Why publishers need XML
In general, most people in the book publishing industry, particularly in the creative side of the business are there because they love reading and words, love books and are creative, literate and artistically minded people.
This has meant that the craft of creating publications often evolved in an adhoc and unstructured way, with much love and care being given to a book, following a fluid organic process. Designers and editors worked together, often sitting side by side, building a publication page by page; or in simpler books, designers were given text which they then formatted and laid out, but exactly how this was done was left to them.
While sophisticated technological tools are used by designers and editors today, the original ethos still informs many publishing companies, even when creating digital products. There is often scepticism about the benefits of automation, templates, and standards.
While there is no denying that the original, organic model produces beautiful products, it is not one that is likely to flourish in the new world of digital publishing, because a) it cannot make use of the advantages of automation, b) it is not suitable for multi-channel publishing, c) it is not scalable, d) it does not fit well with outsourcing, and e) ultimately, because of all of these, it is unlikely to be profitable.
So if you are a book publisher, what do you do if you want to have the positives in a), b), c) and d) while still producing beautiful products?
Keep design and user-experience at the heart of your projects, and ‘future-proof’ your business by incorporating xml into your workflow (although this can be a challenging process); follow Standards (e.g. ePub) and best practice; upskill your designers in the principles of web design; initially focus on prototypes (following standards, best practice, and don’t be afraid to experiment) before wider implementation (incremental change is easier for everyone); and be clear about who does what and who is responsible for which part of the process. If you have the budget, hire a web developer or at least have access to one.
The future/present of publishing really is the web (mobile or otherwise) and I believe it is web technologies and good practice that should inform all publishing efforts today.