Publishers and Print Providers Emphasize Production and Workflow Priorities

By Chuck Lenatti, Editor, Idealliance Bulletin

Idealliance surveyed more than 100 publishing and print industry decision-makers and professionals last year to learn how their companies planned to achieve their business objectives over the ensuing 18 months through workflow processes and staffing.

Since survey responses were dominated by senior production management, the results are likely to reflect current business plans and should hold true in actuality, said Dianne Kennedy, VP of Media and Emerging Technologies at Idealliance. Survey results will influence Idealliance’s planned Integrated Media Workflow Fundamentals Certification Program.

The Evolving Role of Production

No one needs to tell publishers that they are facing more pressure and uncertainty than ever. “Publishers have always viewed a future that includes print magazines while assuming a revenue stream that is flat to good. Now, publishers are facing the reality that as print demand diminishes, it’s not being replaced by digital—certainly not in terms of revenue,” said Peter Meirs, principal partner at Digital First Media NY, who organized the study.

With publishing evolving from being print-centric to device-neutral, the role of production is in flux. Will production continue to be managed through a print-production operation? Or will publishers gravitate toward web services rather than host and invest in systems themselves? In short, as Meirs puts it: “Does publishing technology just become another aspect of information technology?”

Meirs previously managed digital magazine operations at Time Inc. as part of the production division. After the iPad was launched, digital editions needed to be produced using technologies that were overseen by IT. So digital magazine production moved into the IT world, along with mobile.

“What used to be a pretty simple process—you start with an idea and you end with a printing plate—is now a multi-staged, highly iterative workflow process,” Meirs said. Ten years ago, a typical production director had five or six outputs: the primary print product, rudimentary web, channels for marketing—all pretty simple and a fairly serialized workflow. Today, Meirs explained, “Production directors are expected to produce content for print, mobile, tablet, web, content marketing, special-interest publications, custom publishing and social media.”

With fewer resources, publishers are putting more pressure on production and operations groups to make monetizable content available through multiple channels. “Production groups have many more deliverables than they did 10 years ago and they have fewer people.” said Meirs.

Key Findings: Workflow and Production Staff

• Print. The 59 printing industry professionals who responded to the survey (41% of whom characterized themselves as senior management in production) were asked to rate their priorities in the areas of Content Creation, Workflow, Asset Management, and Reporting. Respondents rated workflow highest on their list of priorities, with 70% ranking it either 1 or 2 in importance on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the highest. Managing and distributing digital assets and the analytics of tracking and reporting data were also high priorities. Interactive content creation, digital app and mobile development, and content syndication and streaming were among their lowest priorities.

The survey identified six key focus areas within an integrated media production workflow;

1.   Create & Capture:(to bring into existence / to acquire)

2.   Ingest & Manage:(to bring into, to upload / to organize, store and retrieve)

3.   Edit & Produce:(to correct or modify / to combine components into a product)

4.   Transform & Publish:(to correct or modify / to combine components into a product)

5.   Fulfill & Distribute:(to package or print / to deliver or supply)

6.   Report & Engage:(compile data / report and inform future content creation decisions)

Not surprisingly, a majority of print professionals, ranked Fulfill and Distribute as their highest priority among Idealliance’s six key focus areas. Indicative of the growing importance of multiple channel distribution, transforming, editing and production of digital assets were also identified as key areas of interest.

• Workflow: The survey showed that publishers have a significant interest in establishing cross-media workflows. Publishers ranked developing multiplatform workflows about 2.2 on the scale of 1 to 5, while printers placed it at a 3.7.

• Staffing: Publishers and print service providers plan to train existing staff rather than hire from the outside or employ consultants.

Lessons from the Survey

“This tells us that developing a curriculum that provides the foundations for migrating toward integrated media workflows is right on target,” Kennedy said. “The survey also indicates the greatest emphasis is on planning and operations, so providing a course that lays the foundation for an integrated media workflow should, again, serve the industry well,” she added.

 “The survey validated our belief that providing online education for our members is, and will remain, very important,” Kennedy said. “Survey results indicated that both publishers and print service providers believe that skills will shift more and more to be production-centric. This means that production staff will need to add new skills and to be IT savvy.”

Publishers and Printers

While publishers believe that integrating content production to be distributed over any media channel is the future, print service providers do not appear to view this as an equally strong business priority. “This implies that as publishers shift toward integrating their editorial production, they are also likely to shift to business to services providers that match their business requirements more closely,” said Kennedy.

Cloud services do not appear to be part of that shift, however, even as publishers think about how to bring down their capital investment costs. “One way to do that would be to use cloud services (such as software as a service, or SaaS). But that didn’t bubble up as an urgent priority [in the survey],” Meirs said. One reason could be that domain expertise remains a necessity in the publishing industry. “An IT person might understand everything about the technology you might be using for SaaS, but they wouldn't necessarily understand which solutions meet the company’s business needs,” Meirs said.