Hybrid Publishing Workflows for Fotomuseum Winterthur

Fotomuseum Winterthur has asked The Hybrid Publishing Consortium to investigate how their publishing tradition can be re-imagined in the context of digital publishing. As a point of departure and case study, we will focus on one particular publication and exhibition—Manifeste! Eine andere Geschichte der Fotografie (Fotomuseum Winterthur, 13.09-23.11.2014), and propose transitional workflows for new and hybrid publishing strategies.

The Museum Catalogue in Post-digital Times

Within the world of art publishing, the catalogues produced by Fotomuseum Winterthur have acquired a solid reputation. Created to high standards of print design and reproduction quality, the catalogues are prime examples of the monograph. Working with designers such as Moiré, NOORD, Trix Wetter and publishers like Steidl, Nieves, Spector Books, and commissioning new texts for each catalogue, these books make sure that exhibitions staged at Winterthur reach a larger audience than its rather remote geographical location would otherwise suggest.

The firm commitment to the printed object also comes with a down-side. The excellent, yet medium specific objects, are not easily translated into digital formats. The printed book is a medium in which form and content are contained together in one convenient support, and the books published by Fotomuseum Winterthur fully exploit the possibilities of this intimate liaison.

Yet the public that buys Winterthur’s catalogues is but a small part of the potential public for the art that is shown and the knowledge that is produced by the museum. And the book is but one of the formats to reach an audience today. With the public discourse around art taking place in large parts online, there are a myriad of web channels not yet exploited by the Fotomuseum. The museum therefore wants to reposition their catalogues, as complementary objects in a whole new hybrid publishing strategy, composed of paper and digital publications.

Hybrid publishing: paper and digital formats

Books from the post-Gutenberg era and digital publishing can easily be opposed. In this logic, the codex is demarcated and linear, whereas digital publishing is fragmented, interlinked and embraces the logic of the databases: elements have formal relations but no inherent narrative order. Upon closer scrutiny, the opposition does not really hold: many elements of the codex return in digital publishing models.

The Institute of Network Cultures provides a useful overview of the various digital publishing formats in their publication “From Print to Ebooks: a Hybrid Publishing Toolkit for the Arts”. The following graphic plots the most popular ones:

Image: Medamo and Kimmy Spreeuwenberg, p. 31. CC NC BY

The y-axis shows types of navigation ranging from standard (meaning, in this case, linear) to customised. The x-axis shows layout from plain to rich. ‘Rich’ can easily be misunderstood to mean ‘better’. That would, in our view, not be correct. The rich formats allow a juxtaposition of multiple media. But at least equally importantly, they allow consistency, at the expense of flexibility. A format like PDF is a page description language: the position of every element is described very carefully. Most other digital publishing formats are based on mark-up languages like HTML: these provide a description of the content that leave a lot more interpretation to the device that finally is going to display it. It is not an accident that the option with the richest layout in this model then also has a very lineair navigation.

Exploding the Codex

If one wants to spread the knowledge contained in the exhibition and traditionally gathered in paper catalogues, we have to rethink the codex/monograph monopoly. This does not mean we want to do away with it, but rather that we want to come up with complementary objects and strategies, including digital ones.

The linearity and graphically rich nature of the catalogue is hard to translate in most digital formats, already just thinking in terms of file sizes. What we would like to do is to explode the (traditional conception of the) catalogue, look at the various components that make up the book and re-combine them in a hybrid—paper and digital—ecosystem.

Medium-specific contents

As publications go, the museum catalogue is essentially a collection. It brings together reproductions of artworks, descriptions of artwork (metadata) and texts that treat the questions raised by the exhibition. The editor and designer make sure all these elements work well together, and the book is the site of this synthesis. Yet the different pieces of content brought together in the catalogue might be able to function on their own as well. It would be possible to reach various audiences and establish different relations through re-publishing different types of content in the most fitting channel.

We can then pose the question: what contents make up the universe of the exhibition but did finally not make it into a printed edition, due to an economy of space for example, or falling outside the editorial theme. Which texts could have been written, which images could have been produced, but did not fit into the model of the book?

These questions are too late to ask in the context of an already finished publication but can and should be taken into account for newer projects. To have, for example, the exhibition’s curator publish a blog documenting the development of the exhibition and the catalogue, is a way to create “web-only” content that enriches and is complementary to both the catalogue and the exhibition. If we look at an exhibition as a constellation of people and artworks coming together, creating a certain knowledge, this is another way yet of capturing and disseminating this knowledge.

