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Publishing systems case study:
Vacher Dods Parliamentary Publications

Our work for newly merged Vacher Dod Political Publishers began with a one day 'New Media Strategy' workshop for the directors.

Some months later they called on us to take the strategy forward and over a period of years we worked on the following elements:

  • Information infrastructure
  • Database driven websites
  • Multi-site, multi-currency Ecommerce
  • Web-to-book content management
  • Database driven news function
  • Subscription management

Information infrastructure.

Vacher and Dods had been publishing leather-bound gold-leafed parliamentery directories for over 100 years and were ready to make the leap to electronic publishing.

They wanted to alter the frequency of some of their products and re-task the information to make versions for different markets. They also needed to cut their IT and book-production costs.

The data for the books was held in many different places, such as 'quark' or 'word' documents and access databases. With many thousands of pages of information and many editors it had become impossible to keep all sources the same. Costs of editing and processing their content were mounting.

We designed a database that would hold the data for ALL of the books, modelling the structure of UK and European Government and Civil Service and keeping biographies for tens of thousands of significant individuals.

This databse immediately served the new website designed by us and implemented alongside an in-house developer trained by us).

Web-to-book content management

This data structure was then used to produce the books direct from the database, without going through manual typesetting.

It also allowed the typesetting to be done in a matter of hours so a book could be highly accurate rather than already out of date as it rolled off the presses.

What is more, the expert editors, some of whom worked from remote locations, even from home, could update the database over the web and their changes could be in the database and on the various websites in seconds.

Online proofing tools were added to make it easier for editors and people featured in the books to see what a listing would look like when published.

Multi-site, multi currency ecommerce:

Dods went on to create a European subscription site which was an economical re-skinning of the UK version. A major new product to sell yet accomplished in only a few days.

On-line ordering/purchasing of books and web subscriptions was added and orders started coming in within hours; with money going directly into the Dod bank accounts. The EuroSource site was adapted to display prices in Euros.

Bells and whistles

Dod are well respected for their parliamentary news function and the new website allowed them to rapidly change the latest articles, and easily archive all articles, every page of the site is directly produced as the link is clicked, straight from the database with no in-house designers or html programmers required.

We were also proud to originate the site's visual design and to add many extra features; please see the MPG case study for examples of other features we can provide.

Success on success

The directors were successful during this period in selling the business. We were retained by the new owners to further develop the web systems and train in-house staff. The company went on to subsume their leading competitor in the field. At the time of writing the database we designed serves not only their needs but is also linked direct from the UK Parliament website to povide official MP biographies.

[click on any MP's Biog to see what I mean]
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Neal Cavalier-Smith Cavali consulting picture
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Neal Cavalier-Smith Cavali consultancy picture