Paper-based print media is on the verge of becoming obsolete, done in by pure digital publishing. In just a few years, people will be reading magazines, perusing catalogues, and thumbing through flyers on ultra-portable tablet PCs and PDAs. The mechanical printing press is doomed.
And pigs can fly. With all the amazing advances in electronic publishing and communications, old fashioned ink-on-paper remains at the forefront of most communications programs, preferred by publishers, advertisers, mass mailers, businesses, and most important, readers.
Rather than being displaced by the Web, e-mail, PDFs, tablet PCs and the like, print campaigns are increasingly being integrated with digital and other media forms ... and it's not just large multi-national publishers successfully leveraging this new approach.
Next year, such cross-media campaigns will be within the reach of literally everyone, from the smallest business publisher to the largest global enterprise.
The reason: adoption of high-performance digital technologies, including broadband connections, secure remote storage, workflow management software, standardized document formats (such as Adobe's PDF), and interactive multimedia tools (Sun Microsystems' Java, Macromedia's Flash, etc.) have reached critical mass among medium- and large-scale shops.
This has driven down the cost of entry for digital publishing technology, which has finally reached the point where practically any publishing, advertising, or business organization can effectively utilize multimedia campaigns.
Perhaps most important, demand for consumer "reader" devices has also reached critical mass. Personal computers with Web browsers, Java- and Windows-powered PDAs and mobile phones, DVD players, and the new Tablet PC are all driving demand for electronic content that can be accessed anywhere, anytime.
But high entry costs, fuzzy ROI propositions, and lack of consumer demand aren't the only barriers that once stood between publishers and the rewards of integrated print and new media campaigns. For early adopters of cross-media publishing, controlling color across print, Web, electronic, and streaming media has become one of the biggest challenges.
Magazine publishers, advertisers, direct marketers, and other content developers are desperately trying to get a grip on cross-media color, and are often coming up short. Technological and educational obstacles prevent organizations from achieving consistent results across targeted media formats.
"It's not as easy as simply creating and loading new color profiles, as it is in the purely print world," says Linda Manes Goodwin, executive director of Manes Goodwin Associates, a print production consultancy in Berkeley, Calif. "Color-matching solutions aren't well-integrated or always effective. And getting various constituencies, such as print, Web, broadcast, and CD-ROM producers to agree to more involved workflows and processes compounds the problem. It's often the greatest hurdle."
Some publishers are leaning on outsourcers to help their organization overcome the technical and cultural gaps that hamper cross-media color matching efforts and campaigns.
One such outsourcer is Applied Graphics Technologies, one of the country's largest providers of outsourced digital imaging management and prepress, in New York. To help clients get cross-media unified color matching efforts in gear, AGT officials first provide every person along the client's workflow chain with custom-developed Apple ColorSync profiles.
This enables everyone to view jobs on their preferred output devices. "We instituted color control [using ColorSync] across all of our production processes, and at each and every one of our 22 divisions," says Robert Godwin, VP of business development for AGT. "It was the starting point for our ability to provide cross-media color matching integrated into our digital workflow offering."
Next up, AGT licensed an innovative remote proofing technology from RealTimeImage Inc., San Bruno, Calif., which AGT markets to customers under the "ArtXchange" banner. This solution enables the outsourcer to offer clients secure, Web-based, collaborative, color-matched digital proofing services.
In short, all the usual remote proofing features savvy publishers have come to expect. But where the ArtXchange offering really shines, says AGT's Godwin, is in its leveraging of RealTimeImage's streaming document server.
This patented technology enables AGT's clients to collaborate on full-resolution production files in real-time - i.e., without perceivable delays for downloading or uploading data - using nothing more than standard-issue Web browsers and 56k dial-up modem connections, and without relying on lossless compression schemes.
"We were skeptical at first, but it turns out it does work," Godwin says. "Their [streaming] pixel-by-pixel technology lets clients view multi-gigabyte files off our servers in literally seconds. People can work with and collaborate on pages as if they were stored on their local hard drives, but they're actually coming from our remote servers."
By centralizing digital publishing documents, distributing ColorSync profiles to all constituents, and remotely connecting publishing teams via workflow management software, AGT's clients are assured that color will match across all output media, from print to virtual, Godwin says.
While this approach is one way to address the technical challenge of multimedia color-matching, it's not a bulletproof solution. The reason: Technology can't control people. By definition, mounting a cross-media campaign introduces new stakeholders to the review and approval process.
Each has their own access requirements, publishing jobs, and world view. Few are willing to compromise on anything less than a best-of-breed approach. That can complicate an already tricky process.
"We can and do incorporate any advancements in cross-media color control," says Ryan Farris, regional sales director for CGXmedia, the electronic products and services arm of Consolidated Graphics, in Houston, Texas. "The technology is the easy part. But customers along the workflow have sophisticated color output devices and advanced monitors, and they manipulate and control color. Now that everybody can create profiles and proofs, we're going backwards. Everyone wants everyone else to match their take on color. It can get messy."
Indeed, cross-media color under turf war conditions can become incredibly complex. For electronic display applications, CGXmedia's Farris suggests the safest approach is to re-purpose the agreed-upon CMYK final, and work backwards to get the display to match. Still, the issue of monitor calibration makes color control in cross-media a dicey proposition, he says.
In the case of corporate colors, many cross-media savvy organizations still rely on tried-and-true graphic standards manuals. "Everyone would rather that the standards for compliance be embedded in the technology, but the technology isn't there yet," Farris says.
Until that time, publishing organizations will continue to develop and enforce strong business process requirements to keep cross-media color in check. When that fails, third-party software solutions such as AGT's ArtXchange can be leveraged to facilitate the best-color-match in time-critical and Web-based cross-media environments, where collaboration is a way of life.