresses the first part of the publishing process, the creation; digital publishing can address both the creation and distribution.

  • Everyone can be a publisher. The general availability of low-cost and easy-to-use publishing tools has served to extend professional capabilities back to the origin of the creative content: the author. It is not uncommon for an author to both write a book and compose it, and to provide the publisher with a complete work that is ready for publication.

  • Some aspects of the publishing process have been deskilled. The traditional fund of specialized knowledge, training, and experience is not always required to execute some publishing processes that previously required skilled labor. This is partially a consequence of advances in software engineering, with an emphasis on user interface design, and also the exercise of a strategic business objective to simplify software for the consumer market. This inherent capability to generate output that is aesthetically pleasing can be seen in the publishing capabilities of many applications, such as Intuit’s Quicken 2000. This program provides professional-looking printed output, independent of the design skills of the user.

  • The publishing process has become portable, and, therefore, place independent. Laptop computers and other digital devices have freed digital publishers from the need to work directly in a physical location within the editorial, creative, or production environment.

  • When a publication is stripped of its presentation container, what is left is information content. It is information that publishers provide. Digital publishing tools and methods provide the means to package information in a wide variety of forms, and deliver it through a variety of channels.

  • Information is not only power, it is wealth. Today, more than ever, the need to know can be satisfied, and the thirst for knowledge can be quenched. An individual can acquire, store and access a personal library or information cache that addresses virtually all of their professional or personal needs.

    Through the acquisition of digitally stored data on CD/DVD-ROM, access to Web-based information sources (both free and for-pay), and subscriptions to print-based and on-line services, virtually any information can be had. In consideration of the rate of technological advancement, it is now within the realm of possibility to store and access an entire library or bookstore on a single compact, portable digital device.

  • The Internet has provided the missing element of the desktop publishing process, namely distribution. Desktop publishing, in its classic definition, refers to a single individual controlling the entire publishing process, from the generation of content to the assembly of fully composed pages. Prior to the availability of Internet access, the desktop publisher was limited in the ways in which he or she could distribute their publication. The Inter-net, through several Web-based technologies, has truly democratized the publishing process by making it possible for anyone to reach a worldwide audience.

  • The capability to digitize virtually all of the elements that have traditionally defined the publishing process, has made it possible to extend the reach of a digital publisher to every corner of the planet. Digitization reduces each and every word, image, sound, animation, and movie to its lowest common denominator: a series of digital ones and zeros. These strings of digital codes can be recorded on media, or delivered anywhere that there is an Internet connection, or network conduit.

  • The definition of a book, and other forms of traditionally published materials, has changed. A book can be totally electronic (e-Book), or be paper-based with an accompanying CD-ROM, or a hybrid composed of a traditional book with a supporting Web site, or a CD-ROM-based book with links to additional content on the Web, or a variety of paper, physical media, and on-line content.

  • The results of a Harris Interactive poll, released in February, 2000, showed that more than half of the households in the United States own a personal computer, and that nine out of ten of those devices are connected to the Internet. These statistics are impressive, and suggest that for the first time in history, a majority of individuals in a society have the tools, and the potential, to express themselves through some form of digital publishing. Do-it-yourself publishing offers users new tools to produce creative content, and new channels to make it accessible to others.


    5. The laser printer has been called the "desktop printing press." Many models of desktop page printers, employing a variety of imaging technologies, can output text and graphics at a sufficiently high resolution to be considered graphic arts quality.

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