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The State of Publication Printing Technology

Manufacturing and production execs weigh in on the most effective tools.



By Matt Kinsman
07/31/2009

Virtual proofing. Ad portals. Automated workflows.

Even as the print workflow becomes increasingly digitized, the fact remains that most of what we’re dealing with is mature technology for a mature business. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new services saving the day (and chronic problems yet to be resolved). Here, production and manufacturing executives weigh in on the tools that have been the biggest benefits to their jobs—as well as problem areas where they want to see more from their printer partners.

Quebecor World executive vice president of market development Sean Twomey says technology only matters if it drives client benefits. “While press and bindery technology continue to advance, it’s how you use the state-of-the-art equipment in a networked fashion that makes a difference,” he adds.

The four areas of importance according to Twomey are manufacturing flexibility; color management; speed-to-market and creativity. “We have launched our Web-based, High Impact Showcase to show multiple examples of creative and technical print solutions that drive consumer interaction, consumer recall and consumer action,” he says. 

For b-to-b giant Advanstar, co-mailing and closed-loop-color have had the biggest positive impact. “Co-mail has made a significant decrease in our postage costs,” says corporate director of media operations Keith Hammerbeck. “This has worked very well for standard size books that do not polybag. It has not worked very well for tabloids and polybagged issues. Our printer, however, is now coming out with a much better solution for handling polybagged standard size publications.”

Meanwhile, closed-loop-color is helping with some challenges. “It’s made a big improvement in color consistency and improved color reproduction,” says Hammerbeck. “It has also helped reduce paper spoilage. There are still some challenges in getting information out of the closed-loop systems in regard to what percentage of the run stayed within plus or minus of the specific color target.”

Several publishers  cited B.Direct—Brown Printing’s integrated version of DALiM MiSTRAL’s project management and job tracking system—as a step forward. “I’ve been using InSite for years and recently started working with B.Direct,” says Jodie Wennberg, associate manufacturing director at Dwell. “It has an added benefit of providing form inlines with thumbnail images. This has allowed us to discuss inline scenarios with our printer in advance and troubleshoot problems. We may not be able to change the situation, but we can provide detailed information for the pressman regarding what to focus on or favor.”

Trade title Dentistry Today previously used Quickcut before turning to B.Direct. “[Quickcut] was charging us so much per inch for the advertising and another rate per inch for our editorial content, it cost us somewhere between $2,500-$3,500 per month,” says production manager Jan Marie Nigro. “We now have the ability to upload, print-off-proof and okay the magazine in one day.”
 
The Ups and Downs of Digital Publishing

A novelty just a few years ago, soft-proofing has gone mainstream. “Sending ad materials digitally has allowed us to extend our materials deadlines and accept ads later in the process,” says Eileen Rhine, production director at Outside. “Soft proofing has also given us more flexibility in our editorial workflow.”

Still, issues remain. “I believe that some of the costs associated with supplying ad materials have been transferred from the agencies/advertisers to the pubs/printers. Cost savings have been partially offset by additional expenses,” adds Rhine. “Fewer ad proofs are being supplied, and occasional errors in supplied materials are more difficult to identify and correct.”

In-house pre-press has had a positive impact on Travel Weekly’s production workflow by allowing the publisher to accept digital material via the Web or FTP site and then immediately process that material to place on page dramatically cuts down time.

“Recently I received an ad and was processing it to send to the printer and I noticed some copy was extremely close to the trim,” says production supervisor Michele M. Garth. “I was able to contact the advertiser, receive a replacement file, process the file and send the page to the printer all within the hour. A problem like that would have taken days to resolve in past workflows.”

Hearst, which uses Adobe InDesign, InCopy and K4, has done its own edit pre-press for the past five years, eliminating the editorial production department. The publisher has reworked its pre-media department within the larger production and manufacturing department to include staff with edit production experience. “This is a four-person department that processes all final edit pages for 15 titles,” says director of editorial operations Ellen Payne.

Kodak’s Prinergy and InSite pre-press portal have had the most significant impact for Hearst’s editorial production.

“We’ve really customized Prinergy to our workflow using their rules-based automation,” says Sean Keefe, director of editorial products at Hearst. “That’s enabled us to roll out virtual proofing both on the press side and at the magazines. Half of our magazines are already virtual on the press side and two to three are virtual internally.”

This enables Hearst to deliver PDF-X4 files rather than PDF-X1s. “This is a huge advantage for us because the final PDF files are no longer being flattened,” says Keefe. “‘Rasterization’ goes away and our printers use the Adobe Print Engine to process final files. Because we don’t have to flatten files on the edit side we can take advantage of layering InDesign to automate more tasks.” 

Hearst also uses a plug-in called MadeToPrint that automates tasks that normally would be manual. “We usually make our contract proof and final proof PDFs and it splits these pages into singles, which are required on press,” says Keefe. “It renames files to what the printers require names to be so they can easily place it into their imposition software. It takes advantage of the fact we use auto numbering and InDesign to rename these files, and  eliminates the potential on our end or our printer’s end to have errors.”

Meanwhile, Rodale’s Women’s Health works with QuadGraphics and a process called Smart Create. “We print to a print server or export a PDF with a low res image,” says production manager David Cardillo. “It eliminates all pre-press people. Some have argued that it puts the onus of pre-press on us, but I’m making sure my file is okay before shipping. I’ve  had issues with people trying to fix things they thought were wrong in the layout. This has eliminated that. It’s also much faster; we usually get a page proof the next day.”

What Publishers Want To See

Publishers have a long wish list for printers and that includes process as well as hardware.

