5 printing technologies to watch

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Digital dominates when it comes to advances in printing technology. Whether it's the adoption of JDF and the resulting reduction in human error in the work flow or the growing use of digital editions, publishers are taking advantage of the innovations to boost efficiency and cuts costs. Meanwhile, on the distribution side, printers are constantly finding new and better ways to get clients' magazines into the mail stream.

Here are five technologies to watch:

1. JDF

Job definition format has been on the minds of print and publishing executives for years now. "A few years ago at drupa [the quadrennial trade show for the printing and paper industries], we were each handed a 500-page manual [on JDF] and you didn't even want to open it, it was so intimidating," said Marie Myers, senior VP-manufacturing at CMP Technology.

But executives are finally opening that manual and liking what they see as more printers start to introduce JDF-compliant technology.

"JDF provides a common, dedicated language for use throughout the lifecycle of the print job and a method for automated work flows in print production," said James Harvey, executive director of CIP4, the not-for-profit international association that is driving the JDF movement. Changing to JDF will eliminate the need for publishers to send heavily marked-up proofs to printers since everything will be noted digitally.

Earlier this year, Reed Business Information started using JDF for its titles that were printed at Fry Communications. Northstar Travel Media plans to get rolling with JDF files later this year.

"We're waiting for the kinks to be kicked out a little bit, but we can't wait too long," said Robert Brai, production director at Northstar. "It's really a matter of waiting on manufacturers now to install JDF-compliant equipment.

"Other than that, we're ready to get going with it and see how things work on a totally automated front. The less human intervention, we figure, the better."

Brai predicted that the next few years will bring a dramatic change within the industry due to JDF. "Everything will be much, much more automated," he said.

Steve Grande, VP-sales at Fry, agreed. "This will be huge in the next few years," he said. "Removal of human intervention will save publishers a lot of time and costly mistakes.

"JDF is just one of those really sexy technologies that not too many people will understand," Grande added. "It's kind of like looking at the inside of an iPod."

2. Softproofing

Softproofing, or viewing pages on a computer rather than as a hard copy, is another technology that promises to help automate work flows.

But while many printers and publishers have started to do this on their own, there isn't yet a fully standardized set of color numbers for the industry to follow. An organization called IdeAlliance is working to address this issue with printers and publishing executives.

Advocates say softproofing will eliminate problems and costs associated with hardproofing and cut down on time dealing with printers and ad agencies.

Nick Elsener, VP-production at Hanley Wood, said some of the consistency problems involved with softproofing should have disappeared with Kodak's purchase of Creo last year. The two companies made competing monitors that publishers and printers used to view proofs.

"Kodak now sends out a technician to calibrate the machine and teaches the customer how to calibrate it for future viewing," Elsener said. "But there is still a ways to go on finding an industry standard."

Brai pointed out that as new presses go into operation, "they are being equipped with in-line color controls, and basically people are getting away from providing printers with hard-copy proofs. As we get better control of the colors, this will eliminate a huge amount of back-and-forth with both printers and advertisers."

CMP, rather than waiting for an industry standard, is putting together its own ad portal because it deals with a number of different printers.

"Many of our advertisers don't need or want hard proofs as it is now," Myers said. "Most don't have skin tones in their ads or anything like that to deal with."

The portal will allow advertisers to send in digital files of their ads and have them become part of CMP's in-house digital asset management system to be picked up whenever needed in the future.

3. Co-mailing

No matter their size, publishers are facing an 8.5% increase in postal rates for periodicals next spring. On top of that, publishers are paying 85 cents per mail container. Sacks and pallets are both considered containers, but it takes 100 sacks to fill one pallet, said Ned Kulka, marketing director at Publishers Press. So it's either pay 85 cents for one pallet or $85 for 100 sacks. Facing such numbers, it's no wonder that publishers are increasingly turning to co-mailing to save money.

Several printing companies have recently opened sophisticated co-mailing facilities and are working on further technological advancements. "When we started, magazines had to be in pristine shape, and you couldn't do much with the publication other than ship it as is," said Joel Weber, VP-sales at Quebecor World.

Now, Quebecor is working to add polybagging to its co-mailing services, having already solved the puzzle of how to co-mail titles with advertising belly bands. "We have a group of engineers who are just working on whatever the next thing is, and that's always changing," Weber said.

RR Donnelley is focused on its co-mailing tracking and tracing capabilities, which allow publishers to see delivery confirmation by postal destination, the total number of pieces in a shipment and the date.

4. Digital Editions

Earlier this year, Publishers Press' Kulka and some of his colleagues were talking with a customer who complained about his digital-edition supplier. The complaint centered on the amount of time it took to transform content files from the magazine into useable Web text.

"And then we figured, hey, we've got the files, why don't we make the digital edition?" Kulka said. So after working with a few publishers to test the process, Publishers Press has launched itself into creating digital editions for its clients.

Publishers Press is one of many printers getting involved in the digital-editions business. Fry Communications is cranking out 30,000 pages of electronic editions each month and has focused on getting content quickly up onto publisher Web sites with multimedia attached. "The more we can help publishers use the media at hand, the better served the consumers are at the other end," Grande said.

Kulka said digital editions are especially important for titles with international subscribers. "Delivery times can be horrific, but not when you go digital," he said.

5. Personalization

As more information about readers gets digitized, personalization is becoming easier for publishers. "Standardized is great, but customization is what's happening," said Roland Krapp, VP-product management and prepress for Heidelberg USA. "There will be changes to covers and content that will reflect the consum-er."

Krapp noted that special-interest magazines are growing, and each title is searching for new and different ways to attract readers. "Personalization is key," he said.

Grande agreed. Fry recently installed a perfect binder that can selectively polybag titles with up to five outserts. It can also print a personalized message on the outside of the polybag.

Fry prints a real estate magazine in central Pennsylvania. Based on a subscriber's preferences or hobbies, Grande said, the cover can change to suit that person's purchasing history. This allows for personalization on the inside front cover, inside back cover and back cover.

"Maybe we'll stick a recipe card on the inside back cover because we know you like to cook," Grande said. "It's only a matter of time before the internal pages get more personalized."

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