Automation: A Necessary Criteria for Success in Print: Publishers Need to Automate Any Task That Does Not Require Creative Input

By Hamilton, Alex | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Automation: A Necessary Criteria for Success in Print: Publishers Need to Automate Any Task That Does Not Require Creative Input


Hamilton, Alex, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


THE RECENT CLOSING by Conde Nast of Gourmet and three sibling magazines, the shuttering of Country Home by Meredith, and the bankruptcy filing by the owners of Reader's Digest, were sobering events for anyone in the publishing world. And the list of troubled or failing newspapers has increased dramatically in the past few years, fueled by the continued decline in both circulation and advertising, which is a cause of grave concern for survivors.

To be sure, there were systemic problems that none of these failed publications could address in terms of the recession, falling readership, rising costs and the like. One issue that must be confronted by publishers moving forward is the notion that Web distribution should be free (I contend it's economic suicide).

Another issue that gets less attention is automation. Whereas the production folks in typesetting departments and the pressroom have had to accept the impact of technological advances on their respective crafts, art directors, managing editors, ad trafficking managers and other personnel responsible for assembling publications have maintained relatively stable workflows since the adoption of desktop publishing technologies some 15 years ago.

As someone who spent more than a decade writing, editing and assembling publications, I grew to love the creative interaction between art director and editor, the iterative process that resulted in a well-designed magazine.

However, the stark economics of 21st century publishing have left those fond memories in the dustbin of history. Today, publications have to automate any task that does not require creative input or some sort of judgment. I would contend that automation is increasingly going to be a necessary criteria for success and even survival in print-based publishing.

Among the tasks that can be automated are file reception, image preparation, initial page layout, ad trafficking, preflight and insertion, proofing/approval cycles, final file transmission to the printer, and archival.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am the director of business development for Enfocus Software, a software company that sells a publishing automation application. However, we are offering just one approach to this issue. There are several approaches that can be used, all of which are viable and which will fit different environments and budgets.

Three Ways to Go

So what does automation mean? In broad terms, there are three types of automation for publishing and graphic arts workflows: first is related to standardization of tasks--making people play by the rules. Such an example might be an Apple Script that requires a job ID that is validated (i.e., five digits starting with a '3') which is then entered into a database.

Next is what might be called the one-trick pony: a script or action that performs a single task in an application. It might be a utility that converts native design file to PostScript or EPS and drops it into a Watched Folder for Distiller, then moves it to an archive folder.

The most complex is process automation in which multiple steps are linked in sequence according to either fixed or dynamic rules. Fixed rules means that every file is processed the same way--i.e, an InDesign file is converted to PDF/X-1a for output compliant with SWOP, preflighted using a particular profile and then sent to a folder for either review or forwarding. Dynamic rules require instructions--most likely in the form of XML--to accompany the data file and outline the sequence of tasks and the specific details performed by each one. Here the instructions might link text and image files to a page layout template, then generate and distribute a low-res PDF for review and revision; if and when it is finalized, the file is then automatically distilled for final output and FTP'd to the printer, and archived to a server or off-line media.

Stick to the Scripts

Given the prevalence of the Macintosh in publishing, Apple Script and its sibling, Apple Automator, are likely to be implemented most. …

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