Magazine production has changed dramatically in the last few years. Tools and standards that came to the forefront in 2007-ad portals, virtual proofing, online insertion orders, PDFs-were not exactly new but gained significant ground with publishers and printers. Publishers today are grappling with digital asset management and metadata, as well as putting ink on paper.

So far, 2008 is looking like a progression of the curve, as publishers seek cost-saving solutions to streamline the production process and prepare for a budget crunch in the face of an economic downturn and rising costs.

Where Production is Heading

With the publishing world moving faster and in more directions than ever, publishers, advertisers and printers are even more dependent on one another. Meanwhile, jobs and services continue to be outsourced, including through overseas vendors, which makes speed and file compatibility all the more important.

The widespread adoption of PDF workflows is a step in the right direction, bringing standardization to what used to be a much more complicated process of file integration. "The overwhelming migration to PDF allows technology providers to focus on technology around that format, and knowledge of that baseline allows publishers and printers to invest in those technologies that support improved standards of PDF," says Guy Gleysteen, senior vice president of production at Time Inc. Right now, the latest "flavor" of PDF is PDF X-1a, specifically designed for the blind exchange of print-ready files that eliminates errors like fonts not embedded, wrong color space, missing images, and overprint/trap issues. Also, PDF users who want to automate the workflow can implement Adobe’s Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP), a technology that embeds data about a file (metadata) into the file itself.

Job Definition Format (JDF) is another proposed standard for automation, but it’s been slow to catch on. According

to FOLIO:’s Digital Publishing Survey, published in September 2007, only 5 percent of respondents were using JDF files last year. While 18 percent say they’ll start using them in one or two years and 19 percent say they’ll use them in more than three years, 23 percent say they’ll never use JDF. Part of the reason is that JDF, as a format, requires investment and development to implement. "It is a baseline architecture to build a system around, not something you can buy," says Gleysteen. JDF may be too much of a departure for some observers. "I think it’s because it introduces a change to the way publishers are used to doing things," says Andrew Moore, product manager at printer United Litho. "It also requires buy-in and support from most equipment and software manufacturers. Until then, we enjoy human communication and collaboration of each other’s job specifi cations. That’s not such a bad thing."

Others, like Peter Tomski, senior director of premedia and manufacturing at b-to-b publisher CMP, see potential in JDF. CMP will be exploring the possibility with its partners in 2008, he says. Paula Gordon, director of manufacturing at Reed Business Information, says RBI started using JDF about three months ago and will continue on that path in 2008. JDF will automate every step in their workflow, from creation of ads and editorial to layout, production and delivery, and it will integrate that process with the business end through JDF-compliant software called JournalProducer, which manages deadline, circulation, budgeting and onhand versus needed materials information. All of this information can be downloaded to JDF-compliant printing equipment.

"If more printers start to incentivize publishers to go towards JDF, then the number using it would grow. As publishers start to see real time and cost savings, more printers and publishers will adopt some form of the process, just as they did from film to CTP to PDF," says Gordon. Apparently, potential cost savings are reason enough to consider it: According to FOLIO:’s survey results, 20 percent of those who use JDF estimate annual savings of $200,000 or more.

The Promise of Virtual Proofing

Virtual proofing-used by 52 percent of respondents in FOLIO:’s survey-shifted to a new level of utility in 2007 for many of its users. Also known as soft proofing, the technology is based on the use of calibrated color-accurate monitors and eliminates the need to send hard proofs back and forth, thereby reducing time and cost and allowing for last minute addition of content and a longer ad-selling period.

Hachette Filipacchi started using virtual proofing with seven of its titles last year and will transition the rest this year, says Stephen Romeo, director of strategic sourcing at HFM U.S.

Transcontinental Printing introduced virtual proofing to their customers in 2006, mostly for select images and occasionally a page for color. In 2007, they transitioned virtual proofing into a process, says Nicky Milner, the printer’s vice president of premedia, not only for proofi ng pages but also as a press-side platform for flats. In 2008, she says the next step is to create a book mockup-complete with folded pages-in virtual form. "This brings us back to all the capabilities of a paper format," Milner says. Gleysteen says he’s still trying to understand publishers’ hesitation when Time Inc., the largest magazine publisher in the U.S. with publications ranging from Fortune to People, Sports Illustrated to InStyle, has been using virtual proofing successfully for years.

But Tomski at CMP is considering a skip right over virtual proofs, from hard to none. "Ad portals almost freeze out the need for hard proofs. I don’t know the last time I had a color complaint. The key would be to tag this, mark concerns over a six-month period and let that metric drive us into eliminating proofs or looking into virtual," he says.

Completing the Triangle

Ad portals, which allow ads to be submitted, preflighted and trafficked via a Web browser, complement virtual proofing but their adoption doesn’t appear to be as widespread-21 percent of respondents to FOLIO:’s survey used ad portals in 2007 versus the 52 percent who used virtual proofing. Still, many production specialists see ad portals as the way of the future.

"A point will come where advertisers won’t be able to not submit to a portal," says Scott Pellicone, vice president of business development and electronic publishing for the magazine division at Quebecor World. Romeo says the continued development of a customized ad portal is one of HFM U.S.’s main production priorities of 2008.

Also appearing to gain ground are online insertion orders, which CMP’s Tomski describes as a "schema to automate everything from order entry to electronic tear sheet." Eighteen percent of FOLIO: survey respondents say they used insertion orders in 2007, four percent more than the year before. However, while Tomski sees promise in the technology and plans to explore the possibilities in 2008, he says, "it’s probably a few years out from realization, at least for our needs."