Many print organizations are slowing cycle times because they have failed to embrace accredited standards for exchanging content, such TIFF/IT-P1 and PDF/X-1a.
Getting in the standards game earlier rather than later will give publishers an edge as they head into the new year and beyond, says Linda Manes Goodwin, executive director of Manes Goodwin Associates, in San Francisco.
"The economy is definitely a factor," Manes Goodwin says. "Publishers have to realize that printing isn't [the] burgeoning industry it once was, and to be successful and profitable, they'll have to look at new opportunities like cross-media publishing, which will enable them to leverage content in a variety of ways, not just for print."
Manes Goodwin, an executive board member of the Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publication Association (DDAP), says there's a bigger picture at hand.
"You have to look at the big vision, and that is cross-media content transformation," she says. "As we move forward, CTP will be 'been-there, done-that.' " Manes Goodwin says the next standards wave is Job Definition Format, or JDF. Born at CIP4, The International Cooperation for the Integration of Process in Prepress, Press and Postpress, JDF is a proposed industry standard based on Extensible Markup Language (XML).
Assigning the JDF to a digital file destined for any type of media output (e.g., offset, digital, or Web) lets partners in the production chain exchange exact information on the file's creative, prepress, press and postpress designations.
If publishers are not already producing periodicals CTP, and working with accredited ad standards such as PDF/X-1, they can't entertain electronic business data exchange via JDF, Manes Goodwin says.
"You've got to be in it to win," she says. "If you're not already in the accredited standards game, there's no way you'll be able to win your way to the next one."
Some leading publishers agree. Last year, Time Inc., in New York, and Wizards of the Coast, Renton, Wash., announced they were establishing digital ad workflows based on PDF/X-1a. But since those high-profile announcements, there has been little movement among other publishers to follow suit.
The vast majority of periodical publishers are still requiring native application files, and accepting the increased cycle times and other risks associated with doing so. The proof is in B&W: Read the media kits of most business-to-business publications.
Each of the DDAP's recommended accredited formats has advantages over native and proprietary file formats. TIFF/IT-P1 is the digital equivalent of film. It's a locked-down file that can't be altered. But TIFF/IT-P1's principal advantage is also it's principal liability in the cross-media age.
The preferred cross-media standard: PDF/X-1a, created in response to TIFF/IT-P1 drawbacks. It gives publishers and advertisers a print-stable file that can also be revised to serve other, non-print, electronic output.
"PDF/X-1a is a one-size-fits-many file," says Greg Captain, manager of The New Yorker Imaging Center at Condé Nast Publications, in New York "It can be easily repurposed. With TIFF/IT-P1, you're jammed. It's digital film, and we can't reuse it easily if it's going to be published in more than one title. We [can] do that with PDF/X-1a."
In addition to flexibility, PDF/X-1a is more workflow friendly. That's because it's supported by most popular manufacturing solutions, such as digital proofers, imposition applications and platesetters.
When CTP burst onto the print ad world in the early '90s, publishers were concerned they would have trouble convincing advertisers to submit materials digitally. Those fears were misplaced. Advertising agencies of all sizes jumped on digital submissions for CTP faster than most publishers expected.
Large advertising agencies such as McCann-Erickson Worldwide Inc., in New York, are now well-equipped to provide digital ad files and proofs for publishers to process. McCann-Erickson supplies several formats of digital ad files to publications, including native Quark files, Adobe's PDF, and DDAP's accredited PDF/X-1a and TIFF/IT-P1.
Approximately 50% of the digital ads McCann-Erickson submits are in the TIFF/IT-P1 format, says Brad Mintz, senior vice president and manager of graphic services for McCann-Erickson. About 10% are submitted as PDF/X-1a, 15% native application files and 25% non-standard PDFs, he says.
Surprisingly, its disadvantages notwithstanding, Mintz prefers TIFF/IT-P1 files. He says TIFF/IT-P1 files are the most consistently reproduced and reliable of the bunch. But Mintz admits that McCann-Erickson, like other agencies, is perpetuating the exchange of non-accredited standards with publishers who require ads in non-accredited formats.
When that happens, Mintz fires a warning shot. "We call the pub and try to get added assurances that it will be looked at carefully, and communicate that they understand their place in the responsibility food chain," Mintz says.
TIFF/IT-P1 is the top choice at advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding, in Chicago, says Jim Engel, vice president and executive manager of print production. He estimates 75% of the agency's exchanges with publications are TIFF/IT-P1. However, Engel says his agency's success with this accredited standard is not representative of the advertising on the whole.
That's because Engel's firm does business primarily with long-run, well known consumer titles, published by the likes of CondéNast and Time Inc. These publishers are ahead of the standards adoption curve, he says.
Other agencies and independent advertisers work with lesser-known titles produced by small or niche trade magazine publishers. These markets, which represent the bulk of U.S. magazine publishers, are trailing, Engel says. Indeed, many still require film. Others are locked into native application files, a problem for savvy advertising agencies out to protect their client's brand image.
"They're [native files] are just too risky," Engel says. "I dislike them so much, I'll try to talk the publisher into taking film from me, rather than a native file."
In some cases, it's not a matter of cost or technology investment, but rather, time. "It all comes down to [production and manufacturing personnel at] the magazines being so busy with their jobs right now, that continuing education is low on their list of priorities," says consultant Manes Goodwin. "People simply don't know where to begin."
