Emma Barnes: XML Without an IT Department


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Emma Barnes' presentation from StartWithXML London, on September 2nd, 2009.

"XML Without an IT Department"

The small publisher perspective on getting started with limited investment and IT resources.

Published in: Technology, News & Politics
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  • I’m Emma Barnes, MD of the indie publisher Snowbooks, and Ops Director of software houseOnix Central. I’m going to talk to you about how a small company like Snowbooks uses XML to punch above its weight and to share some tools with you to do the same. I would note that whilst the methods I’ll describe are suitable for a small company with zero budget, in these recessionary times these are methods suitable for companies of all sizes.
  • $29. That’s how much Snowbooks has spent on becoming world-class XML users.$29 over five years. Not what you’d calla huge investment. What’s it bought us?
  • Like you heard in the business case this morning, it’s saved us time: in our casethree months a year
  • It’s got us extra sales, won us prizes (the InnovationNibbie in 2008), and avoided the untold cost of missing, erroneous or incomplete data
  • It’s even developed into a brand new company.
  • I’m talking mainly about bibliographic data here, theprinciple being that we have one file to rule them all
  • So our one XML file is the source for everything which contains an ISBN number, from title verso pages to Ais, author notes, catalogues and so on(And for the purposes of publishing you can think of XML and ONIX files as being interchangeable)
  • And the way we use that XML file is as automated as possible. For instance, creating a catalogue is 5 clicks
  • And importantly we have used free or very cheap software to achieve this. We use ConText as an XML / XSL editor; Eclipse with the Orangevoltplugin to run XSLT; we run batch files from the command line to create our websites using Java; we use the Onix Central publishing manager which is only £315; we use InDesign which we’ve already bought the licence for to typeset our books. So this is a very low cost model.
  • Let me show you. [video embedded here]What did I just do there? I took a bog standard ONIX record, which if you’re onix compliant you’ll have already at your offices, and if you’re not you can become onix compliant for £315 if you buy the onix central publishing manager, and imported it into an indesign template. I learned how to set up the template from an Adobe publication, A designers’ guide to XML and indesign, which cost …
  • …$29… which I read one weekend. That was how quick it was, as once all your data’s in a database you are ready to go. It’s all in there. If you can’t face reading a book, which would be a little ironic as we’re all publishers here, then you can come to our training courses where I go through this step by step. But it’ll cost more than $29. So try the book first. The big point there is that *once all your data’s in a database* you can put it to work immediately. But if you leave becoming Onix compliant until you have 100 titles then it’s going to be a job of work to get all that data from excel spreadsheets, from access databases, from people’s heads into a sensible order. Take my advice – invest in an onix database before you think you need one! And by the way, Onix Central’s publishing manager is only £315 so it’s not going to break the bank even for a publisher as tight fisted as snowbooks. And if you’re listening to this thinking *oh god, I have 1500 titles, am I going to spend the rest of my life doing data entry into a database*, the answer is no, it can be imported easily enough. And here’s some good news – I’ve created a set of templates for you to create a catalogue tomorrow morning using software you already own. Or this evening if you’re really keen. It’ll take half an hour, tops.
  • I want you to be able to produce a catalogue using XML tomorrow morning. There’s no need to delay and no need to do a big ONIX implementation project, so I’ve set up an Excel spreadsheet that you can use to export an XML file. Everything you need to create a catalogue using software you already own is at www.onixcentral.com/xml to download.
  • There’s an excel file which you copy and paste into, and an indesign template, and an xsl template. It takes about ten minutes once you’ve got your data together.
  • Once you’ve seen how simple it is, you can start to use your XML like this. We have created websites
  • Catalogues, Ais, email marketing, word documents, powerpoint – anything that contains an ISBN.
  • Whathave the main benefits been for us? It’s very quick. It’s very accurate. No re-keying of data means no mistakes - only the original database needs to be correct, not ten versions dotted around in different files This accuracy means that we aren’t losing sales from wrong or absent data. Lost sales are hard to put a value on, but it’s an important point. It’s consistent. Each page has the same type of data. It makes our information available for anyone with a web browser to see. I can email a URL of an AI to a customer and they have it immediately. That has been particularly helpful in overseas sales and sales to non-book retailers. Once the data is in an XML format, it can be used to populate other files. For instance, we also use XML to fill in Indesign catalogue layouts in a similarly rapid process, and the many different spreadsheets that the different retailers require for titles to be considered for selection. We also use it to populate Word templates It has got us recognised as leading the market - not just among independent publishers, either. It means that we can run a successful small publisher with 3 people. Oh yes, and I have a baby and co-direct another company too.
  • How did we do it? We already had a database containing all our data. It seemed daft to have to keep typing out data for things like AIs, catalogues and so on, so we started to learn about this thing called XSL. We bought a book or two on the subject, read them, and then wrote the code. It’s interesting: I am an arts graduate, running a book publishing company, with a love of literature. I am in no way a geek or a technically-minded person, and have no IT training. But with a bit of patience and a burning desire to make my company as efficient as possible, I have learned how to write code from scratch. The motivation was threefold: I hate wasting time. I’d much rather spend a weekend learning how to use XSL, or another way of automating something, than spend one day a week, every week, retyping or copying and pasting data from one document to another I hate making mistakesRekeying data, no matter how careful you are, simply always results in one or two typos. Before you know it, the data on Nielsen, Amazon, Waterstone’s.com and your own website is subtley different. And what happens when the publication date changes, or the page extent? Rather than trying to correct every bit of paper, every partner’s website and records, it’s much more simple and reliable to have one version of the truth. I hate spending money I would much rather read a big thick book on XSL than pay a consultant £3000 to write an application for me. Firstly, we’d spend £3000 we didn’t have to. Secondly, we wouldn’t have the knowledge to write the next useful application that I want. By reading the books, and learning this ourselves, we’re adding to the knowledge assets of Snowbooks and increasing our value as a business.
  • I love spreading the word about how transformative XML can be for a publisher – and I love more than anything explaining that it doesn’t have to cost the earth. In fact, small publsihers are exactly those who can benefit the most from it as we are agile, quick to learn, not constrained by lengthy sign off processes, and know instinctively an opportunity to sell more books for as low a cost as possible when we see it.
  • Go to this url to get downloads and instructions of how to create the catalogue you saw earlier.
  • Emma Barnes: XML Without an IT Department

    1. 1. Hello<br />
    2. 2. $29<br />
    3. 3. Jan<br />Feb<br />Mar<br />Apr<br />May<br />Jun<br />Jul<br />Aug<br />Sept<br />Oct<br />Nov<br />Dec<br />
    4. 4. £<br />£<br />
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    6. 6. f<br />&lt;<br />/&gt;<br />
    7. 7.
    8. 8. Export from<br />ONIX database<br />1 click<br />Import to <br />InDesign<br />template<br />2 clicks<br />2 clicks<br />Export to PDF<br />
    9. 9. http://www.contexteditor.org/ £FREE<br />http://www.eclipse.org/ £FREE<br />http://eclipsexslt.sourceforge.net/ £FREE<br />http://www.java.com/en/download<br />/inc/windows_upgrade_ie.jsp £FREE<br />http://www.onixcentral.com/<br />publishingmanager.html £315<br />http://www.adobe.com/products/indesign/ £595<br />
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    11. 11. $29<br />
    12. 12. onixcentral.com/xml<br />
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    17. 17. I hate<br />
    18. 18. I love<br />
    19. 19. onixcentral.com/xml<br />