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Cross Media Causes Pre-Media Challenge

The big upheaval in prepress—more accurately called pre-media—is creating content for multi-channel production. While successful print operations have their pre-print workflows in order, bringing different media platforms into the mix is fraught with challenge, considering industry standards are not yet commonplace, and the relative difficulty of managing distribution to several media platforms simultaneously.

IDEAlliance‘s global community of graphic arts participants, with members on both the supplier and vendor side, is working with its industry partners to develop specifications for mobile, Web, and video-based content creation, development, and distribution. To that end, the group, which develops best practices for print and electronic media, launched its OpenEFT initiative in April, engaging publishers, digital newsstands, and technology partners in the development of Version 1.0 of the OpenEFT Format, announced October 1.

The release, the first step in creating standards for the cross media environment, is reported as the first open format specification for the exchange and rendering of interactive magazines on tablets and mobile devices. OpenEFT will be featured at two upcoming events in New York City; at the Createasphere Digital Asset Management Conference on October 7-8 and at the IDEAlliance PRIMEX East Conference on October 9.

“Unlike the print world that has worked with a number of industry-established standards to communicate—for example, JDF and JMF—the new digital media have far too many standards,” notes Graham Blanks, director Business Operations North America, Dalim Software, which offers software solutions for the creation, production, and management of cross-media content.

“There are too many media steps, distribution channels, and file formats, and it seems that every job requires a different set of them,” adds Blanks. “Until these industries agree on how to share files, it is going to be a complicated workflow to start and manage projects.”

Moving Away from Linear
IDEAlliance is also promoting its take on the requirements of moving from a traditional linear workflow, the norm in print-based distribution, to an Integrated Media Workflow (IMW) model, which is designed to efficiently produce output to a wide variety of channels from a single workflow.

“The central core of the Integrated Media Workflow concept is a centralized ‘hub’ of content,’ explains Steve Bonoff, executive vice president of IDEAlliance. “There are a lot of technical ramifications for determining a content strategy and then creating a hub, which, in essence, is an asset management center.”

IDEAlliance unveiled the Integrated Media Workflow at PRINT 13 in September.

In the world of print, the process moves somewhat seamlessly (in theory, anyway) from capturing and creating the content, to editing and producing (i.e.: printing) the product, to finishing and distribution. No matter the trials and tribulations of print production, the content is moving toward being output to a single distribution channel—print.

Needless to say, that isn’t the case in a cross-media platform, and any printer looking to make an investment in this area has to consider the steps necessary to get it to the final distribution point. “Cross media,” says Bonoff, “requires a dynamic set of actions for effective integration of the media production process.”

It’s in the Clouds
An integrated media workflow takes full advantage of remote cloud-based services, not only to enhance the workflow, but also to bring customers into the process at any stage, something that the Millennial generation in particular finds appealing. This group likes being part of the process, and more and more often they are going to be your contact point.

Cloud integration is absolutely critical moving forward in a B2B environment, notes Dave Minnick, director, Web2Print Solutions Group, EFI.

IDEAlliance identifies several technologies that will play key roles in assuring media integration within a cross-media environment, some of which are new to traditional print production facilities. They are:

• Color Management (not just for print, but across the entire integrated media workflow)

• Metadata (necessary to efficiently access asset information, across the workflow)

• Workflow and Asset Management (allowing movement of assets from one technology to the next)

• Cloud Services (providing real-time access to assets in a collaborative environment)

• Security (protection for all the assets)

• Analytics (for measuring and tracking results )

Other than analytics, which takes place once the content is published and distributed, each of these services all fall within the pre-media end of the workflow.

Take note of what is happening at SG360°, a Segerdahl company, which redefined itself a little over year ago from its traditional print shop offerings to a direct marketing solutions provider, providing the full breadth of cross-platform services. “The biggest challenges in handling multi-channel workflow are centralizing the control and decision process around how it all is output,” notes Steve Bagby, vice president, chief creative officer.

“With so much data available and so many channel options, it is becoming extremely inefficient for companies to manage multiple campaigns effectively,” says Bagby. “The industry is rapidly moving towards cloud-based systems that integrate online and offline workflows that provide a single view of the customer. We are actively integrating into several of the lead solutions for our customers to better manage not just their prepress workflow, but their entire process from creation to results analysis.”

To make this happen, the company is addressing several key areas—all necessary in the pre-publishing stages of the production workflow. These include:

 Focusing presswork technologies on live image output integrity

 Developing document creation technologies that are destination savvy so that files are created according to the destination's requirement (similar to what an ICC profile does for color except the profile would be for output)

 Streamlining access and tracking of remote proofing

 Developing meaningful standards for allowing quality requirements to be objectively communicated

More Steps, More Tasks

In the modern print environment, prepress involves capturing the content, color managing, preflighting, and proofing prior to generating a PDF for either digital printing or digital platesetting. In the cross media environment, both the number of steps prior to publishing and the number of tasks within each of these steps have increased.

In its whitepaper on Integrated Media Workflow, Diane Kennedy of IDEAlliance identifies six stages involved in the IMW process: Create & Capture, Ingest & Manage, Edit & Produce, Transform & Publish, Fulfull & Dsitrbute, and Report & Engage.

The first three are all in the pre-publish part of the workflow, and all require additional tasks, technologies, and systems to make sure the content is distributed to the right platform at the right time. Several of the tasks will be brand new for a traditional print provider, such as those involving creating content for mobile applications, but the overarching theme is to take a look at what you are planning to do and gain an understanding of how you will accomplish it in terms of technology, staff, and workflow.

This writer recommends you take a look at the whitepaper, available from IDEAlliance (IMWlab.com), at least as a stepping off point. The group is also running a three-part “print virtual training series” called “Create, Manage, and Grow with Interactive Print”. The 90-minute sessions are running October 25 and November 1 and 8. They are also recorded for later viewing.

For printers moving into cross-media channel production—something recommended by many industry experts as a means of business survival—there are numerous considerations. It is not plug-n-play, and at the very least, you must do the research and make sure you know what it entails.

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