Graham Bell: On the Importance of metadata - Part 2 #DLL15

by Fernanda Dutra

"The industry needs intermediaries between creatives and techies"

As publishing students, we are now used to listening to professionals explaining why their jobs are called this or that, and what exactly they do — the  characteristics of an industry going through many changes. To open his lunchtime seminar at Oxford Brookes, Graham Bell, Executive Director at EDItEUR, said: "I always sat in the middle of the table". What could that mean in a contemporary publishing context?

According to Bell, the industry is still split between the creatives and the techies, and they tend not to speak the same language. Therefore, intermediaries — people who can translate both languages — are in demand. This is essentially Bell’s job: the promotion of a metadata standard (ONIX 3) to publishers and software designers.

To creatives, he argues that standards do not hinder innovation. Instead, if they are aspirational, they are a rallying point to move ahead. To techies, he says ONIX is a simple XML-based tool. It could take only six weeks to adapt existing software to the latest format, which was launched in 2009. Even so, only about 15 percent of the industry in the UK is working with the most recent version of the standard designed by EDItEUR. "Publishers would rather spend their money on book advances than on IT", explains Bell. If only more people in the industry sat in the middle of the table…

This is one of the goals of our Digital Publishing Strategy module: to teach us how to work with people who will deliver the product. It is not achieved just by being polite and offering tea, but by knowing what is possible, anticipating future issues, allocating enough time and money for each project, and so on. We also discuss different managerial methods, as digital products demand a different workflow from print books. The latter tends to be linear whereas with apps, e-books or websites the process is improved if we adopt an iterative project approach — a concept we had discussed minutes before Bell's talk.

Our Digital Media Publishing module allows us to work with e-books. In designing and publishing them, we come to know the ‘techie’ side of the business. Even if we end up working in editorial departments in the future, it will have certainly broadened our understanding of the present digital publishing landscape.

Also by working with e-books we can understand immediately a quote that Bell highlighted in his talk: "In the future, adherence to standards will not be optional", predicted his friend Brian O'Leary, from Magellan Media. This idea of effectively mandatory acceptance stems from how a revolutionary content-based product that does not meet the standards of a platform — whether it is a desktop browser, a watch or glasses — will simply not find its audience. Publishers know they cannot afford to work from their ivory towers anymore. As Bell says, standards broaden your market, a fact that all publishers – both techies and creatives – should understand. 

About the author of this article

Fernanda Dutra is an MA Digital Publishing student at Brookes, freelance travel writer and an intern at And Other Stories Publishing. 

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 18 Mar 2015 around 12am

Last edited: 18 03 2015