Thus, we propose for Winterthur to rethink the (traditional) way in which they have produced the publications that accompany the exhibitions. The editorial team is responsible for identifying and creating a collection of objects (texts, images etc.) that can represent the exhibition. The editorial process first focuses on elaborating the selection and the relations between the objects, and only as a subsequent step identifying the media that can be used to make them public.The editorial team works in close connection with the social media & digital strategists to choose what content would work best for which medium.

The Manifeste! case

Manifeste! is an exhibition that explores the historical relationships between photography and the manifesto, in a large sense of the term, bringing together statements from across the history of photography. The Manifeste! exhibition provides a new perspective on photography and formulates an alternative history of the medium.

The manifesto is a specific kind of document, which often has a double status: both visual and textual. Because of this, the Manifeste! exhibition is an unusual one, exhibiting a huge amount of text. To highlight this text-visual duality of the manifesto document, the manifestos are literally blown up in the museum space, forming a big visual and textual composition. This leads to an inversion of the usual exhibition codes of photography museums, which usually display images on the wall and captions underneath. In the Manifeste! exhibition, the reproduction of the manifestos statements (mainly texts) are exhibited on the walls and the pictures accompanying them were displayed in vitrines

In addition to the fact that these documents are both texts and images, the majority of the manifestos shown in the exhibition are printed documents, and most of them were originally published in books and magazines. The exhibition catalogue is thus a natural format for them, and next to documenting the exhibition, it also constitutes an act of re-publication. The book starts with a visual entrée en matière: a selection of full-page images of some of the covers of the manifesto’s publications. After the usual introductory texts and essays comes the main part of the book: high-quality facsimile pages of the manifestos, reproduced in their real size, with excerpts (indicated on the documents with an arrow) subsequently translated in German. Then comes a section reviewing all the publications where the manifestos were originally published, with cover, references and description. After about 400 pages, the book ends with a series of back-covers, mirroring the first part of the book. The inner fold of the back-cover of the catalogue contains an index of the manifestos and table of contents. A separate (smaller) “reader” contains some translations in English.

Like the exhibition, the Manifeste! catalogue is a rather unusual publication for the Fotomuseum, and a particularly big challenge when it comes to digital publishing formats. The decision to treat texts both as text and as image is difficult for some kind of e-ink readers that are not good at displaying high resolution images, and even on bigger tablets the huge size of the files required would potentially be a problem.

This book thus makes a very good case study for hybrid publishing workflows, and it shows that is hard to imagine an automatic translation from one format to another. The translation process must be carefully thought out, as every editorial process, and it requires consideration of the specificity of each medium.

Exploding Manifeste!

As part of the study of the composing elements of the printed publication, we have studied the digital InDesign file from which the book was created. This file encodes all images and texts, as well as the layout of the book. For the this part of the case study, the Hybrid Publishing Consortium collaborates with Gerrit Imsieke from the Leipzig based company le-tex. With a software called Transpect (see details in the chapter le-tex and Transpect), we try to extract a structured HTML file out of the InDesign file, where the book is contained. This allows us to experiment with the inDesign file as a base format for many outputs (from ePub to web sites). This process will also be very useful for the treatment of previous publications, which all correspond to this configuration: the last version of the contents is in the InDesign document. That is, if the museum has access to the file.

The study and experiments conducted on the Manifeste! catalogue lead us to imagine a transition plan towards a more general hybrid publishing strategy for the Fotomuseum.

Hybrid Publishing Workflows

The changes brought on by new publication formats and possibilities do not only concern the final objects, the publications, but the whole publishing process, its actors and how they work together. Publishers are rethinking their traditional publishing workflows and elaborating new hybrid publishing strategies.

Current workflow

The way in which the Winterthur catalogues like Manifeste! have been produced is similar to how many smaller art publishers work. The visual design is very important: the relation between form and content is tight. In the case of museum Winterthur, there is no fixed house style—they work with multiple designers.

The museum, in this sense, works without templates. In theory, this approach still allows to work together with an external Content Management System. Programs like inDesign permit to hook into external CMS’es Systems, through the generic exchange technology of XML. This is what larger publishers do: they build custom workflows to enable the sharing of elements between various formats of publications. But because art publishers require both more customisation and have smaller IT budgets, such solutions are hardly ever put in place.

The practical consequence then of this workflow, is that all of the knowledge that is produced during the production of the catalogue becomes encoded into one file, the inDesign file. Not only the visual design is stored in this file, also the canonical versions of the texts: since the proofs are created from inDesign, any corrections are often encoded with this program as well.

Because the inDesign is the digital representation of the knowledge represented by the catalogue (and thus the exhibition!), the Consortium wanted to find out how much of this knowledge could be extracted from the file, in order to be able to re-use it in other, digital, publishing contexts.

