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A Print Solution to Complement Your CMS Workflow: Part 1

When planning for a content management system (CMS) or new workflow processes, you might not be inclined to focus on your print software. After all, worrying about how to create the same old pages is a lot less exciting than contemplating content reusability and ongoing updates, right? Unfortunately, you might not see the anticipated benefits of a new workflow unless you've selected the right print solution and understood the impact of print requirements on your processes.

This article is presented in two parts. In this first installment, I introduce categories of print composition systems, identify the software products most often used by publishers, and discuss how they are used in traditional print-driven workflow scenarios. In the next issue, I'll explore single-source workflows and how the available software supports them.

Why Change?

Because different categories of print products fit better into different kinds of workflows, you should consider switching print software when implementing a CMS or new content management processes. Additionally, if you are already considering changing your tool for other reasons in the next few years, you don't want to have to repeat the process of integrating it with your CMS and workflow.

Print Software Categories

We identify these print software categories:

  • Desktop publishing products: Inexpensive desktop publishing solutions appropriate for low-volume publications whose layout and design vary for unpredictable reasons. Quark has dominated this market for years, although that's now changing slowly.
  • High-end composition products: Expensive typesetting tools intended for high-volume publishing, especially for publications whose layout and design make them good candidates for automation.
  • FrameMaker: Adobe's FrameMaker straddles the two categories, making it a good choice for publishers who want automation but can't justify the cost and complexity of the high-end solutions. Adobe offers both a desktop version for interactive usage by a single user and a server version for high-volume, batch usage.

The following table provides information relevant to workflow and CMS integration for the most popular professional print solutions among publishers.

Product Pricing Typical Install Batch / High Volume Interactive Collaborative Authoring / Editing XML Editor
Quark XPress Inexpensive Desktop No Yes Yes (with CopyDesk) No
Adobe InDesign Inexpensive Desktop No Yes Yes (with InCopy) No
Adobe FrameMaker Inexpensive Desktop Yes Yes No Yes
Adobe FrameMaker Server Inexpensive Server Yes No No No
Datalogics DL Pager Expensive Server Yes No No No
Advent 3B2 Expensive Server Yes Yes No No
XyEnterprise XPP Expensive Server Yes Yes No No
Arbortext E3 Expensive Server Yes No No No

Table Columns

Pricing: "Expensive" in this context is not intended as a negative term, just a relative one. If a $100,000 product enables you to increase productivity and decrease other costs, then it might be a wiser investment than buying several $2,000 licenses for an "inexpensive" product. Generally, the software, maintenance, and basic professional services for installation of an "expensive" product will cost $100,000 and up. Software costs for a single license for an "inexpensive" product will be $700 to $1,000, with professional services often being unnecessary (of course, most publishers need more than one license). Both types of systems could require extensive additional professional services costs to integrate effectively with your CMS or to enable automation.

Typical Install Location: Not surprisingly, expensive products are typically installed on a server and inexpensive ones on as many desktops as there are users. However, the high-end applications can also be effectively run on desktops if that is appropriate for your organization, include administrative tools that are accessible from your desktop, and, in the case of the ones that enable interactive editing, editing software.

Batch/High Volume: "Batch" publishing refers to page composition that happens automatically. Composition rules are defined by designers and programmers, and content (often as XML or SGML) is automatically fed to the system and processed, resulting in composed pages in the desired format (typically PDF or postscript). Along the way, such systems can automatically generate complex tables of contents and indexes.

The term "high volume" is relative. A magazine publisher might very effectively use XPress for what it considers to be a large volume of magazine issues per month (thousands of pages). However, truly high-volume publishers often measure pages produced per month in the tens or even hundreds of thousands. High-end composition software is designed to support this kind of throughput. FrameMaker is also designed for high volume, but not as high as for the other high-end products.

The terms "batch" and "high volume" are often used together because the reason many publishers want to invest in batch processing (automation) is that they have a high volume of content and therefore being efficient and fast in page composition is a necessity. However, more and more publishers with relatively low volume requirements are looking to automation in their print environments as a means by which to give editorial and production departments more time to focus on content and electronic products without increasing staff.

Interactive: Interactive composition tools allow users to adjust the layout and formatting of individual pages. This type of page-by-page control is the very essence of most desktop publishing. However, systems that are optimized for batch production work on the opposite principle: layout and style rules should be entirely predictable to maximize throughput and consistency. With that worldview, it should be unnecessary to "tweak" individual pages. Of course, many publishers want that option anyway, and some of the high-end products do allow page layout to be manually adjusted after automatic composition, or to be used in a purely interactive mode (no automation).

Collaborative Authoring/Editing: Collaborative authoring has similar meanings for desktop tools and high-end systems, but with important differences too. InDesign and XPress can be integrated with a lighter editing tool (InCopy and CopyDesk, respectively) so that only one person at a time is permitted to work on each CopyDesk or InCopy document (e.g., news story), but multiple people can simultaneously work on the same page. This is particularly important for newspapers and some magazines. Users can see whether they are over/under the assigned line counts for their stories and page layout artists and designers can finish their work even before all the content is completed. This is an enormous benefit when working to immovable deadlines. The high-end software does not enable multiple users to work on the same page, which is our definition of collaboration in this context. However, in some systems multiple users can simultaneously work on separate pages of the same document (e.g., a section of a directory). This avoids bottlenecks when making changes to large publications directly within the composition system.

