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How Many Media Did You Say?

(June 2003) posted on Tue Jun 17, 2003

'Cross-media publishing' means more than it used to

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By Jake Widman

The first time I heard the term "cross-media publishing" was at a Nexpo, the trade show and conference devoted to newspaper publishing technology. I heard it from the guy at a vendor booth, touting how much his product could help newspapers publish their print and Web editions.
But even before I heard the term, lots of us were familiar with the issues--we just didn't have a such a handy, catch-all buzzword for them yet.

For my part, the magazine I was working for had been putting all its content on the Web for a while by that point. We did it the old-fashioned way: after the text and art had been prepared for the print edition and sent to production, the component files would get burned onto a CD and handed over to the Web people. That group would then extract the text from the QuarkXPress files, convert all the images, and fit everything into our online page templates. As a workflow, it was laborious and time-consuming but at least accurate.

We used to have meetings about ways of setting up a parallel workflow that would let us pass the content to the Web group earlier in the process (one got the impression that the Web monkeys considered it beneath them to have to deal with inkstained XPress files). This idea never got off the ground because the copy department, control freaks that they were (quite properly), didn't want to risk the words on the Web pages not being the same as those in print. They insisted that any changes made in layout be reflected on the Web as well.

These days, that obsession with consistency seems kinda quaint--having a website that simply reproduces your print edition is considered declasse. For example, this column doesn't appear in the printed version of The Big Picture; neither do many of the news items and product announcements found elsewhere on this website.

Whatever the approach, most of the time when we say "cross-media publishing," we mean publishing for print and the Web. Many service providers have managed to grow their business by positioning themselves as cross-media partners, preparing files simultaneously for print and Web presentation. That's fast becoming too restrictive a definition, though.

Recently my editor forwarded me a press release about how the Wasatch SoftRIP--a RIP for wide-format printers--was adding an Internet Deployment feature that would allow ripped files to be sent to electronic signs. Large-size print plus electronic signs--why, that's cross-media publishing too!

So let's think a moment about what kinds of media are available to digital communicators in today's world--what the media in a cross-media publishing operation could be. There's the Internet, but that can be subdivided according to whether it's over a computer, WebTV, PDA, cell phone, or pocket computer. Even on a regular desktop computer, there are sites that use Flash or other advanced technology and sites that just use plain HTML and static images. And don't get me started on the different protocols for delivering content to cell phones--I can't yet make sense of those. And print gets subdivided, too. Is it going to be a run-length-of-many or a run-length-of-one job? Will it be printed in advance or printed on demand? All those variables will demand something different from the publisher, designer, or service provider.

So get ready. Here comes another wave of change and opportunity, and more technology to learn and get good at. At the moment, as I said about cell phone protocols, we may not understand it all yet. But we will, whether we like it or not.