Although the magazine industry is lumbering toward widespread adoption of virtual proofing, it still has a long way to go. A recent Folio: Digital Publishing Survey [September 2006] found that only 44 percent of respondents currently conduct virtual proofing, while 23 percent of those not currently using it claim they never will. [For more on virtual proofing, click here]

The Virtual Proofing Task Force under IdeAlliance is providing business model tools to the industry that will help end-users make educated decisions about actual proofing costs. Much of the resistance to virtual proofing stems from the pricey set-up costs compared to more traditional proofs. The task force is introducing a worksheet (soon available for download at that calculates proofing costs and positions soft proofing as a moneymaker.

"The tricky part is the business model;everybody believes in the technology but everybody struggles with the business model because there are costs on one end of the industry and savings on the other," says Lee Edberg, central premedia manager at Brown Printing and a member of the task force. "Those two sides don’t necessarily talk to each other. There is absolutely money sitting on table we should be taking advantage of."

That requires looking beyond material costs. "With virtual proofing, it ranges anywhere from $4 to $10 per page," says Edberg. "With Inkjet proofing, I can do it for $1.25 per proof. The problem is, that’s just materials. Nobody ever compares the labor. We put this worksheet together so there’s other things to think about."

More Opportunity for Sales

Virtual proofing translates into revenue by allowing the magazine to close later, which gives the sales team an extra day to sell. "With virtual proofing, if your files are due on the 3rd, you send it on the 3rd," says Edberg. "With the old way, you’d have to send on the 2nd. You gained an extra 24 hours to sell. If it’s a monthly, that’s 12 days per year. Conservatively, we could sell one more ad. We heard publishers throw out numbers like $50,000. Divide by 12, make it $4,000 per month, that’s revenue from virtual proofing."

Edberg tested the worksheet with one of his clients, a smaller two-title publisher. The first dramatic comparison is the total annual equipment cost: $7,917 for hard proofing vs. a whopping $22,200 for virtual proofing (most of which is in annual maintenance). "He said, ムRight now our Inkjet proofs are $1.15 per page. But you’re telling me once I buy equipment, it’s going to cost me $8 per page?’" says Edberg.

However, Edberg then asked his client what his sales people could do with one extra day. "Let’s go conservative and say they can make an extra $2,000 per issue," says Edberg. "An extra $2,000 per issue for 12 issues, that’s another $24,000 per year. These were numbers he filled out and now it finally means something to him."

At first, soft proofing appears too expensive based on pure material costs. But what does it free up for the rest of your organization? "As a publisher, instead of my proofing maybe costing me $11,000 per year, now it could make me $12,000 per year," says Edberg. "How much is an extra day worth to you? Out of 12 days per year, if sales can’t sell an ad in 12 days’ time, shame on them."