It appears that the iPad and similar devices weren’t quite the immediate game-changer some publishers thought they might be, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had an impact on the way publishers and printers alike are producing, packaging and delivering content.

“There was the belief that the print is dead and `Yay! The iPad is here to save us,’” says David Fry, chief technology officer of Fry Communications. “Well, print isn’t dead, and iPads sales have slowed down a little bit. It’s still a decent business to be in, but we may have put the cart before the horse a little bit.”

He continues: “It’s not all about the iPad, now; it’s all about repurposing digital content. If you’re talking to a Hearst, a Conde Nast or a Time Inc., they’re still focusing heavily on the iPad. At the larger publishers, they have two to three extra people on staff, per publication, focusing on what’s it’s going to look like on the iPad as opposed to print. That’s just not possible at most publishers, and they’re looking for solutions on how to achieve this without adding staff.”

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.

“If you’re working in HTML5, you’ve got no issues,” says Rob Brai, co-founder of Superior Media Solutions, a company that offers manufacturing and production services for publishers. “Having to develop separate iPad and Android and any other platforms apps just adds to a publisher’s costs. HTML5 is going to be the standard that all designers can work on.”

Automated Workflows

And it’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.

“At AMI, we’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 publisher’s magazines as well, ” says Mike Esposito, SVP operations and digital production, AMI. “We’re focused on building infrastructure and creating a platform-agnostic workflow from a production standpoint. We’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.”

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.

“We’ve mapped out the process, identified room for improvement, and are now writing scripts to automate what we do internally. We’re displacing some labor, and reducing redundancies, so that the editorial team isn’t doing something that’s also being done at the production levels,” says Esposito. “An 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 we’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.”

In Stage Two, AMI is building a strategic sourcing environment. “My thoughts on traditional outsourcing are that once you move a production function out of the organization it disables the ability to create continuous improvement,” says Esposito. “In 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 “create the workflows that will enable us to distribute the media to all platforms including tablets, mobile, Web and print,” according to Esposito.

AMI is not building homegrown systems. “There’s enough technology out there to use existing solutions,” says Esposito. “ I think a lot of media companies have fallen into a trap when they’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.”

Automation is key, whether your workflow digital or not.

“I think it would be best if we could get our publishers to focus on writing content and selling ads,” says Mark Veatch, vice president of customer service at Publishers Press. “We 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 they’re spending on the whole job as they lay it out.”

Terry Duffy, production director at Palm Beach Media, is a big proponent of Pica, and actually helped in its development.

“In its latest iteration Pica has added a pagination feature, which allows us to import a list of ads, configuration, and placement information,” he says. “We 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.”

The payoff has been significant, according to Duffy. “We’ve gained both time and cost efficiencies. By having accurate instructions available to us, it’s been a cost saver as far as removing redundancies and reducing the possibility for error,” he says. “On a monthly basis, I’m saving 6-10 hours a month on the pagination, and six hours a month on the invoicing process. We’ve probably gained a five to ten percent time reduction in the budgeting process. Overall, it’s saved us a tremendous amount of man hours.”

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. “We don’t yet see the immediate demand for an iPad or tablet version of our magazines, but it’s something that we’ll need to address and come up with a solution for,” explains Duffy. “We’re looking to see what works best with our workflow, and what best serves the needs of our readers and advertisers.”

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 other’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. “Most of our titles have digital editions now, but there’s still a little reluctance on the part of advertisers,” says Steve Johnston, director of manufacturing at Summit Business Media.

It made sense for Summit, because of the way their readers use their publications. “It’s funny, because you can open up your iPad and read a magazine at work and you don’t feel like you’re goofing off,” says Johnston. “In the same situation, if you opened up a magazine at work you’d feel like you were goofing off, even if its work-related.”

Combining Workflows

Summit is currently working on combining digital and print operations and automating workflows. “Quite honestly, it really hasn’t impacted our operations yet, but it will,” says Johnston. “We 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. We’ve increased our staffing in that area. That’s the model that works for us right now. We’re starting to look at our content in a more aggregate fashion. Digital and print developed separately here, but we’re beginning to bring it all together again.”

As other publishers are finding out, Summit finds that the big challenge is how to monetize all this digital development. “Last time I checked, this isn’t a public service announcement. Even though we’re seeing a lot of growth in digital and it’s exponential, it’s exponential of a very small number,” Johnston explains.