The digital environment functions as an ecosystem for multiple types of content. Any web-hosted material needs to keep track of an ever-increasing variety of content and with traditional (originally paper-based) publishers, it is no different. Within a digital publishing workflow, it is important to track and manage any content associated with the house’s project for the following reasons:

  • Controlling the licensing for imagery
  • Keeping archives
  • Managing revisions
  • Managing multiple authors
  • Controlling access and permissions
  • Organising content between multiple projects
  • Facilitating communication between project role-players
  • Tracking project status

Content management by itself is simply a glamorous term for organised filing, however with the web and the creation of dynamic and fluid pages, multiple types of possibly unrelated content need to come to together at the users request. Hence the technology that dawned along with the Web, was that of the content management system (CMS). A CMS allows different types of content to come together with traceable paths and history. What’s more, is that processes can be automated with content being simultaneously published in multiple locations with rich-interlinking and with full customisation for different users.

(Kasdorf 2003:418-437)

When it comes to creating an e-book, management is needed at three levels:

  1. The people working on the book
  2. The content within the book
  3. The people using the book (i.e. readers)

In some large publishers, manuscripts are stored on cloud-based servers so as to facilitate international collaboration. This form of the system works to synchronise the project amongst all involved and facilitate communication through that platform. When a manuscript is being edited, that file can be marked as ‘in-use’ and any commentary can be placed with the file. Where a manuscript has been split into various chapters, these can be edited and authored simultaneously and circulated, speeding up the process as a whole.

At the same time, any additional referenced in the system can be checked-out, edited and placed back for review. Once the project has been published. That media still has a place within the system (which can be separate from the book it was involved in), this allows content to be separated for marketing or for licensing options. In a co-publishing agreement, or licensing agreement, select content can be shared with collaborators. Furthermore, if the book is reliant on external links, or downloads content specific to the publisher (updates or supplementary material), a CMS can control that process.

Finally, because there are multiple ways to consume an e-book, it is necessary for there to be a system which keeps track of the reader’s progress. Many e-book vendors allow their books to be read on e-reading devices, through a client app/program on another device (PC/smartphone), and through a web-application. All these forms only function if they exist in sync, and can provide you with the same material starting from wherever you last left off. This cannot occur without the help of a CMS. It becomes even more complicated with e-book lending, as the same functions with occur, but with changing ownership. The CMS in this case will also regulate what the readers do, by tracking what they read, and through which devices, invaluable market research is gained. A publisher’s interaction with a retail-side CMS will likely be controlled through an API (Application Programming Interface). Lulu.com for instance now has an API which allows publishers to use them as a printer and distributor, without needing to go through the Lulu interface itself. Rather, the “back-end”, the processing functions of Lulu, have been made accessible through the API, allowing publishers to distribute their content through Lulu’s channels seamlessly.

Levels of CMS

At its heart, a CMS is not so much a piece of software but a mindset, though software helps. In order to manage your content effectively, all that is needed is a managed storage space and controlled access. This can be done at the enterprise level with expensive software, or it can be managed in the cloud through blogging tools (WordPress is an example you’re already familiar with).


This is a popular blogging platform which has received much success and has an interesting function for enterprises. It exists in two spaces, a simple on-line tool making it possible for anyone to host a blog, with a degree of customisation. Secondly, it exists as a separate software entity which can be customised for a variety of purposes. For this reason, it has become popular as a CMS. An enterprise can use the software to host their own internal publishing system, which (as open source software) can be edited and adjusted through editing of the actual code, as well as through the use of plug-ins.

It allows for access control, as well as media management. When cloud-based, it can also conducive to collaborative authorship. Read Maxwell, J.W. & Fraser, K. 2010. ‘Traversing The Book of Mpub: an Agile, Web-first Publishing Model’ for a case study.

Enterprise options for publishers specifically

The most common method for making content agile and malleable throughout the digital environment is through an XML-based CMS. These tools include PTC Windchill, RSuite CMS, and Metro publisher to name a few. These function mostly in the same way in that they act as digital libraries allowing you to check content out, edit it, comment on it, and then check it back in for review.


A wiki is an interesting tool to use as a CMS. Technically, it works well for publications as it relies inherently on an interlinked structure (a page must be linked to in order for it to exist). It is also easily editable by multiple parties, and because it is open for editing is a great tool for crowd-sourcing content. However, it is also a beginning phase tool, one best suited towards the authoring. Further development will require the content to eventually become static.


An additional feature of many CMSs is the ability to automate production processes. Where content is based in a single source format (usually XML) it is possible to apply generic tag-based formatting, search and replace functions (style editing), automatic insertion of content (generic copyright information for example) and conversion to publishable formats. Using a mixture of scripts and XSLT, this is a key feature of the CMS. Not only does it manage where the information is kept, but can distribute and process that content for all parties involved.


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