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single-source publishing (multi-channel publishing)

Contributor(s): Corinne Bernstein

Single-source publishing, also referred to as multi-channel publishing, is a content management strategy in which a single intelligent content source is used to create multiple outputs in multiple formats. When edits are applied to the original, changes are automatically made to the outputs. This approach not only allows end users to consume content in their preferred format and on their preferred device, it also allows people who speak different languages or use Braille or voice-translated files to consume the same content without the need for costly, labor-intensive editing.

The reformatted documents in single-source publishing may contain the same images and words, but there typically are differences, depending on how the document will be used. The original document often starts out as a generic text document because it is usually easy to turn into different formats. For example, if the document needs to be printed, then it stays a generic document; if needs to be archived, then it is likely compressed; or if it is going online, it is formatted in the hypertext markup language (HTML). Doing this manually would take a lot of time, but automated tools can quickly turn the original content into another format.

Another advantage of making the original document a text file is that text is a format that will not become obsolete or unavailable.  Updating and versioning the content can be done efficiently, allowing the publishing publisher to rapidly respond to users’ requests for adjustments. Additionally, because the text file is not tied to a specific layout, it is available to authors and editors through the backend of the content management system (CMS) even when a design team is working on how the content will be presented.

The concept of single-source/multi-channel publishing is not new, but it has increased in popularity along with the consumption of information on mobile devices and the growing need for marketers to target specific audience segments. The development of Extensible Markup Language (XML) during the mid- to late-1990s allowed developers to separate their documentation into two layers: a shell-like layer based on presentation and a core-like layer based on written content. This separation of form from content allowed developers to write content once but use it multiple ways. 

This was last updated in October 2017

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