In the twenty-first century, content normally lives on the web. But what would a web-based book publishing environment look like? In spring 2010, graduate students at Simon Fraser University created The Book of MPub, an end-to-end, web-first book publishing project. The re-visioning of the book as a web-born entity presents enormous opportunities for publishers to push the operational, expressive, and social horizons of their businesses. We have identified four key concepts which shape a modern book publishing approach: the concept of an agile publishing methodology; the centrality of online content management systems; leveraging the web's HTML markup as a way of achieving an XML-based workflow; and the radical reconfiguration of promotion and marketing.
Book publishers have struggled in recent years to find ways to adopt XML-based editorial and production workflows. Complexity, unfamiliarity, and uncertainty about implementation details contribute to a kind of impasse among publishers—particularly small and medium-sized firms that lack the resources to maintain innovative IT departments that might push them into 21st-century processes. While the benefits of XML-based processes are trumpeted widely, and the general business case for adopting and investing in XML and related technology has existed for 20 years, gathering the energy and resources to move into an XML-based environment has eluded many. Could it be that XML-based workflows are simply too complicated to be readily adopted by smaller publishers? And if that is so, what are the implications as we move into the digital era?