Can Be Used As an XML Editor: FrameMaker's desktop version can be used as both a composition tool and an XML editor in a CMS environment. This isn't true of any of the other products. (Technically, some of the high-end products might claim you could use their products to create XML documents, but it is a stretch to say that an editorial team could work with them efficiently or affordably.)

Print-First Workflows

Print-first workflows are those in which printed pages are perfected before content is made available in digital formats like XML. Potentially legitimate business reasons for sticking with print-first include the need to:

  • Adjust layout for stylistic reasons while working with content that is unpredictable in structure and length. This is typical of most magazines, many newsletters, and some books.
  • Copyfit content (fit content to the available space or number of lines), especially when multiple people are providing input to the page under tight deadlines. This is most typical at a newspaper, and things become especially hairy when breaking news throws off the page plans for a given day, and when advertising is in the mix.
  • Control page count for cost purposes. Printing and shipping pages is expensive, and some publishers must carefully manage page counts to meet their budgets. This is especially common for publishers of loose-leaf books, who mail page updates and inserts on a regular basis. Complicated rules must be followed to minimize the impact of content changes on pages that were previously composed in earlier revisions.

Print-first is the traditional publishing workflow, and the one most publishers use prior to implementing a CMS.

Traditional Print-First

Many publishers use a print-first workflow without a CMS. This is still the most common workflow for publishers who do their own composition, as well as the typical workflow when composition is outsourced. Whether the work is done internally or externally, this process is appropriate in those cases where it is acceptable to have a delay between composition for print and availability to electronic products, or where the digital format can look just like print (PDF or simple HTML).

In most cases, even when the required digital format is XML it is possible to keep the delay between print and digital very short. FrameMaker can use XML as its native format. Depending on your content, it might possible to convert InDesign and XPress documents to XML in a mostly automated fashion, assuming you design your InDesign/XPress templates properly and train your users. The high-end systems enable either direct output to XML or, at the least, relatively straightforward conversion to XML. However, most publishers don't use high-end composition systems internally in a print-first workflow. If a publisher can justify the expense of a high-end product, that's usually because they want a single source workflow and the automatic page composition that implies; this is what high-end systems were designed to do. (More details on this in the next issue.)

Publishers who use print-centric content development processes without a CMS do often create a CMS or content repository to hold the XML that is output from the print process.

Print-First with Round-Tripping

A problematic aspect of the print-first workflow is that all content must be updated in the print composition tool. In many cases, publishers want to update the XML content more frequently than the print. "Round-tripping" is the term that describes workflows in which the XML is loaded back into the existing composed pages. This is not an easy process with any of the products featured in this article, although some software packages like Easypress's Atomik products can facilitate round-tripping for Xpress.

Print-First Production Workflow Management Systems

For some publishers, it is absolutely necessary to create content in the context of printed pages, but also essential to tightly manage the workflow and get to the web quickly. In these cases, print production workflow products for XPress (like QPS - Quark Publishing System) and/or InDesign (like Managing Editor's K4) can be very helpful. These products include some of the important features of content management systems, but are heavily focused on the creation of content to fit specific print page templates. They include the use of simpler and less expensive editing software (Adobe InCopy or Quark CopyDesk) for content contributors and editors, while designers use the full-strength layout product. Print production workflow management systems are ideal for newspaper or magazine publishers because they facilitate writing to line count, having many people collaborate on the content published to a single page, and meeting tight deadlines.

Most production workflow management systems offer methods for outputting content as XML and HTML. Indeed, workflows can be defined so that individual articles are approved and published to electronic products before the corresponding pages have actually been shipped to the printer.

(Note that Quark also offers Quark Content Manager, but this is better described as an asset management system than as a production management system or CMS.)

Documentum and Desktop Publishing Tools

Documentum has also integrated InDesign and XPress into its product, although with a different goal than the production workflow management tools mentioned above. Documentum is clearly a full-blown content management solution, and its integration is intended to enable InDesign or XPress users to easily manage the components of a print document (document files, images, templates) in Documentum. Using this model, InDesign or XPress basically become another editing tool that the system can support. Because Documentum can present users with Windows Explorer-style user interfaces, this is a very comfortable solution for existing production departments. Users feel as if they are working directly on the file system.

This is a less complex integration than that provided by the production workflow management tools, but also one with a different purpose. It probably won't suit if you are a newspaper needing tight collaboration. But, if you are, for example, a book publisher whose goal is to ensure that all your content is managed within and tracked by a central system, then Documentum's solution could be a good one for you.

Moving from Print-First to Single-Source

In the second installment of this series, I'll review how the print products fit into a single-source workflow, and identify some important considerations when choosing a print solution for your environment.


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