XML for Independent Publishers: A User-Friendly, Hands-On Introduction — Part 1

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May 2014
by Linda Nix
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xml_41To stay competitive, publishers of all sizes need a good working knowledge of XML—even if only to make an informed decision about not using it—because it is now a significant and growing part of the publishing landscape. Many people without coding backgrounds are put off by the vague knowledge that it is a computer language and they can leave “all that technical stuff” to the geeks.

It’s true that XML is a computer language but—and here’s the good news—it is a language designed specifically for humans to read and understand without specialized programming knowledge. Moreover, the skills needed to acquire a sufficient working knowledge are ones that most independent publishers either possess themselves or have access to: standard editorial skills.

Publisher, as I’m using the word here, thus includes the person or people responsible for making sure all published content, and the information about that content (metadata), is accurate, presented properly, and distributed without error.

The Working Knowledge You Need

XML is now an essential tool in our digitized publishing industry, which includes not only digital books (aka e-books) but also print books digitally produced and distributed using digital methods from book retailers’ Websites and elsewhere. But because XML operates mostly in the background, it is possible to be unaware of it, or to be aware of it but not understand its role.

As print publishers, we have been quite happy to come to grips with print specifications pertaining to paper stock, formats (dimensions), binding, ink depths, and so on. Usually we learn just enough to navigate print quotes and to manage production without becoming experts on paper or ink.

A similar approach works for XML. Publishers need to know only a certain amount about XML. We don’t need to become XML programming experts.

A working knowledge of XML involves knowing how, where, and why XML is used in publishing; understanding the key concepts and terminology; and being able to navigate the XML code when required. A deeper knowledge also helps publishers make strategic decisions…

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