Agata Mrva-Montoya from Sydney University Press, shares their adventures in transitioning from InDesign to a format neutral workflow, making it easier to create both print and ebooks simultaneously. 


It has been five years since Sydney University Press moved away from InDesign and started using a format-neutral workflow for text layout. We wanted to implement a system that would allow us to have full control over the production of both print and ebook formats. We looked at XML-driven workflows, but they are usually technically and operationally complex, require programming skills and result in high-quality digital, but low-quality print product. They do provide an amazing ability to re-use and produce content for multiple channels, but we were looking for something that would provide good quality output for both print and digital; the reusability of content was of lesser concern.

It was at one of the industry events organised by the APA in 2012, where I have found out about a cloud-based content management system called IGP: Digital Publisher (IGP: DP) and we have been using it since 2013. It took us a while to become familiar with the platform and adjust our ways of working and thinking from print to digital. While most of the work takes place in a WYSIWYG interface with XHTML in the background, the platform requires basic knowledge of HTML and CSS to customise the template and fine tune the layout, and occasionally to deal with any layout issues, which are typically caused by an errant code brought over from the MS Word document.

Working on content for print and digital concurrently requires thinking upfront about the specific requirements of the different media. For example, we make sure that there are no directional references to images or cross-references to specific page numbers in the text – as they are not going to make sense in a reflowable ebook. We ask authors to provide us with alternative text for images to ensure that our ebooks are accessible.

The adoption of a format-neutral workflow has affected other aspects of our publishing process and our skills. The digital workflow is truly embedded in how we work and we all had to develop digital publishing skills. The correct structure and styling of MS Word documents is more important than ever. While typesetting in Adobe InDesign can hide a multitude of sins (such as manual formatting fixes), working in digital is unforgiving. But the extra work upfront pays off in a well-formatted and accessible ebook.

Once the editorial work is finished and we have all the content ready, a styled and formatted MS Word manuscript is uploaded onto the platform. We have a different template for each print format; once chosen we can make further adjustments by manipulating CSS to suit the book’s specific requirements. With a text-based book, we have the first proof pages in a matter of minutes.

Separately from the text, we upload any images, audio and multimedia into the media manager and insert them individually, adding alt text as we go. We have the capacity to mark sections of the book for output to either print or digital or both, so that we remain working on a single file even though the ebook may include multimedia.

While the book is being proofread, we start working on the index. SUP was the first company to use the indexing function of IGP: DP and we contributed actively to the development of this function. While it is, admittedly, not as user-friendly and efficient as professional indexing software, it allows us to start working on indexes much earlier in the production process. And most importantly, we have the ability produce ebooks with hyperlinked indexes.

Once all the corrections are in and the index is ready, we are able to deliver both print books and ebooks simultaneously. Apart from print PDF, we have the capacity to output an online PDF, various ebook formats (EPUB2, 2+3 and 3, MOBI), HTML, XML, and other packages, all from the one XHTML/CSS source. We can also add metadata at any point in the process so that it transfers to whichever format we choose. Ebook files undergo a process of validation before the download, so we just need to test them in specific e-reading applications, and they are ready to go. Any post-release changes to all output formats need to be made only once.

While IGP: DP is great for text-driven books, it is not so good for highly illustrated ones. Typically, our books contain large blocks of text and limited, if any, images, and hence they are a good candidate for IGP: DP. Last year, however, we expanded our list to include highly illustrated books on archaeology. We managed to complete a layout of a book on 12th–13th century Afghanistan with 250 illustrations, but decided to go back to InDesign for any future publications involving a large number of images, and get them converted into an ebook format afterwards.

Until now, we have been using IGP: DP as software as a service, however, with over 400 books on the portal, it is time to move to our own server based in Sydney, which will deliver significant performance benefits.

IGP: DP is not the only format-neutral platform around these days. Other options include Booktype or Typefi. PressBooks is another popular choice. Driven by templates, it is easier to use but without the flexibility of getting under the bonnet and adjusting the code. It also does not allow for embedded indexing.

Why use a format-neutral workflow?

There is no doubt that the automated nature of cloud-based system makes the typesetting much faster and hence cheaper. While using Adobe InDesign allows for more creativity and finesse in book layout, especially in the case of highly illustrated books, the ebook production remains problematic. In contrast, using an XHTML-based layout results in a professional-looking print PDF and well-formatted, accessible and validated ebooks. It allows us to experiment with multimedia and web-based delivery of content, and easily repurpose formats and content. Most importantly, it ensures our content remains future-proof.


Many thanks to Agata Mrva-Montoya from Sydney University Press for outlining the process of using format neutral workflow. 

Share this article