Magazine printing has evolved, expanded, and diversified to the point where, today, forward-thinking printers consider themselves "communications/information services companies." It wasn’t so long ago that magazine production people talked with their printers about "film," "typesetting," and similar terms that, for the most part, have gone the way of the letterpress. While the printer remains the publishers’ best friend, today you’ll hear them talking together about digital assets, automated page processing, soft proofing, CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing), JDF (Job Description Format), creating and distributing digital editions, and similar technological terms and activities that describe the digital workflow. It’s a whole new world.

So times have changed. The printing process has become infinitely faster, more flexible, and more efficient due to pre- and post-press innovations and workflow automation. "[Digital workflow offers] more options for file transferring," notes Kelly McDonald, assistant production manager for Rodale’s Runner’s World magazine. "We can find a mistake in the eleventh hour and get a new file instantly." And remotely, we might add. Remote proofing (or soft proofing) and timely, comprehensive communication of publisher information (lists, print orders, etc.) have added to the changed world of publication printing. And the technological advancements continue.

Today’s printing plant is highly sophisticated and relies on automated production and distribution processes. Digitized content allows much faster press runs, less paper waste, and a more uniform color match throughout the printing process. Publishers are compiling more subscriber demographics through online subscriptions and renewals and are more accurately targeting subscribers to realize lower distribution costs. Time to market is faster and production expenses are reduced as more manufacturing and distribution processes become automated by and between the publisher and printer. At the same time, increased employee productivity leads to fewer mistakes, less wasted efforts, and faster turnaround times.

Across the board today, printing companies employ the latest technology and offer a broad array of services to facilitate the distribution of information in a variety of media ; both online and offline. In fact, customers should expect the printer to stay ahead of the technology curve. That translates to the printer’s need to continually invest in new equipment that is more economical and productive and in new technology that enhances quality and productivity.

Some printers, of course, have the overall size and scope, the infrastructure, and the operating staff to accommodate large or even huge publishers, while others focus on niche or specialized clients. Some publishers ; particularly the smaller ones ;still find it a challenge to create files according to printer specifications, but today’s technology allows the niche magazine with the smallest circulation to take advantage of efficient, high-volume, high-tech printing and new, money-saving services such as co-mailing.

The most important element of publication printing, however, hasn’t changed at all. Despite the continuing technological developments affecting information distribution, printing remains a service industry. The customer should not be considered merely a commodity. First and foremost, then, service is the key differentiator when evaluating a printer and considering and/or comparing the services offered. Fulfilling the needs of the customer with the highest level of professional service, a resilient attitude, a relationship based on performance, and a sense of partnership should be the overarching mission of any printer. Once that’s established to the client’s satisfaction, all the other factors that drive the publication printing decisions ; time, money, and quality ; should fall neatly into place.

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