While it is a morbid thought, the analogy of the Canary in the Coal Mine is an apt description of watching a high-level conference such as Seybold (since I am unsure if that analogy is known in Australia, it is a reference to the fact that coal miners used to bring canaries into the mines with them as a poison indicator. If the air was poisonous with methane, the birds would die first, and the miners would see this, and get out). Attending a conference like this is a great opportunity to see what vendor solutions are focused on, and what others in the industry are doing. What is also interesting about Seybold, is that unlike other trade-events in North America, it is mainly a conference not a trade show. I will also be attending Graph Expo in Chicago, and I expect to see a different perspective as to the import of certain topics, because Graph Expo, drupa, and their ilk are all more geared towards the vendor booths on the expo floor. They are great opportunities to go shopping for hardware and software solutions (more on that in next month’s column).
So, that said, what was happening?
Well, for one, Quark senior VP of product development Jürgen Kurz gave a keynote presentation and took time to highlight a number of Quark Xpress features in 6.0 as well as marketing information and strategic plans from Quark.
I think it is good that Quark once again got involved in Seybold after a curious hiatus as "industry-standard, but quiet". Competition is healthy for the industry, and as much pressure Adobe and Quark put on each other to improve their products, the more we as an industry benefit from better capabilities and streamlining. I say that, but the same argument can be made that these important software vendors have made life difficult for those of us in the prepress and print production communities. Now that vendors have given us the myriad features that are empowering young designers, who have no business or experience using the Transparency features, we are paying the price (grin).
I though it fascinating that many of the Hot Picks and the busy discussion forums revolved around total workflows, and databases. Especially of interest, were a series of software vendors who allow deep customisation of the modules involved, and subsequent PDF output streams. Big topics on both panels and on the show floor included PDF workflows with JDF (Job Definition Format, to be used to integrate the complete job specifications into the PDF) implementation, as well as so-called Certified PDF workflows (a certified PDF workflow is one that implements a complete PDF production system that can be used to assure that the PDF is PDF/X1A or PDF/X3 compliant at the outset). I think that what is interesting about the amount of pressure in the industry towards these workflow-tightening specifications is that we are getting serious about taking the user out of the workflow as much as possible.
Maybe it is because we are all human and prone to mistakes, but the best of the workflow tools emphasise how simple they are to automate and to use in production. Human intervention, it would seem, is what everyone is trying to prevent. I can see why, as I often allude to: it used to be ok and even noteworthy to produce a piece of digital film, even with a mistake or two. Now, we need to be able to produce 20 press forms an hour… without error, or we lose money.
The other interesting aspect that I made note of at Seybold is the further impetus towards upstream content management and digital rights management. This should be the Canary to a lot of us in this industry.
XML content production is on the fast-track to acceptance at many publishers, and I think that this is significant to our industry, as it moves us further from the loop of daily production, and further downstream. I feel that it is important to look at what role we play in the whole publishing process, and see how that might change in the future. Unless you are in packaging, you should be studying up on what people (our clients) are in need of and looking at in their magazine production workflows and the like.
This is a big leap from the traditional mindset of our industry. We have in the past been focused on taking what our client gave us, and performing extensive ministration to it, and resulting in print (we got paid pretty well for those ministrations too). Increasingly however, our business will become less of the ministration and more of the output. This also means that the overall service we can provide is going to decline unless we can become involved, and even expert in the topics that were evident at Seybold. The publishers and print customers are looking at means (from vendors offering XML, and other database publishing models) to automate their workflows and document productions systems to such a level, that we literally could push a button and get plates out.
So… I saw my canary getting a little woozy, and decided it might be best to get some fresh air. I spent a good deal of time at Seybold looking into the upstream XML, Certified PDF and JDF solutions… the air is still clean up here.
I think it will be interesting to contrast the focus of offerings at Seybold, with those of Graph Expo. More on that next month.
Jürgen Kurz, Quark senior VP of product development
Chris Heric is a US-based prepress consultant. He specialises in the area of PDF and is the track chairman for the PDF for print Conference at Seybold.
Contact Chris Heric via email: firstname.lastname@example.org