And because it's purely digital, organizations can create decentralized virtual production teams by leveraging extranets and other Web-based collaboration tools. That can be a huge productivity booster, allowing graphic artists, writers, and editors to work anywhere, anytime.
But once again, the digital dream is rosier than reality. While soft-proofing has made dramatic inroads among content creators during creative cycles and for content approvals, most printers say it remains inappropriate for the most sensitive applications, such as color mark-up, final color approval, and contract approval (certain colors don't convert accurately or at all when translating between computing's RGB and publishing's CMYK color spaces).
"Digital soft-proofing is the norm for us, but only about 20 percent of our clients are using digital proofs exclusively," says Forest Wathen, manager of prepress for EU Services, a commercial printer and prepress house, in Rockville, Md. "The other 80 percent see a soft-proof, but it's a complement to a hard-copy contract proof that's exchanged."
Some leading content creators are committed to overcoming these obstacles, and aggressively embracing all-digital workflows with carefully monitored, finely tuned business processes.
Case in point: Condé Nast Publications, in New York, which has so far committed 15 of its 20 magazine titles to a new optimized digital workflow that's tightly integrated, at both the process and technology levels, with those of its printers.
The company, which publishes popular titles such as Vogue, The New Yorker, Glamour, and GQ, hopes to have all of its magazine titles converted to its fully electronic manufacturer-integrated production and approval process next year.
The end game: To utterly eliminate the cost and need to print and ship content proofs around their offices, and between manufacturing partners.
"Publishers, printers, and prepress vendors have done a decent job managing their workflow within their own operations," says Michael Arpino, director of manufacturing and distribution for Condé Nast. "[But today, they] need to look beyond their own walls, and into the workflows of their customers. We need to share data and feed each others systems electronically."