Le-tex and Transpect

The Hybrid Publishing Consortium has built up a working relation with the Leipzig based company le-tex. Le-tex specialises in what they call ‘Content Engineering’. Basically, they come up with workflows for publishers for all parts of the process leading up to the publication. This means importing text formats into Content Management Systems, formally verifying them and allowing for proof-reading, version management and conversion strategies between the various digital and analog formats in use.

What is exciting about le-tex, besides their extensive experience, is the fact that they have Open Sourced a large part of their digital solutions. Transpect is an ‘open source framework for converting and checking documents’. Our close working relationship and the fact that their tools are Open Source makes us confident in suggesting le-tex’s tools as part of a hybrid publishing workflow.

What is special about Transpect specifically is the way in which it handles lay-out and styling information. Content Management Systems have a tendency to focus on the encoding and exchange of text, leaving styling to ephemeral templates. Transpect takes it upon itself to also translate the various forms in which layout and style can be encoded. Most importantly, it provides facilities for converting inDesign paragraph styles to CSS styles and vice versa.

From InDesign to HTML

The usual workflow with Transpect is to set up a ‘conversion pipeline’ from one format to another. This pipeline is then configured and tweaked to best accomodate the specificities of the input. For our experiment with the Manifeste catalogue, we first opted to convert the inDesign file to HTML. We chose HTML because it is the lingua franca of digital publishing: it is used both on websites and eBooks, and increasingly in mobile applications. It is easy to store and repurpose.

The conversion performed upon the Manifeste file managed to extract the texts and do a good job of converting the text styles to the CSS format as used by HTML. However, while we experimented with converting the inDesign file of the Manifeste catalogue, we found ourselves adapting the pipeline to the specificities of the publication to make the conversion function ever better. Le-tex’s Gerrit Imsieke also came up with a number of changes we could make to the inDesign file itself. The conversion process thus becomes time-consuming. The challenges faced by smaller arts publishers become apparent again. Larger publishers might re-use an inDesign layout for an entire series of books, which makes optimising the conversion an easier investment.

Gerrit provided a series of guidelines for designers working in inDesign, that make their files easier to process (we added these as an annex). We suggest that Winterthur asks the designers for upcoming catalogues to follow them. The extracted content then is ready to use by a digital designer—whether it is to make an ePub, a web publication or a mobile application.

The recommendations will make the process of extracting content easier—but it is probable that every single publication will still require a certain amount of customisation.

The following schema proposes a workflow for the publication currently in development, and for earlier publications in which the paper publication is still the main source (last version stored in the INDD file after last proofreading).

Creating a hybrid publishing strategy

If useful for existing publications, a workflow based on deconstructing the inDesign file does not seem ideal for developing a future hybrid publishing strategy.

We have touched upon some of the technical limitations of this approach: the deconstruction can not be fully automated. More importantly, following this approach would make each publication dependent on the book publication, which has to be finished first.

A more logical approach would then be to explode the book beforehand: the different elements to be published by the Fotomuseum (images, legends, texts, videos) are selected and created (or digitised), and the relations between these elements are described. The paper publication builds upon this curated set of elements, but so can other types of (digital) publications (more on this in section 4).

A challenge for the museum is how to coordinate the relation between various publication formats. At the moment the paper design and the digital design seem to be quite separated. The museums publication director could instigate relations between these designers, or choose to hire one hybrid designer that tackles both media, or work with an art director that oversees the relations between the various publication media. Such an approach seems necessary to reach a more global hybrid publishing strategy, that will give a greater coherence between all the formats, and more complementarity.

Future workflow

So how does this exploded workflow work in practice? Our proposition is as follows.

HTML as a basis

Providing the scaffolding for the new digital strategy of the Fotomuseum, this new workflow puts the HTML format and the web database at the center of the publishing strategy. The HTML content becomes the source for all the materials, that are stored in a database with a versioning system. Assets can be modified online through an editing interface (CMS), and then used in the different outputs.

As a side-note, the fact that the HTML is going to be used in a publishing workflow does place extra demands on the CMS, that do not exist for a strictly web-facing CMS. The most important exchange technology in the publishing industry is XML. Tools like inDesign know how to use XML. It is therefore important that the CMS stores its HTML in the specific form of HTML that is compatible with XML: XHTML5. inDesign is famously picky when it comes to importing XML, so additionally the CMS implementation should be tested with inDesign’s import feature.

inDesign as an output

From our inDesign experiment we have concluded that an inDesign file is not an appropriate source. inDesign however remains a valuable tool for print output, allowing a level of control unmatched by any automated solution. We propose to still use inDesign, but simply at a later stage in the process. Not as a source, but a target.

