New Devices Shake Up Production
Automated workflows, platform agnostics and a looming battle.
It appears that the iPad and similar devices werenâ€™t quite the immediate game-changer some publishers thought they might be, but that doesnâ€™t mean they havenâ€™t had an impact on the way publishers and printers alike are producing, packaging and delivering content.
â€śThere was the belief that the print is dead and `Yay! The iPad is here to save us,â€™â€ť says David Fry, chief technology officer of Fry Communications. â€śWell, print isnâ€™t dead, and iPads sales have slowed down a little bit. Itâ€™s still a decent business to be in, but we may have put the cart before the horse a little bit.â€ť
He continues: â€śItâ€™s not all about the iPad, now; itâ€™s all about repurposing digital content. If youâ€™re talking to a Hearst, a Conde Nast or a Time Inc., theyâ€™re still focusing heavily on the iPad. At the larger publishers, they have two to three extra people on staff, per publication, focusing on whatâ€™s itâ€™s going to look like on the iPad as opposed to print. Thatâ€™s just not possible at most publishers, and theyâ€™re looking for solutions on how to achieve this without adding staff.â€ť
According to Fry, that means many publishers are focusing on how to get their content into HTML5,a markup language for rendering readable content on the Web and mobile devices, that is currently supported by all major browsers.
â€śIf youâ€™re working in HTML5, youâ€™ve got no issues,â€ť says Rob Brai, co-founder of Superior Media Solutions, a company that offers manufacturing and production services for publishers. â€śHaving to develop separate iPad and Android and any other platforms apps just adds to a publisherâ€™s costs. HTML5 is going to be the standard that all designers can work on.â€ť
And itâ€™s not just smaller publishers who are seeking platform agnostic development. Companies such as American Media Inc. (AMI), with a total combined circulation of 6.8 million, and digital properties that reach an average of 10 million unique visitors and 100 million page views per month, are investigating it as well.
â€śAt AMI, weâ€™re not only looking to create an efficient and scalable infrastructure to deliver across multiple platforms for our magazines, but we want to create an efficiency that we can deliver to outside clients, because we do production work for other publisherâ€™s magazines as well, â€ť says Mike Esposito, SVP operations and digital production, AMI. â€śWeâ€™re focused on building infrastructure and creating a platform-agnostic workflow from a production standpoint. Weâ€™re knocking down silos between departments. We want to build a workflow environment that does not focus on one specific media, so that we can deploy it in a fluid way to multiple platforms.â€ť
AMI is pursuing this in three stages, according to Esposito. Stage One was implementing an ad portal. Stage Two is using DALiM Software integration tools to automate workflow.
â€śWeâ€™ve mapped out the process, identified room for improvement, and are now writing scripts to automate what we do internally. Weâ€™re displacing some labor, and reducing redundancies, so that the editorial team isnâ€™t doing something thatâ€™s also being done at the production levels,â€ť says Esposito. â€śAn example of that would be page-fold folios. Historically, the editorial team would be working with ID numbers, and then at the end of the process someone would go in and manually update that to reset the folios. What weâ€™re doing now is setting all this up in InDesign, and then using TWiST (a part of the DALiM toolset) which automatically updates all of those folio pages.â€ť
In Stage Two, AMI is building a strategic sourcing environment. â€śMy thoughts on traditional outsourcing are that once you move a production function out of the organization it disables the ability to create continuous improvement,â€ť says Esposito. â€śIn working towards a strategic sourcing environment, you internalize as much as you can automate and you retain the management ability over those processes, and you source out functions that do not belong inside.
In Stage Three of this process, AMI will â€ścreate the workflows that will enable us to distribute the media to all platforms including tablets, mobile, Web and print,â€ť according to Esposito.
AMI is not building homegrown systems. â€śThereâ€™s enough technology out there to use existing solutions,â€ť says Esposito. â€ś I think a lot of media companies have fallen into a trap when theyâ€™ve developed unique, internal systems. I would stay away from developing internal systems. With some slight augmentation, the off-the-shelf tools are very capable.â€ť
Automation is key, whether your workflow digital or not.
â€śI think it would be best if we could get our publishers to focus on writing content and selling ads,â€ť says Mark Veatch, vice president of customer service at Publishers Press. â€śWe feel that we are right on the edge of having a complete publishing workflow: from the digital asset content management, the content enrichment, the XML tagging, the storage, and the ad portals. We even have a software application called Pica, for job information delivered to the plant. It also allows publishers to lay out a magazine with mapping software that calculates the price that theyâ€™re spending on the whole job as they lay it out.â€ť
Terry Duffy, production director at Palm Beach Media, is a big proponent of Pica, and actually helped in its development.
â€śIn its latest iteration Pica has added a pagination feature, which allows us to import a list of ads, configuration, and placement information,â€ť he says. â€śWe take the ads from our ad entry systems, import that into Pica, and do a drag and drop pagination. That has been made available to our editorial and sales staff, so that they can go in and create page plans in real time.â€ť
The payoff has been significant, according to Duffy. â€śWeâ€™ve gained both time and cost efficiencies. By having accurate instructions available to us, itâ€™s been a cost saver as far as removing redundancies and reducing the possibility for error,â€ť he says. â€śOn a monthly basis, Iâ€™m saving 6-10 hours a month on the pagination, and six hours a month on the invoicing process. Weâ€™ve probably gained a five to ten percent time reduction in the budgeting process. Overall, itâ€™s saved us a tremendous amount of man hours.â€ť
Going Mobile: Where and When It Makes Sense
Like AMI, Palm Beach is taking a wait and see approach to mobile digital editions, first determining the business case and then finding the best way forward. â€śWe donâ€™t yet see the immediate demand for an iPad or tablet version of our magazines, but itâ€™s something that weâ€™ll need to address and come up with a solution for,â€ť explains Duffy. â€śWeâ€™re looking to see what works best with our workflow, and what best serves the needs of our readers and advertisers.â€ť
Last month, Fry Communications struck a partnership with Godengo, which provides solutions for print publishers looking to build digital/mobile platforms, including content management systems. The two companies will cross promote each otherâ€™s services and work together on multichannel solutions for publishers.
One b-to-b publisher that has taken the digital leap is Summit Business Media. â€śMost of our titles have digital editions now, but thereâ€™s still a little reluctance on the part of advertisers,â€ť says Steve Johnston, director of manufacturing at Summit Business Media.
It made sense for Summit, because of the way their readers use their publications. â€śItâ€™s funny, because you can open up your iPad and read a magazine at work and you donâ€™t feel like youâ€™re goofing off,â€ť says Johnston. â€śIn the same situation, if you opened up a magazine at work youâ€™d feel like you were goofing off, even if its work-related.â€ť
Summit is currently working on combining digital and print operations and automating workflows. â€śQuite honestly, it really hasnâ€™t impacted our operations yet, but it will,â€ť says Johnston. â€śWe design the magazine, and then we basically produce a digital replication. And then that may be enhanced with video or audio, and that may be editorial or an advertisement. Weâ€™ve increased our staffing in that area. Thatâ€™s the model that works for us right now. Weâ€™re starting to look at our content in a more aggregate fashion. Digital and print developed separately here, but weâ€™re beginning to bring it all together again.â€ť
As other publishers are finding out, Summit finds that the big challenge is how to monetize all this digital development. â€śLast time I checked, this isnâ€™t a public service announcement. Even though weâ€™re seeing a lot of growth in digital and itâ€™s exponential, itâ€™s exponential of a very small number,â€ť Johnston explains.