Mixed messages from publishers, printers and prepress suppliers compound the problem, perpetuating the use of non-standard file formats. "We still have some printers who are using CT/LW, and prepress suppliers still preparing rasterized files, as opposed to vector-based PDF/X-1a," Manes Goodwin says.
A recent study published by the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation confirms the extent of the problem. An average of 53% of printers surveyed are submitting documents as native QuarkXPress files. Trailing Quark files were Adobe's PDF, at 23%.
PUBLISHERS CRACK THE WHIP
Publishers are well-positioned to rapidly change this equation to favor accredited file formats. "Publications that work with a greater percentage of advertising agencies are in a better position to mandate accredited standards," says Manes Goodwin. "Even magazines that have fractional ads, or are working with 'mom-and-pop' advertisers, can change their specifications and have advertisers in compliance within two to three issues."
It can take little more than a phone call. "I have had situations where I called each advertiser, and talked them through the reasons why PDF/X-1a is needed, and how best to produce the file," she says. "The time investment will pay off."
Dwell magazine, in San Francisco, is taking an aggressive approach to digital ad submission. Until recently, the magazine accepted everything from film to TIFF/IT-P1 to native-application Quark files. That left the publication to take responsibility for repairing poorly prepared ads.
"I don't want to be a prepress supplier," says Suzanne Welker Jurgens, Dwell's production director. She overhauled ad production to reduce costs and cycle time, and stabilize the workflow. Prepress service Applied Graphics Technologies (AGT), in Foster City, Calif., and printer Quebecor World Inc., in St. Cloud, Minn., worked with Dwell to develop a CTP workflow that relies on PDF files.
When Dwell began preparing its 2003 media kit, Welker Jurgens had the PDF workflow in place. Ad specs were changed to require TIFF/IT-P1 or PDF/X-1a, with PDF/X-1a preferred. Native application files will not be accepted. Advertisers who submit film face a charge for copy-dot scanning.
The strong-arm tactics worked, and have benefited both Dwell magazine and it's advertisers. "It's been over a year since I last received film," she says. Dwell reports no reduction in ad placements, despite initial concerns that mandating accredited digital file formats would discourage advertisers. In fact, the opposite occurred: Virtually all the magazine's advertisers have moved to accredited file formats, Welker Jurgens says.
Digital ads arriving at Dwell's production department are preflighted using Markzware Software's Flight Check and Rorke Data's TIFF/IT eyes. Those that pass preflight inspection are forwarded to the printer. Included is a report that provides information on how the file was created, preflight results and positioning instructions.
Demanding accredited file formats has cut the cost of processing application ads from $70 for native files to $20 for TIFF/IT-P1 and PDF/X-1a, Welker Jurgens says.
That added up to a big part of a $100,000 savings due to production efficiencies which the magazine enjoyed in 2001.
Condé Nast's The New Yorker Imaging Center is also moving towards accredited standards, although not as aggressively as the folks at Dwell. The imaging center is adopting PDF/X-1a, paving the way by establishing a so-called "true PDF" workflow. They're working hand-in-glove with The New Yorker's printer, R.R. Donnelley, Danville, Ky.
"[PDF/X-1a is] just the way things are going to be," says manager Captain. "Our initial concern with CTP was with the small-space advertisers. When we went digital, we accepted [non-accredited] files. As a result, we spent a lot of time handling digital garbage."
That meant the imaging center was forced into the role of prepress supplier to small-space advertisers, assuming cost and responsibility for alterations to problem files.
"We could no longer open ourselves up to this kind of liability, even if advertisers signed waivers," Captain says. "We didn't want to expose our flank. So we decided to wean the small-space folks off native files, and ask them to submit TIFF/IT-P1 files."
Condé Nast's production department spent months communicating the specs to advertisers. Those who could not produce the files in-house were urged to contract a prepress supplier. "Chances were, if they were sending us film before, they were getting it from a prepress supplier anyway," Captain says. "If they asked their prepress partner [for] a TIFF/IT-P1, the answer was usually 'yes.' "
Advertisers without a prepress supplier relationship are referred to Quad/Graphics' ARM Center, in Sussex, Wis. There small advertisers can get TIFF/IT-P1's and proofs at a very reasonable rate, arranged by Condé Nast.
The effort has paid off. Every single ad since June 2002 was supplied digitally, in compliance with the TIFF/IT-P1 standard. The result: The imaging center was able to avoid virtually all remedial file interventions. "We've saved an enormous amount of time [by not] fixing ad files," Captain says. "We're doing about a tenth of the work that we once had to do, enabling us to take on more Condé Nast projects that we can charge back to internal departments.' That's made the imaging center "about 60 times more profitable," he says.
The consensus is in, and publishers agree: Moving digital ad workflow to files based on accredited standards saves time and money for everyone in the production chain. But publishers and advertisers don't have to go it alone. Leaning on prepress and printer partners can accelerate adoption of accredited standards and implementation of digital workflows.
"We provided [one] client with a system that conformed to our specifications, thereby eliminating guesswork on their part," says Nicky Milner, CTO for Quebecor World Inc., in Montreal. Milner's system includes built-in preflight checks that automatically reject files that don't conform or fail preflight profiles.
In fact, 47% of commercial and publication printers offer clients structured or classroom training on the proper construction of PDF files. And 80% actually get their hands into client's computer systems, helping them prepare their systems to output PDFs.
"It is a slow process of change," Milner says. "No organization can force a publisher, advertiser or printer to change if there isn't sufficient economic incentive or self interest. The industry is getting the message, and there are pioneers. But only those early adopters are truly able to mandate the rest of their clients to follow suit."