Building the Foundation for Content Success: Publishers Tentatively Embrace New Content Standards

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Last fall, two leading periodicals—one Web-native, another a traditional print publication—instigated much-needed redesigns. The publications, Salon.com and the Onion, are as different as can be: Salon is a liberal, literary magazine for sophisticates, published online only. The Onion serves a very different demographic with its satirical print and digital content. They do have some things in common, however. Both upgraded their respective aesthetics to make their Web sites more reader- and advertiser-friendly, and both chose to let readers access archived content for free online. Undoubtedly, one trait all publishers today share, whether their origins are print or digital, is a desire to maximize the value of their content, both in facilitating workflow and in providing it in a variety of ways that meet the needs of their customers.

New, global software standards are emerging for the publishing industry, promising to allow content to do more and make more. But many publishers are hesitant to embrace these standards and remain in a transitional period similar to the one the industry experienced during the early 1980s. "Never before have I seen so many developments at once" in publishing and production technology and software, says Ron Roszkiewicz, a consultant to the publishing industry and an advisory board member for the Seybold Report. "What we're getting to is a computer integration manufacturing environment for publishers and printers."

During the early 1980s, standards like PostScript, developed by Adobe, were the first wave of specifications for the digital imaging industry. Initially, standards were pushed by private companies, but then consensus-building began to take place through organizations like the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). "PostScript was one private company standard that stuck," says Roszkiewicz. "The first consensus activity for the publishing industry was TIFF."

Today, standards like Job Definition Format (JDF) and Personalized Print Markup Language (PPML), based on Web Services darling XML, are maturing. These standards are enabling publishers to more efficiently manage their production processes, which are all digital. "Every aspect of production workflow is digital—from photography through pre-press through print," says Mary Lee Schneider, president of Premedia Technology Solutions, an R&R Donnelley & Sons company. Schneider also notes that the industry is moving toward a process of producing its work differently, and that the roles of customers and vendors may well change in the future.

Productive Standards
Yet Martin Bailey, a senior technical consultant at Global Graphics Software, developer of the Harlequin RIP, says it has been hard to quantify the productivity gains from standards like JDF. Bailey leads CIP4, an industry project that promotes that standard. He observes that an industry journal recently reported that "no one" was using JDF yet, but that this was an oversimplification. "It has been hard to get users to describe the gains they have had because of JDF," says Bailey. "We have been trying to get some user stories together."

Some of the early stories that CIP4 has assembled are promising: Printers who have invested from $50,000 to $1.5 million in technologies that utilize the JDF standard have reported that they have earned their money back through productivity gains in 12 to 20 months, says Bailey. Throughput for some users of software that employ the JDF standard has increased by 40%, he says. What's more, supervisor time spent managing print projects has dropped by 50%. This is enabling some publishers to reduce staffing costs yet actually provide better customer service. "If you can look at one screen, tell the status of a print job, and not have to walk around the plant, and get back to the customer in an hour, that is improved customer service," says Bailey.

There are close to 200 products from 60 vendors using the JDF standard today, including Adobe Acrobat. "JDF is included in Acrobat," says Roszkiewicz. "It's not hidden away in menus; it's right out front. That influences the choices that one makes for production."

There will be even more improvements in productivity and workflow management in the coming years, promises Dr. Paul Jones, the technical director of PODI, an international consortium of hardware and software vendors in the printing industry. Jones says the consortium is working toward developing a PPML-based standard that will enable full-color, variable-data print jobs to be completed at "a high speed."

PPML is generally used for version control and resource management. The forthcoming test suite of software using the PPML-based standard will enable files composed in PDF, TIFF, and JPEG to be printed in one job. "We've been very busy," says Jones. "This will soon be released." The consortium is also working on a digital print ticket for specifying JDF job tickets.

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