Quality No Longer King?
Quality. It's ironic that while a digital production process offers the opportunity for cleaner, more precise, better controlled print reproduction than ever before, quality seems to be losing ground as quickly as dot-coms are closing their doors. Apathy toward quality manifests in a number of ways. The two most obvious? Too many publishers are hasty to accept native application files for final content delivery from advertising agencies, and too many agencies are taking big risks by sending files without a proof or with a substandard proof.
Is it because many graphic arts professionals are embracing the technology with as much forethought and preparation as many Internet enterprises invested in their business plans? Are they assuming bits and bytes are viable substitutes for expertise and experience, and that technology alone will carry them through? Or, are they knowingly taking shortcuts?
As one publisher used to tell me, "We're on Internet time now!" In the rush for print to compete with the pace of the Web, are we sacrificing exactly what separates us from the new medium, quality?
Building the brand
Roy Zucca, principal of AskRoy .com, cautions, "Quality is our franchise!" Zucca adds, "In our niche market of magazine publishing and advertising, where daily we produce thousands of high-quality color pages, we have built a remarkable unique franchise. Unfortunately, when time and money are tight, there always seems to be some individual or group that comes out of the woodwork that wants to move our industry to the 'it's good enough' philosophy for producing edit and ad pages. But I contend that this approach puts all of us on a very slippery slope and is a certain recipe for disaster.
"I have seen first hand the enormous problems and chaos this type of approach creates," Zucca continues. "Quite simply, the way to combat this is to keep focused on our franchise and never lose sight of it. Otherwise, 'good enough' will be the order of the day, and that is not good for our industry."
Taking the shortcut
Naiveté and the rush to publish are not the only factors placing quality in peril. There is also the mighty dollar. Although always a consummate concern, in today's economy, it may simply be a matter of survival. However, time, money and quality are a delicately balanced equation. When corners are cut, quality suffers.
Tina Dahl, director of print services for NFL Properties, says that she's keenly aware of the decreasing importance of quality. "The trend in our office has been for more of our clients and associates to submit high-res [files] they've scanned themselves, or photos they've taken with a digital camera. The problem with this is that everyone has his or her own version of what high-res means, many of which don't meet up to our reproduction and quality needs. We often spend more money color correcting a poor quality high-res than we would spend if provided with an original transparency."
The digital revolution offers more choices than ever before for meeting the various levels of production needs. Solutions to your quality requirements are available in a wide range of prices and speed. Perhaps that is the problem. As Dahl says, "Give them a digital camera, and they think they're [both] a photographer and prepress professional."
The old adage of "time, money or quality: choose two," no longer applies. With today's advances in technology, you can actually get all three. So, why are so many opting for less?
I urge you: Quality is print's franchise. It is what sets us apart from Web-based content delivery. Don't forget, the incredibly sensual experience of brilliant inks on bright glossy paper just can't be matched by a monitor. Embrace quality.
-Linda Manes Goodwin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a CTP evangelist and executive director of Manes Goodwin Associates, specializing in print production workflow.