Standards are all around us but are often invisible. The keypad on your telephone is arranged the same way no matter who makes your phone, the valve stem on your car’s tires works with any air-pressure gauge or air pump, and credit cards and driver’s licenses are all the same size so they will fit into any wallet. Ironically, we tend to notice only the things that for some reason aren’t standardized: clothing sizes from different manufacturers, power adapters for electronics, and which side of the road you drive on in which country.

Not all standards are created equal. In fact, some standards aren’t even created: They simply emerge. A de facto standard is one that actors settled on for practical reasons, whereas de jure standards are required by a government, a business partner, or a membership organization. In either case, there may be incentives used to get actors to use the standard. Some standards are so complex that they are codified in hundreds of pages of documentation, and whether de facto or de jure, they are increasingly made openly available, with unrestrictive licensing for use, in order to encourage their adoption. Even when standards are publicly available, their future development might be controlled by a standards body (usually government sanctioned), a membership organization, or even a single individual or corporation.Conversations about publishing in digital form usually come around to standards quite quickly. After all, if you want your content to be readable by as many users as possible, with different combinations of hardware and software, not just today but far into the future, you’ll need to use standards in your publishing workflow to save yourself work in needing to create different editions now and in the future. And as you promote and market your content, you’ll find that channels for doing so all rely on data and communication standards.This issue of JEP brings together contributions from a range of authors whose work touches on standards in electronic publishing.

Todd Carpenter discusses the importance of standards activities by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) (which serves libraries, publishing, and information technology) and speculates on why some of NISO’s standards are particularly successful while others have been adopted more slowly. Carl Cargill plainly states many reasons why standardization efforts can fail.

Four contributions to this issue discuss the development and use of standards for digital text, all of which for the past 10 years have been based on Extensible Markup Language (XML). Sheila Morrissey of Portico sets the stage by succinctly explaining the promise of standard content formats. Portico’s experience in normalizing publishers’ XML for preservation and interoperability has shown that “rigid” standards may not be nearly as rigid as expected. She offers advice that will help publishers create content to be more interoperable outside of their local environments. Dan O’Brien, Jeff Fisher, and D. J. Haines use the publishing operation of the American Chemical Society as a case study of the various ways in which a standard can be customized. Jeff Beck summarizes the history and current status of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) Document Type Definitions (DTDs), which are now called the Journal Article Tag Suite (JATS) and are undergoing NISO standardization. Keith Fahlgren analyzes the use of modularization and delegation in EPUB 3, comparing its development with that of other standards for online media.

Mark Bide rounds out this special issue by discussing standards used in e-commerce, most of which are also based on XML. Like Carpenter and Cargill, he considers why some standards are more successful than others, but he brings a special perspective to this journal issue by relating publishing to broader changes in the media landscape and considering the prospects for standards in e-commerce.

This issue also contains two articles not relating so much to standards but definitely related to electronic publishing: a second study by John Hilton, III, and David Wiley on the correlation between open-access monographs and print sales (following up on their previous study published in JEP in Fall 2010) and a review of three recently published books that all relate, in their own ways, to the changes taking place in the publishing industry.

If you are interested in learning more about standards in electronic publishing, I encourage you to make a habit of reading Information Standards Quarterly, published by NISO and recently converted to open-access.

Kevin S. Hawkins ( is the head of digital publishing production for MPublishing, the primary academic publishing enterprise of the University of Michigan. He serves on the TEI technical council and is managing editor of the Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative.