Invested interest - desktop publishing

Invested interest - desktop publishingWhat a difference a year makes. Folio:'s sixth annual desktop publishing trends survey confirms what publishers have suspected: Producing a magazine is more expensive than ever. Never mind all the editorial, printing and mailing expenses--today's desktop publishing costs have exploded.

On average, publisher invested three times more in desktop publishing this year than they did last year. Business magazines report expenses totaling $437,900 (exclusive of training costs), compared to $159,300 in 1995; consumer titles report $324,800 in total expenses, compared to $99,300 in 1995.

Publishers are spending more because they're doing more--more in house preproduction, more image management, more network-dependent operations and more new-media projects. Performing these types of functions requires equipment, which costs money.

"I'm not surprised that the figures have gone up," says Richard French, vice president, technology, publication services, The McGraw-Hill Companies. French cites recent investments in new equipment, archiving and online publishing as the source of increased spending in his department, which oversees 19 trade publications and 31 newsletters.

Under his direction, the New York City-based publisher is in the process of installing Cascade's MediaSphere archiving product, which runs on UNIX-based servers from Sun Microsystems. French says the investment was a necessity given the push toward online publishing.

"They didn't give me $300,000 just because I wanted it," he jokes. "Be fore, we were set up to do desktop publishing to print. Now, we're trying to do DTP for print and the Web. If you want to make content available in other forms, you have to be able to find it first." (Survey results show 84.2 percent of respondents archive both text and color graphics.)

"There are more people working in the desktop-publishing environment," adds Lisa Homa, director of quality and prepress operations at digital proofers and scanners on site. It's really blossomed."

McGraw-Hill's Business Week uses dye-sublimation printers, such as the 3M Rainbow and the Scitex Iris, and flatbed scanners, such as the Topaz from Linotype-Hell, to supplement the prepress services provided by AGT, the company's in-house facilities management vendor. (Survey results indicate 89.1 percent of respondents have flatbed scanners, an increase of 12.7 percentage points over last year. There are an average of 2.1 scanners on site.)

According to Thomas Reed, vice president, technology, at Business Week, the magazine has eliminated editorial film and now proofs covers and edit pages digitally. Business Week also does approximately 50 to 60 percent of its own scanning, sending the balance outside to AGT. This dual approach allows the publication to operate with a prepress safety net. Explains Homa: "They don't want to put all their eggs in one basket, because they're a weekly. They need the backup of AGT."

After experimenting with doing its own prepress, McGraw-Hill decided to contract with AGT about two years ago. "It was so much more than we wanted to be involved in," recalls Homa, who says the staffing and equipment requirements necessary to exceeded the benefits.

Now, McGraw-Hill gets the best of both worlds. Employees have direct access to scanner operators for on-the-fly color corrections, and computers are networked to facilitate file transmission and communication.

While some publishers recently have abandoned in-house prepress operations in favor of facilities management (e.g., Petersen Publishing Company and Conde Nast Publications), survey results show a continuing trend in on-site scanning and proofing. Almost all 1996 survey respondents (90.1 percent) perform their own low-resolution scans, compared to 48.8 percent last year; nearly 60 percent perform high-resolution scanning, compared to 35.8 percent last year; 40.6 percent do four-color laser proofs, compared to 23.6 percent in 1995; and 21.8 percent do four-color digital proofs, compared to 10.6 percent last year.

The surge in digital proofing heralds another trend--computer-to-plate (CTP) printing. As publishers move toward an all-digital production process, digital proofing is becoming a necessity. "Developing confidence in the digital proof is our biggest concern," says David Orlin, director, manufacturing and distribution, Conde Nast Publications, who says the company is testing CTP with the October issue of Self. "Our main motives are better quality, quicker turnaround and better costs."

Digital proofing is gaining acceptance among consumer titles faster than business books. Although 37.6 percent of respondents say they do not use film-based proofs like the 3M Matchprint, of that number only 13.6 percent of business magazines use digital proofing, compared to 56.3 percent of consumer magazines.

Orlin estimates that 50 percent of the company's pages are proofed dig itally. Looking down the road, he hopes Conde Nast will be producing at least the editorial well of its publications using CTP technology within two years. "Editorially, we're moving forward," he says. "Advertising is another story."

Digital file transmission is another important step toward taking advantage of the quicker turnaround times promised by computer-to-plate technology. While 72.3 percent of respondents identified SyQuest drives as a means of file transmission, almost half also identified digital phone lines such as modems, ISDN or T1 lines. Only about a quarter of those using telecommunications solutions say they use the speedier ISDN and T1 lines; the rest still depend on pokey 14.4 or 28.8 Kbps modems.

As if investing in archives, networks, proofers, scanners, the Internet and telecommunications weren't enough, publishers are also spending more on hardware and software to make new projects a reality and to stay ahead of the curve. On average, magazines have budgeted 2.8 times more for software upgrades ($9,000), 4.9 times more for new hardware ($128,100), 6.1 times more for hardware upgrades ($59,800), and 10.6 times more for new software purchases ($47,700) in fiscal 1996 than they reported last year.

If the current trends are any indication, the spending spree is just beginning. Joe bingham, associate director of editorial systems, Newsweek, knows this firsthand. He recently oversaw the installation of a 300-seat workgroup solution at the weekly's New York City offices. After a 20-year relationship with Atex, Newsweek swapped proprietary hardware and software for PCs and new workgroup publishing software from Nashua, New Hampshire-based Agile Enterprise, Inc. (Survey results indicate 96 percent of DTP is done on open systems, Macs and PCs, not proprietary hardware like Atex.)

While the transition was costly, and bringing the staff up to speed on the new systems required intensive training, gingham says the investment was worth it: "As we take advantage of new technologies, there's always a price tag that comes with it."