The W3C Publishing Summit

The first ever W3C Publishing Summit took place in San Francisco on 9-10 November 2017. Different players in the field of publishing discussed the central theme of the conference: “how web technologies are shaping publishing today, tomorrow and beyond”.

Sessions spanned a number of topics. Several speakers introduced their respective publishing companies and their vision on the future (Adobe, Rakuten Kobo, Media Do, Penguin Random House, O’Reilly Media) while other speakers talked about the market for e-books in their respective countries/regions (South-America, Europe, Japan).

More details were also provided on the work being done by the W3C: the different working groups (Publishing working group, publishing business group, EPUB3 community group), their progress on making EPUB more accessible for people with disabilities and the need for web standards in order to obtain a state of ‘frictionless publishing’. Frictionless publishing means avoiding problems that are caused by actors in the publishing sector who make use of different apps, devices, platforms etc., which results in each technology only being applicable to a portion of the overall workflow.

Representatives of Google, Mozilla and Microsoft focused on the role that browsers and web developers play as the publishing sector is evolving  towards the open web. The future of reading systems and the role that Virtual Reality could play were also discussed (for example reading about pharaohs and being able to explore a tomb in an immersive way). Artificial intelligence was another point that was touched upon, especially in relation to the educational publishing sector where a trend has set in to create adaptive artificial intelligence content. Such adaptive platforms could for example build knowledge graphs, profiles of students, pedagogical models of how to best teach the material, …  Analytics could also be provided to interested parties: overview of how a student or class is proceeding through a book, analytics about how effective the material is etc.

Another theme were the tools that are changing publishing. CSS grid for example allows ‘traditional typeset material’ to be put on the web by migrating layouts to the web without absolute positioning. A number of experiments with CSS grid can be found on Jen Simmons’ website. Another example is Vivliostyle: a publishing workflow tool that is essentially an HTML and CSS layout engine in JavaScript that can be used to create e-publications. This tool allows the table of content, page numbers, footnotes and indices to be automatically adapted to the changing size of the page. Another tool that was presented is geared towards the consumers. The New York Public Library has developed an e-reading app called SimplyE that allows library patrons to easily gain access to e-books. Currently the open source app is used by more than 60 libraries across the USA and Canada.

Changes in publishing workflows were also addressed by a number of speakers, underlining the need for automating workflows and moving away from simply adapting existing workflows (based on a ‘paper mindset’) to electronic publications and towards digital-first workflows.

The main message of the summit was that publishers are either preparing themselves to move to the web or are in the process of doing so. It is clear that the developments discussed above have implications for heritage institutions such as the Royal Library of Belgium, especially in the light of the broadening of the legal deposit to electronic publications regardless of their material carrier. It is therefore indispensable to anticipate the evolution and changes in publishing in order to accommodate the preservation of a large variety of content.





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