Macworld's Digital Advantage

Article excerpt

THIS MONTHLY TITLE CUT LAYOUT TIME ON ITS CLASSIFIEDS FROM THREE DAYS TO 30 MINUTES. IT'S PART OF AN AMBITIOUS PLAN THAT WILL ULTIMATELY TAKE THE TITLE DIRECT-TO-PLATE.

It's 1:30 PM, and Macworld production manager Cynthia Mazzola is beginning to lay out the magazine's classified ad section.

At 2:00 PM, her work is done.

The 20- to 30-page section used to take three days of planning and cutting and pasting, but that was before the San Francisco-based monthly went digital. The International Data Group title's first step was to install Managing Editor Software's Ad Director package, part of an ambitious digital advertising program that the magazine's execs say will result in big savings of time and money. They hope, eventually, to be receiving, producing, proofing and transmitting all ads electronically--a process that will eliminate expensive film and environmentally hazardous chemicals from the production process, while speeding turnaround times.

"The cost savings alone can be tremendous," says Macworld vice president and director of manufacturing Anne Foley from her corner office overlooking the Bay Bridge. "And if printers are going to go direct-to-plate within three to five years--which is what they are all saying--then why not have our advertisers already accustomed to digital and just be ready to do it?"

To date, Macworld's classified advertising section is digital until the final film stage, and 80 percent of its mail-order section is produced the same way. This is remarkable progress for a project that began only last year, when a number of the book's advertisers--many of whom are themselves on computing's cutting-edge--began asking for the okay to submit their ads on disk rather than film. "It wasn't long after that that we were asking ourselves what it would take to do the whole section digitally," says Foley.

It didn't take much, she says: hiring a part-time pre-press specialist; purchasing software to provide on-screen layout; and adding RAM and storage capacity to the in-house Macs. "We're not talking about a lot of money," says Foley. "If people are doing any kind of design, they already have the basic equipment."

Beyond the technology, implementing the project was a matter of convincing some of the more hesitant advertisers that the advantages of the program would not come at the cost of print quality. Foley admits to some initial hand-holding: "We had to talk a few of them through the process and reassure them that this really does work. Some wanted the option of sending in the film as well as the disk, so if there was a problem I could just strip in the film. But most of our advertisers, by the nature of the business they are in, already had a good understanding of what we were trying to do and why it could help them."

Why digital?

But it's not just Silicon Valley that is drawn to this magnetic new medium. Major publishers and Madison Avenue agencies are also looking at how they can benefit from digital advertising--for reasons that are not difficult to compute.

Sending an ad directly from computer to final film can cost considerably less than conventional jobs. And once printers begin to use direct-to-plate technologies that allow plates to be imaged directly from computer data, a process that will bypass film altogether, the savings could be even greater.

At the same time, digital advertising, by eliminating much of the manual labor and processing time associated with film, can reduce turnaround time from weeks to days. "It's something we can't afford not to look at," says Joe Pedone, who is production director at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and a rounding member of DDAP (Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publications), a New York City-based organization whose mission is to develop standards and applications that will help smooth agencies' switch from mechanicals to modems.

For publishers, the rewards could be just as compelling. …