"Without standards you have one-offs of development in every part of the supply chain. You have to reinvent the process over and over again."
David Steinhardt, CEO, IDEAlliance

The world of publishing industry standards seems arcane, but it has transformed the making of magazines. Think of where the industry;large and small magazine, consumer and b-to-b;would be without SWOP specifications, or without the de-facto universal standard of PDF files. But standards, also referred to as specifications, go far beyond those examples and some of them, especially Mail.dat;are common in large consumer-magazine companies. And the sky is the limit: They are either in some stage of implementation or are under evaluation for advertising insertion orders, for digital-image tagging and archiving, for metadata tags that can help automate printing, and much more.

At their core, specifications are all about efficiency: Error reduction, increased cycle time, reducing cost and managing complexity. "Without standards you are looking at one-offs of development in every part of the supply chain. In other words, you have to reinvent the process over and over again," says David Steinhardt, CEO of IDEAlliance, the trade group that oversees almost all of the standards development for the magazine industry.

Limited Implementation
And Angelo Rivello, senior vice president of manufacturing and distribution for Newsweek, adds, "The goal for me is to try not to have to complete a process a second time. And the person on the receiving end needs to believe in the accuracy of the information. Standards do that." But considering the value of standards, they remain a topic for working groups of large consumer-magazines and their supplier partners under the auspices of IDEAlliance. Outside those circles, few publishers know the value of standards like ICE, DISC, DIM2, PRISM, GRACoL, or ADIS, or even what they are. At a recent Quebecor World seminar on association-magazine printing, Steinhardt; making the case for standards;referred to these and others as "Today’s Print Media Tower of Babel." Print media is in a "war" against other media and the shift to consumer-driven media, he said. "This is a big challenge, and standards are a big part of that," he said. "It’s about business processes and business information moving from partner to partner so they can be automated and reduce cycle time." However, the history of standards indicates that adoption is extremely slow. The predecessors to Mail.dat go back to 1990. SWOP dates back to the mid-seventies.

Today, one of the hot areas for standards is an automated advertising insertion-order process. "I presented the whole thing with the insertion order at Spectrum 15 years ago," Rivello says. "We ought to have an electronic insertion order. We still don’t have it. It blows my mind." Steve Jaeger, vice president of information systems at Quad Graphics, gave a powerful analysis of the slow-adoption problem in a presentation at Primex in February. Quad prints 1,631 magazines, he said, and only 13 of them use PROSE/XML, the production-automation specifications. And only 34 others send electronic information close enough to PROSE/XML that Quad can import. Similarly, Quad works with 18 paper mills, and only eight of them use the papiNet standard, which automates the tracking of paper inventory. Both standards were introduced five years ago. "Everyone said they were going to adopt the standards, but no one really did," Jaeger told the audience. "Or they adopted the standards of Burger King: I’ll have them my way."

As a result, he said, standards become loosely defined guidelines, requiring hours of testing to determine whether the data is being interpreted correctly. Another reason for low adoption rates is that the versions of standards change too frequently. Since 2001, Jaeger said, Quad has implemented versions 1.0, 1.1, 2.1.1, 2.11, and 2.3 of papiNet. "Each has essentially made obsolete the prior version, with minimal benefits" he said. "It’s technology for technology’s sake." For Jaeger, one standard, Mail.dat, has become effective. There are several reasons, he adds. One is that there is an "800-pound gorilla," the United States Postal Service, in the process with the clout to force implementation. The second is that there are obvious benefits to all partners in the supply chain, and consequences for those that fail to comply. Even in their imperfect state, there is no doubt that standards have changed the industry. Rivello points to the automation of the paper transaction through papiNet and its predecessors. "This has allowed the inventory process to be much more accurate," he says. "We buy in excess of 30,000 tons of paper per year;the process of buying has been streamlined so that there are probably two fewer people involved. And it used to take three or four months to come to agreement on what our waste was," he adds. "Now, the week after we close the issue it’s done." Adds Steinhardt, "In years past, people were developing specifications because they knew viscerally that they were good. Now in a hardcore business sense they need specs for return on investment. We need to step up and quantify that."

Defining the Standards ‘Tower of Babel’

Content Creation, Management and Delivery
  • Digital Image Submission Criteria (DISC). Covers a set of specifications concerning size, resolutions, compression and color for use by photographers and illustrators.
  • Publishing Requirements for Industry Standard Metadata (PRISM). This specification defines an XML metadata vocabulary for managing, aggregating, post-processing, and multi-purposing magazine, news, catalog, book, and mainstream journal content.
Advertising, PreMedia and Production Workflow
  • Specifications for End-to-End Advertising Workflow (AdsML). Will facilitate payment for insertions by reducing misunderstandings and eliminating duplication of effort as well as the confusion that can result when insertion orders are sent by fax or mail.
  • Production Order Specification (PROSE/XML). This specification is intended to be a standardized method for publishers to communicate job specifications to printers.
  • Specification for Web Offset Printing (SWOP). Specifications governing material supplied to web offset printers align advertiser expectations with printers’ instructions.

Supply Chain Management

  • papiNet Global Transaction Standard for Paper and Forest Supply Chain. This standard establishes an e-business platform for the paper and forest industry and where possible aligns it with other standards.
Postal and Newsstand Distribution
  • US & Canada Mail Data Specification (Mail.dat). Provides for automation of the transfer of mail preparation and transportation information. The function of Mail.dat is to establish this mail make-up data in a readily usable and commonly understandable format.
Source: IDEAlliance

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