With the acceptance of digital workflow, a growing problem for printers – and publishers – has been the quality of the digital files they receive. Many of the files they receive are in the wrong format, loaded with errors and ultimately unusable. Clean source files are the foundation of an efficient, cost-effective workflow.
As a publisher, you are often required to handle files from advertisers that don’t quite meet the correct specifications. This requires you to spend more time than you’d like handling files – preflighting, managing and storing – and more money dealing with the problem.
Enter the ad portal. A number of printers, and some publishers, are now providing online sites that enable advertisers to upload ad files using a Web browser. The files are validated and either passed or failed automatically, based on the publisher’s requirements. The portal facilitates the processing of PDF and postscript advertising files through the post-production cycle. The preflight system offers links to email and database systems and a job ticketing format for tracking ads as they are processed and delivered.
An ad portal is essentially a one-stop shop for advertisers-and editorial and production departments-enabling them to proof, catalog and archive ads and editorial copy in a single location and electronically traffick them between publisher and printer.
Content and color-proofing are performed through the Web-based interface, which is typically modeled after tools production directors are familiar with from desktop publication applications. As an added bonus, these ad portals offer the ability to make changes to the files online and make collaboration with your printer effortless through annotations and real time messaging.
These ad portals are generally branded with the look and feel of the publisher’s web site. Once an ad is preflighted and either passed or failed, the portal will send the publisher and/or printer a report detailing the problems with the file. The publishers can either return the file to the advertiser or have the printer correct the problems. Ad portals basically offer publishers a way to tap into their printer’s workflow and easily direct changes.
In December 2005, Time Inc. went live with an ad portal, which enables advertisers to directly upload their ads for 20 of the company’s publications, including Time, People, and Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly.
Guy Gleysteen, Time Inc.’s vice president of paper and digital development, says the ad portal compliments the company’s virtual proofing strategy and represents an important step in the automation of the entire ad placement process. The company’s advertisers no longer need to send hard copy proofs of their ad files, he notes.
"Using the ad portal," he says, "advertisers avoid the need to burn CDs, create hard proofs and courier packages to us – saving them time and money."
The two key advantages with ad portals are cost savings and file handling. They enable customers to upload file directly into the workflow. No more sending files by FedEx.
A number of printers also use ad portals, which perform the same functions-proofing, preflighting, cataloging, archiving-as a publisher portal. Basically, the printer performs all the work, taking the burden off the publisher’s shoulders.
One printer notes that using a ad portal has enabled it to dedicate fewer people to the task of proofing files. Before the ad portal was installed, 20 people in the pre press department were responsible for managing the trafficking of proofs between the printer and the publisher. Now that is accomplished with just two people. Another printer says his company realized a 33 percent savings in just three months after its ad portal was up and running.
Printers make their ad portals available to customers as an additional service and note that they are priced on volume. Large-scale customers are charged rates per-click or per-page view. The portal can be used on a per-file basis or a monthly flat rate. While some printers charge publishers a minimal processing fee, they may add a fee of as much as $10 per page-view. Still, they note that for a 64-page magazine, using an ad portal could potentially save publishers more than $3,000 on color pages.
Another advantage of ad portals, according to printers, is that they enable the printer to proof from the same Raster Image Processing image, or RIP, they’re ultimately imaging from. This leads to more consistency in the final output. Often, printers find that their RIPs react differently than an advertisers, so the images they’re proofing from are slightly different.
Large publishers such as Time Inc., not surprisingly, are staunch advocates of ad portals because they stand to save a lot of money. If the company sends one hard copy ad to 10 printers and pays $100 each for a proof, using its ad portal could save $1,000.
For smaller publishers the cost savings may not be so great, but the savings in time and manpower can more than make up for it.
Time Out Chicago, which celebrated its one year anniversary in February, has a workflow that is entirely digital. The magazine does not produce any hard copies. The magazine creates PDF that are then integrated directly into its printer’s workflow. Proofs are automatically generated, enabling the magazine to proof and sign off on copy without having to be physically on press.
What used to take the magazine three days now only takes one.