In the past 15 years, much has changed in journal production services, the first segment outsourced to India. New technology, publishing models, and workflows have created a demand for ever more automation and faster production. And for Bangalore-based MPS Limited, the pioneer in journal services, tracking the segment's shifts and trends is standard business.
"During the early 1990s, journal publishers did not require electronic files at all," says Nishith Arora, chairman of MPS Limited, "That changed in the mid-1990s, when they started asking for SGML files with print deliverables. PDF was just then introduced to the lexicon." SGML, added Arora, was primarily used for metadata management and archiving. Soon, however, publishers started adopting highly granular and rich DTD (Document Type Definition) while capturing full article content in SGML. The beginning of this millennium, he says, saw more publishers adopting XML-based delivery instead of SGML, with a shift from DTD to Schema-based specifications, which allow more and better content validation. "By the end of the first decade, most publishers had started putting their content on the Web in addition to print, with an increasing tendency to bring out articles online ahead of print. Turnaround time was drastically cut as publishers were pushing to bring out articles as soon as they were accepted for publication."
Production processes must keep up with the changing requirements. "Metadata, captured at different stages, on different systems, is now reused by integrating the publisher's and service provider's systems," say Arora. "Processes such as reviewing, proofreading, and proof correction go electronic—and, in some cases, online—for greater accuracy and faster turnaround. Delays caused by authors traveling have become a non-issue," says Arora, pointing out that the ubiquity of mobile and handheld devices offers publishers an easy way to provide an enhanced user experience with interactivity and multimedia.
MPS offers an end-to-end journal publishing solution with XML-first as well as parallel production workflows that help publishers get the best out of their content. Copyediting is done onshore, offshore, or both. The team in India then carries out XML-based auto-composition, layout standardization, collaborative proof management (including proof collation), project management, metadata management, issue compilation, Web production, and remote management of the publisher's content management, and production tracking systems. MPS also provides app development as well as hosting and distribution services.
Aside from English-language journal production, the team also deals with other European languages, such as Spanish, German, and French, in addition to providing conversion services for these languages. For non-Latin scripts, as to be expected, setting up an XML workflow is the main challenge in terms of content structuring and pagination. Says Arora, "We have to identify Unicode-compliant fonts, enforce the usage of such fonts, and ensure application support for non-Latin characters such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Then there is the creation of tables and tools for mapping non-Unicode compliant characters to the respective Unicode values." The copyediting and style requirements of these languages do pose some challenges, "but most of the stylistic and technical editing requirements are covered by profiles that are already established in our automated editing tools. There is always the option of using a combination of offshore and onshore copyeditors to deal with such issues."
One particular journal published in 20 European languages, including Greek, Latvian, Slovenian, Maltese and Finnish, for instance, requires the team to create a customized language editor tool. This tool enables automated structuring for 80% of all documents, and fully supports the specific accents and symbols of the 20 languages. It splits the main documents into different document types, structures each document, and performs tag comparison with the main documents, XML parsing, and validation. It also facilitates tasks such as text formatting and error debugging.
Automation is key to journal publishing of any discipline. Special tools need to be scripted to reduce processing time and manual intervention while providing good and consistent quality output for on-time delivery. As such, MPS has a group of technologists and software specialists dedicated to developing tools for any process imaginable: file receipt/downloading, metadata extraction, template authoring, XML creation, pre-editing, copyediting, graphics processing (including auto-resizing of images), page composition, proof correction, bibliographic information/issue makeup, index generation and linking, quality control, and even file delivery. "We use an in-house tracking system to monitor each step and manage end-to-end production activities. Extensive reports are available and integrated with other production tools, along with real-time online status reports. And wherever possible, we integrate our tracking system with our client's system."
Many publishers these days are moving toward an online-only publishing strategy, thereby eliminating printing and distribution costs, says Arora. "The publishing model has shifted from ‘print then distribute' to ‘distribute then print if required.' The increased usage of mobile and handheld devices also means that publishers can get their content across to more readers than before. It is now possible to package rich multimedia and interactive content—something that readers have been looking for—as part of the article or issue. Obviously, for the print version, such content would have to be hosted separately and provided as links to readers."
But journal publishers are way behind book publishers in moving content to mobile and handheld devices. And one main reason behind this tardiness, says Arora, is the popularity of the traditional subscription model. "As for delivering content over mobile and handheld devices, publishers are adopting different strategies. Some are providing tools for searching content on mobile or handheld devices with full content access available via the host website. Some are using Adobe Digital Publishing Suite to create issue-based rich-media journals that take full advantage of the functionalities offered by such handheld devices as tablets. Others go for native app development for iOS and Android platforms. Then there are those looking for a hybrid iOS and Android compatible app—which supports both images and HTML5-based embedded content—that can be used as a wrapper for a single issue or multiple journals."
Ensuring that the hosting site is compatible with mobile and handheld devices is crucial to facilitating such content migration. "By leveraging our 30-year-old expertise in this area, we are able to offer content transformation and development, creative design, and software services that are customized to help publishers move their content into various devices, multiple formats, and specific operating systems," adds Arora, who is looking forward to increased adoption of a digital-first strategy with a unified, parallel publishing, and collaborative workflow.
Over the next four years, Arora predicts, journal publishers will move away from customized DTDs to fully embrace NLM DTD. "I foresee more article-based journal publishing with a significant increase in digital-only journals. Publishers will leverage EPub 3 and enhance the user experience with integrated multimedia and scripting. Further integration of social media sites is to be expected. At the same time, I anticipate each journal having its own purpose-built mobile app."