The recent Folio: Digital Publishing Survey [September, page 56] asked magazine publishers about what tools of the PDF workflow they have adopted, including virtual proofing, online insertion orders and JDF (Job Definition Format), a production standard that in theory enables publishers and printers to describe the intent of the printed piece, as well as each process step required to achieve that intent.

According to the survey, JDF files are the least used digital production tool, with just 5 percent of magazine publishers using it in 2007, an actual decline from 6 percent in 2006. A significant 23 percent say they have no plans of ever using JDF. However, JDF had the highest number of publishers (20 percent) reporting annual savings of $200,000, more than any other digital production option.

So why the resistance? Many observers say that while there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the JDF standard, it requires a level of automation that even the most advanced magazine production has yet to reach. “There isn’t much happening at publishers that I’m aware of in terms of JDF implementation,” says Guy Gleysteen, vice president of paper and digital development at Time Inc. “The issue is not the standard, it’s the fact that most publishers have not taken steps to truly automate their system-to-system processes, so we haven’t seen any significant implementation. The practical issue lies in the fact that JDF is a format; actual implementation requires investment and development. At Time Inc., we have a major focus on automation within production in 2007 and 2008, but we have not formalized our design beyond identifying that we will have a metadata-driven workflow.”

Hachette Filipacchi experimented with using a subset of JDF as an e-commerce message set for allowing more automated delivery of materials for pre-press but abandoned the effort. “Decisions are changing so rapidly that we put a stop to it and haven’t picked it up since,” says Hachette director of digital technology John Dougherty.

An executive with a major printer is even more critical. “I don’t think JDF ever fulfilled its original promise,” he says. “Maybe I misunderstood its original intent, but I remember when it was first parlayed largely by equipment manufacturers, who in my understanding said it would give you enough production level detail spec that we could use it to configure our entire production chain behind it. I don’t know of anyone who ever got close to that kind of automation. It pretty much stops at the pre-press. It felt to me that it was an equipment manufacturer’s attempt to sell a lot of new equipment—there’s not the infrastructure in place at most printers to even do this.”

A Second Opinion
Still, proponents of JDF say it is making inroads, particularly within the CIP4 community. “There is more active participation than ever in the working groups and discussion on how to collaborate across partners,” says Janice Reese, executive director at Network PDF. “Publishers are developing an entire strategy to incorporate the changing requirements of their audience. It is not just about JDF by itself but it is looking at the entire process of manufacturing. Publishers using JDF and connecting with various PDF, color management and automated processes know they are not only saving money, they are changing the way they do business to adapt to the needs of their audience. This is the real ‘secret sauce’ that JDF and the graphic arts standards provide.”

Production Standards

JDF (Job Definition Format)
A standard that enables publishers and printers to describe the intent of the printed piece, as well as each process step required to achieve that intent.

PRISM (Publishing Requirements for Industry Standard Metada)
A specification that allows an XML metadata vocabulary for managing, aggregating, post-processing and multi-purposing magazine, news, catalog, book and mainstream journal content.

PROSE (Production Order Specification)
This specification is intended to be a standardized method for publishers to communicate job specifications to printers.

DISC (Digital Image Submission Criteria)
Covers a set of specifications concerning size, resolutions, compression and color for use by photographers and illustrators.

SWOP (Specification for Web Offset Printing)
Specifications governing material supplied to web offset printers to align advertiser expectations with printer expectations. Source: IDEAlliance, Adobe

Using Audience Engagement Data to Improve Editorial Content
Check out this related session at The Folio: Show, November 1-2 in NYC!

Editors have more audience data at their disposal than ever. It’s a no-brainer that they have to use it. They…