“We feel that printers need to be more pro-active in the exchange of data,” says Hammerbeck. “For example, all of our print instructions are re-keyed at the printer. Publishers should be able to send the printer digital instructions that flow directly into their systems. These systems could also help make it easier for the publisher to produce their folio, place ads, etcetera. There are a few systems that a publisher can buy that will allow them to do this to a certain extent but a publisher shouldn’t have to buy software to make the printer’s job easier and help them reduce errors.”

Hammerbeck also wants to see a change with invoices, which could mean more revenue for the printer. “It would be nice if printer invoices could be coded so that the costs could flow into the publisher’s financial systems and reduce the amount of manual intervention,” he adds. “We have been working very hard to give our magazine printer more non-magazine business but it has been a struggle because they have not been as competitive as commercial printers.”

Garth agrees. “I think the printers and service vendors are doing a great job of creating efficiencies to help smooth workflows but I’d like to see the same improvements made in the areas of keeping track of paper, pricing and insertion orders.”

Outside’s Rhine would like to see industry organizations address guidelines for advertising submission. “I know that individual printers and vendors offer ad uploading software solutions, which represent another cost to publishers,” she says. “I’d like to see AAAA and GATF  form a task force of some kind to create universal specifications for ad submission, including insertion orders and billing information.”

Easy, economical and foolproof verification of advertiser supplied proofs is Wennberg’s wish. “We have several ways we review the proofs supplied, but we inevitably receive proofs that the printer cannot match. This results in wasted time on press and potential quality complaints.”

Dwell wants to know how quickly and easily it can verify a proof that  is (or is not) SWOP compliant with 100 percent accuracy.

“For us, this solution should be practical for use in an office environment,” says Wennberg. “It should provide us detailed information that we can discuss with the client.”

Be Careful What You Wish For

Still, publishers need to be aware that each new change can bring a set of unintended consequences. 

“I recently saw an article about paper manufacturers adding more calcium to the mixture for whiter sheets, and now that’s affecting the press by putting more sediment in the ink and it’s getting into the plates and rollers,” says Cardillo. “Even the pressman isn’t sure. Once they think they’ve got it, someone else throws something into the mix. Yes, it’s the same brand of paper but it’s got a different composition and it hits the paper differently so they have to readjust everything.”

Don’t dismiss Cardillo as just another legacy print publisher who’s afraid of change. “My big thing about any technology is that it does make some things easier but they all come with their own set of problems,” he says. “I’ve got a decade of experience in IT and I say digital is not the answer. It’s faster but not necessarily better. Ultimately, this is still a 400-year-old technology. Maybe it requires a 400-year-old process to get it right.”


SIDEBAR #1

Five Tips for Reducing Production Costs
Printers weigh in on how magazine publishers can save. By Jason Fell

With postal, paper and distribution costs all on the rise, and no economic rebound in near sight, it’s more important now than ever for magazine publishers to save money where they can. Here, we’ve collected five tips—some tried and true, some less conventional—from printers Publishers Press and Transcontinental for how magazines can save on production costs.

• Update your mail list: The U.S. Postal Service has started taking away discounts for Standard and First-Class mailers whose lists have not been updated. Maintaining a current list also reduces the number of over-prints and wasted copies.

• Switch to a proofless workflow: Virtual press side proofing enables publishers to view and manage intricate color proofs online and increases the probability that the final output will mirror approved content. This is a big cost saver in terms of eliminating the need to ship proofs back and forth.

• Use paper from your printer: Maybe it’s a plug, but Publishers Press recommends that publishers find out if their printer offers a private label paper. If this option isn’t available then perhaps switching to a lower grade weight will be more cost-effective.

• Examine all co-mailing options: More printers are offering co-mailing, co-palletization and drop shipping services. Transcontinental and Publishers Press recommend asking your printer for an analysis of your list and determine a co-mailing strategy. “Remember that your goal is to get more of your mail onto pallets to qualify for additional drop shipping and postal worksharing discounts,” Transcontinental says.

• Consider producing a specialty cover: Although the production process might cost more up front, the possibility for generating additional advertising revenue, especially for consumer magazines, are greater. The printers suggest options like stamping, embossing and reflective.


SIDEBAR #2

The Printer As Match-Maker
Printers negotiate deals between publishers and digital vendors.

In recent years, many printers have offered ancillary digital services such as digital editions and ad portals. While some still do, others have decided they are better suited to serving as a representive for their print clients in researching and negotiating with dedicated digital vendors.  

Cummings acts as a digital go-between for its print clients. So does Lane Press, which serves more than 400 smaller titles. “Most of our competitors are launching their own proprietary solutions for things like ad portals and digital editions that are typically tacked onto the production process,” says vice president of sales and marketing Charlie Shelley. “We are not software or technology vendors. Technology changes so quickly and the rule is the costs of technology halve every year while functionality doubles.”

Instead, Lane identifies vendors that are best suited for its clients. “We conduct research on the vendors in this space on behalf of our customers, then we negotiate a price and step out of the way,” says Shelley. “We may have three or four vendors in-pocket for a digital solution and each is designed to address different levels of complexity. There may be a very inexpensive provider that a publisher can use for a rudimentary application or a high-end solution that can help increase their rate base.”

This strategy helps reduce the cost of sale for the vendor while giving Lane ammo to compete with other printers who are offering those solutions in-house. “One of our customers came up for renewal and our competitors were offering a digital solution,” says Shelley. “We hooked them up with Zmags and they’ve been very happy.”

Lane has negotiated similar agreements with co-mailing and ad portal services and claims that being the match-maker gives the company flexibility that competitors with proprietary solutions don’t have.

“If you go with an in-house co-mail solution you have to live with their limitations, like not co-mailing a magazine with less than a certain number of issues,” says Shelley. “Because we offer multiple solutions, we’re not hamstrung by a particular logistics provider.”

By Matt Kinsman
07/31/2009







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