It occurred to me last week that when we buy a magazine and flip through the pages, we make a huge assumption. It's an assumption, perhaps, as large as the one we make when we take for granted that somehow we can watch and transmit video, and talk to each other, and share instant written messages, and buy things, and visit hundreds of thousands of discreet sites, through the air via a little handheld gadget less than an eighth of an inch thick. (Of course, all that would have seemed like outlandish sci-fi 60 years ago and dangerous magic 300 years ago.)
My point about print magazines is the same. Though we in the business sometimes forget it amid all the innovation in digital channels, the process for managing print advertising, and print production, and color reproduction, and workflow, is incredibly complex. And it's getting far more sophisticated and versatile.
I had the pleasure of spending a day last week at the Engage Conference, held at the Time & Life Building in New York, and produced by Blanchard Systems, which makes the SendMyAd portal product for managing advertising workflows and quality assurance.
The event was well attended—perhaps 80 people—across the print-manufacturing supply chain, including printers, workflow software tools providers who partner with Blanchard, and some of the largest magazine-media companies, including Meredith, American Media, Crain Communications and more. Blanchard's SendMyAd is a “cloud based” portal accessed through a browser. It gives publishers control of specs, deadlines, job tickets, automated notifications and file delivery, and gives advertisers a tailored, easy-to-use gateway to submit, verify, preflight, edit and manage every stage. SendMyAd also works with products up and downstream, including the Woodwing content creation and digital asset management solutions, and Dalim's production workflow automation products, which are used broadly by marketers, agencies, retailers, prepress specialists and publishers.
The event, according Blanchard Systems CEO Charles Blanchard, was as much a learning experience for his company as it was for the attendees. "It was about getting customers to tell us about what we've done and what we should be doing," he said. Chief Operations Officer Keith Zibilich noted that in software development, it's easy to devote development time to many initiatives, but ultimately, it has to be based on customer needs, not merely perceived needs. "Our customers were so willing to share," he said.
And what directions did that customer feedback steer the company (and by proxy, the whole magazine industry)?
The most promising direction seemed to be an ad-booking product, both Blanchard and Zibilich said. Other interesting developments: Support for "multiple plans," meaning versions of the same issue in print, and down the road, in digital; automated page numbering, by folio; crop mark removal from PDFs; stronger integration with Woodwing; and mobile versions of the Blanchard Virtual Publisher product.
The pace of change moves fast, and vast amounts of innovation are occurring even in print production, if you look for it. The Engage conference was one place to look.