Before the 1990s, publishers looked at India only for straightforward science and math book production for the higher-ed and professional segments. Inquiries for math and science textbooks were rare. Then slowly things changed, starting with school publishers approaching vendors such as Chennai-based diacriTech to produce supplementary materials.
Publishers' confidence grew with each successful project. "We were subsequently asked to produce heavily designed basal materials," says executive v-p A.R.M. Gopinath. "We were the first among the vendors to introduce an XML-first workflow for the schoolbook publishing industry, and we remain the only vendor to offer a true XML-first workflow by maintaining the client's XML structure throughout the production cycle." This has benefited publishers as the segment moves into the digital arena. With content available in both print files and high-quality XML, publishers can easily repurpose it for other media.
Today, schoolbook publishers seek out the whole gamut of services, ranging from content development and editorial services to print and e-deliverable (both static and interactive) production. "Gone are the days when production cycles were measured in months," Gopinath says. "Nowadays, we are looking at weeks and sometimes days. Faster to market is the goal, and multiple delivery is the rule."
As to what math and science publishers today want or need, Gopinath adds, "They are looking for better presentation. They want creative and interactive features that better explain math and science concepts and make them easy to understand. They ask for e-deliverables prior to print with, say, ePub3 files for mobile devices and the Web, and XML/XSL/CSS output for Web publishing, e-books, and iBooks." The sluggish world economy also has prompted many publishers to consider recycling existing content by adapting it to meet current educational standards.
Given the ever-changing requirements and demands of the publishing industry, keeping abreast of trends and offering a wide range of services are paramount. "One has to constantly develop new methods, processes and services to improve efficiencies and keep ahead of the curve, says Gopinath. "Mobility is the buzzword now. It was Flash until a few months back. Now it is HTML5—and our staff must know this latest technology inside out."
SGML, FrameMaker, and PageMaker are rarely used now, adds Gopinath. "LaTeX is still used by highly technical companies but is no longer as popular, since there are many WYSIWYG tools for handling math available. QuarkXPress is definitely out for most companies. Postproduction XML creation is also losing favor, as most publishers prefer an XML-first workflow."
Vendors need to understand the publisher's difficulties and offer innovative, efficient, and cost-effective solutions. "For instance, black-and-white images may be great for print, but Web publishers and authors prefer color. This sounds simple, but in reality we have to deal with color conversion issues, especially for image-rich books."
Publishers also want to enrich their content for the booming handheld market. Given the plethora of devices with different operating systems, there must be a lot of R&D and testing before files can be released to the publishing client. "What works on an iOS platform may not work on Android or other devices, and vice versa. In this regard, knowledge updating and training is a never-ending exercise that keeps our staff informed of market demands and changes."
Displaying math on handheld devices is a very complicated issue, says Gopinath. Every device has its own features and requirements, and supports different kinds of style sheets. "But the time and investment we put into R&D has placed us in a unique position. We are able to create a single set of e-book content that can be displayed on multiple devices. We display MathML on devices like the iPad that support it, and switch to images on devices like the Kindle that do not support it—and these are all done within the same e-book. Since our content is done in XML, we can easily create HTML5 interactive files. We have worked extensively in iBook Author and created heavily designed interactive books on this platform. Our team has also been developing customized mobile apps."
One recent project that landed in diacriTech involves typesetting a highly complex math schoolbook using an XML-first workflow in InDesign with print PDF multiple deliverables. Files sent in Word were converted into XML that conformed to the publisher's DTD with math coded as MathML within XML. Gopinath explains: "Our in-house tools imported and auto-paginated the XML in InDesign. Other tasks included placement of figures; creation of tables, footnotes, and library items; styling; creation of master pages; placement of floating elements; auto-generation of cross-references; and so on. Fully styled PowerMath equations were created on the fly from MathML and placed within the InDesign document." Deliverables included ePub3 and HTML5 files, updated Word documents with editable equations in MathType, and the final XML files—all extracted from the InDesign files.
In addition to Asian languages, diacriTech works with German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, other European languages—and English, of course. "Over the years, we have come to understand the subtle variations in the way numbers are presented in different parts of the world. This, along with our multilingual staff, has helped us handle projects where we get correspondence and revisions in foreign languages. The real challenge comes when we have an editor or author who prefers to send in handwritten corrections—and worse, when they are not legible."
Asked to predict what demands will come from math and science publishers in the next few years, Gopinath says, "Achieving content portability across devices will be a major step forward. This is currently a big problem that is causing publishers with design-heavy books major headaches. While we don't see print going extinct soon, we definitely expect handheld devices to rule. School and higher education will be the biggest benefactor as handheld devices get smarter and more powerful. End users will be in a position to control the way content is presented to them. With more money allocated to digital products, we should be seeing highly interactive and iterative self-teaching e-deliverables from science and math publishers."