Many large editors rely on inDesign’s XML handling to synchronise with their CMS’es. In most cases, it is the text that is being synchronised and the design that is constructed from scratch for each medium. We propose to go a step further, and also share style information. What is a very promising solution created by le-tex, is a conversion pipeline from CSS styling (HTML’s design language) to inDesign paragraph styles. This would mean one designer would work on the basis of the design that can be shared between screen and print. The print designer can then adapt and modify the styling to fit the medium she or he works in.

Revision control

Having a centralised database answers the very practical question: how to integrate the corrections in the design easily and safely? Where is the last version stored, and is it easily re-usable? Particularly in the context of hybrid (and efficient) publishing, a single source is essential. One source to rely on, and on which all the outputs can be based.

This database needs to have a well integrated revision control. Versioning systems were developed in the context of software development, to keep trace of the modifications on a code file. These systems improve collaborative workflows, and make it easier to follow the changes in a file.

Making use of versioning in a print-layout/graphic design context, the graphic designer could import all the data again, in the layout file with the risk of loosing layout detail’s adjustments, or choose to add only the modifications, which are very easily identified with a versioning system…

Modules and combinations

For the text to make any sense at all post-scramble, it had to be ‘prepared,’ like pieces of lego, each already designed to fit together with other pieces in multiple ways, says Umberto Eco on Tristano, a combinatory algorithmically generated novel written/programmed by Nanni Balestrini in 1966, of which Verso re-published 10,000 different versions (out of the 109,027,350,432,000 possible variations) in 2014.

Thinking the publication as a collection of contents interrelated allows more flexibility and modularity. It also enables potential future re-use of the information in another context. For example, a contributor could look for a picture in the Fotomuseum database and see in which previous publications it appeared, and maybe read a contextualised extract in which the picture is mentioned. This would also be an interesting feature for the public and educational purposes: being able to visualize a network around each work and understand its connections.

Open licenses

The future of publications will be hybrid and multi-formats. Which does not make things easy in terms of licensing. Museums will have to negotiate more extensive and open-ended permissions with rights holders.

An alternative to such extensive custom license agreements would be to ask contributors to license their work under an open license.

For instance, the Creative Commons license “Attribution” or “CC BY” allows the re-use of the work for any purpose and through any media, as long as the new use credits the author.

This enables an open-ended usage of the work by the museum. In addition, this enables new publishing strategies, and new possibilities of involvement for the public.

Our research shows that a new phase of digital strategy is taking hold in cultural organisations. Whereas the last five years saw them focus predominantly on social media marketing and engagement, we have identified a more recent shift to exploring mature digital channels. Examples of these are–online learning platforms, digital books, open licence content repositories and collaborative research platforms. They demonstrate that the Web has become the platform of choice for critical discourse. The shift we see expresses a horizontal tendency, where participants (audiences) are engaged as co-producers and invited to share and reuse content. (Hybrid Publishing Consortium)

Encouraging the contributors to publish their texts, pictures and videos with an open license will facilitate their re-use by the Fotomuseum in multi-format publishing and allow for more flexibility, for example with new formats that we don’t even know yet.

The use of such licenses also provides new possibilities for the public to access and get involved with the productions of the Fotomuseum. It enables a more widespread sharing of the knowledge produced and facilitates re-use for educational purposes.

Towards a publishing program

The aim of this workflow is to expand the possibilities of publication formats, and include them in a general strategy, to not have to re-invent the wheel at every publication. But all the formats will not be necessary every time and that is where the work of the editor(s) is very important: choosing among the possibilities the ones that will make sense in relation to the content, and who can function well together in a specific case.

Specific publishing formats can then be imagined for the different programs and activities of the Fotomuseum. The museum could develop a collection of small and very simple ePubs for individual essays by critics (drawn from and at the same time advertising for the full catalogues), or transcripts of public events and lectures.

The PLAT(T)FORM presenting works from young photographers could have an ePub3 digital series of publication for each new artist, with the same design, to help promote their work. Like publisher JRP|Ringier with its “First monograph” collection, all based on the same canvas.

Some specific exhibitions could be the occasion to develop a special web page/site where the visitor can further explore the works, and access materials not shown in the exhibition, in another temporality.

As N.Katherine Hayles says, in her text Electronic Literature: What is it? (2007), readers come to digital work with expectations formed by print, including extensive and deep tacit knowledge of letter forms, print conventions, and print literary modes. Of necessity, [we] must build on these expectations even as it modifies and transforms them.

That is what we propose with this workflow: it still enables the production process of museum monographs, but by requiring the monographs decomposition it creates new possibilities at the same time.

If all the contemporary formats of publication are very different, they are not incompatible. They are rather complementary, and a good hybrid publishing strategy can be efficient public-wise, both in terms of quantity (bigger public, more varied) and quality (providing several formats responding to different needs of one member of the public).