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Myths and realities of desktop publishing.

In the midst of the misconceptions, you can do right by your association.

In spite of advertising claims to the contrary, when it comes to desktop publishing, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And many popular misconceptions persist about desktop publishing, the process of using a computer to format text and graphics on a page.

It is true that the computing power required for desktop publishing comes in a very small package at a very small price. However, with computers, it does not necessarily follow that because the package is small and cheap and the manufacturer describes it as user friendly, a desktop publishing system is easy to use or appropriate for every publishing application or organization.

With this article, I intend to help associations' chief staff officers and publishers develop realistic expectations for desktop publishing.

A true story

Nearly two decades ago, I was retained by a large Washington, D.C.-based trade association that published, among its substantial inventory of periodicals, a pair of biweekly newsletters that were dedicated to legislative action. The editor, who had a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, did not see himself as a desktop publishing pioneer. However, in the interest of what his boss portrayed as economy, he laid out and produced camera-ready mechanical art at his desk, without the intervention of a graphic artist or typesetter.

The only real graphics tool he required to make up his pages was the dog-eared proportion wheel used to size and crop the occasional mug shot and leave a space, or window, for the photo. Without benefit of a central processing unit, high-resolution monitor, or laser printer, he was engaged in a very primitive form of desktop publishing. But journalism school had not prepared him for the mechanical aspect of his trade, so he had to invest two hours in mechanical preparation for every hour he was able to allocate to reporting, writing, and editing.

The advantage of this primitive desktop publishing was in reality not economical. What was conceived to save typesetting and professional layout costs was actually a net loss as a consequence of having to dedicate a significant portion of the editor's time to manually preparing camera-ready pages. With no outside vendor invoice for typesetting to follow, however, the illusion of cost savings was perpetuated.

And even though the editor's writing craft was recognized as valuable to the newsletter program, the organization then hired a full-time editorial assistant whose principal duty was retyping the editor's manuscripts for production. The cost of the additional staffer was buried in the department's overhead and never directly allocated to the real cost of producing the newsletters.

My recollection of this episode of nearly 20 years ago in the context of more recent experience with association publishing and desktop publishing is what caused me to begin this article with the adage "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Often today's incoming association newsletter editor faces the same daunting task. In addition to reporting, writing, editing, and supporting that end of the process, the editor also must perform headline and copy fitting, photo cropping, and page layout tasks not encountered in journalism school.

Ads tell the tale

Look at the classified advertising section of the Washington Post, which serves nearly 50 percent of all registered nonprofit organizations, for confirmation. Nearly all communication, editorial, public relations, and writing positions require experience or familiarity with some form of desktop publishing.

In the past 10 years, the silicon microprocessor chip, the Macintosh, and IBM personal computers and clones; software such as Microsoft Windows, Aldus PageMaker, QuarkXpress, and Ventura Publisher; and innovators such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have conspired to render the Correcting Selectric and struck type passe.

Indeed, in many associations, top management has an unrealistic expectation that high-quality design is guaranteed with the purchase of any inexpensive, user-friendly page-layout software and an inexpensive Mac or IBM workstation. This often presupposes a high level of both computer knowledge and design skill that is the exception rather than the rule among editors, editorial assistants, and secretaries.

Moreover, according to desktop publishing trainer John Piper, not every procedure can--or should be--accomplished on the "page maker's" computer system. Some of the traditional manual processes, such as hand rendering original illustrations or cropping and sizing photos by hand, may still be the most efficient and cost-effective ways to get the job done, even in so-called electronic studios. This is especially true when the printer is better equipped to handle camera work or when stripping by hand will yield higher-quality results.

In addition to the higher-profile computer system, a variety of traditional tools are required to make "electronic" publishing work. Even independent studios and service bureaus still use drafting tables, special lighting, light tables, waxers, paper cutters, flat files, artist's tape, flow markers, colored pencils, rulers, triangles, knives, and reams of paper.

According to Rossi Bonugli, chief executive officer of a Washington, D.C.-area service bureau that also places computer graphics temporary workers, the very concept of desktop publishing (also known as electronic or in-house publishing) is perverted by software publishers. Bonugli believes software publishers'

advertising oversimplifies extremely complicated software, raising the expectation that because the computer does it, anyone can do it without the intervention of designer, typesetter, or pasteup artist--and at a fraction of the time and cost associated with outside contractors.

Bonugli's perception, reported in Small Business Strategies, is derived from focus groups of publications professionals, many of them employed by managers who naively assume that owning a desktop publishing system "automatically, magically confer|s~ the expertise to use it well or even to use it at all."

Comparing platforms is "academic"

According to a recent survey of its membership, the National Association of Desktop Publishers, Topsfield, Massachusetts, reports that 67 percent of survey respondents use IBM or compatibles and 57 percent use Macintosh; 24 percent regularly use both platforms. However, the argument about which computer platform is appropriate for you is academic.

What might have been true five years ago about the superior speed and user friendliness of the Mac is largely resolved by Windows, the 486 microprocessor, and by software publishers who make both Mac and personal-computer versions of all their issues.

Cooperative efforts of Apple and IBM, plus the genius of programmers who have built software bridges and filters, have resolved most cross-platform networking and compatibility glitches to the extent that moving raw information among personal computer, Mac, and minicomputer hardware no longer violates any important physical laws.

It is only with the more complex action of transferring formatted text and graphics and cross-platform editing of formatted text that the advice "Don't worry about the platform" requires a caveat.

To avoid losing all visual page content in a cross-platform transfer (i.e., having to reduce a PageMaker document to ASCII text or word processor file to accommodate the transition from Mac to personal computer or vice versa), both platforms must be running the same page-makeup software. Otherwise, the document must be run through one of the popular document-sharing utilities, such as Adobe's Acrobat, Nine to Five Software's PaperLess Printer, or No Hands Software's Common Ground.

In practice, where Macs and personal computers or minis are mixed, "upward" compatibility is generally in the direction of the Mac, making it smart to position a Mac at the desktop publishing terminus nearest the service bureau or full-service printer, where there is likely to be another Mac.

With the advent of Windows, which was developed by Microsoft to allow the personal computer to emulate the Mac's more intuitive operation, the process of installing and running desktop publishing software has become easier. Windows not only "inoculates" the user against many of the quirks of a disk operating system (DOS) but also does not require a working knowledge of the operating system. By my experience, though, I find the Mac's operating system still has an advantage.

Its pricing and processing power now truly competitive with IBM, Apple's Macintosh lags behind DOS personal-computer systems in flexibility only to the extent that some popular off-the-shelf business programs do not have Mac equivalents, and most custom programs (and programmers) supporting association administrative systems cannot be cost-effectively adapted to the Mac.

Investing in constant change

If there is a painful aspect of ownership, one will surely feel its pinch by attempting to romance the technology and trying to remain at its cutting edge while hardware and software developers in both the Mac and IBM metiers are pushing the technological envelope to its limits.

In a perfect world, an editor would have time to keep up with these rapidly changing technologies through trade shows and magazines. However, that is unlikely for the typically overworked editor. Thus, acquiring the latest (and fastest and most powerful) new box, peripheral, and software in a quest for improved productivity will be expensive.

All the same, desktop publishing users should be consistent in monitoring new hardware and software issues and remain committed, both fiscally and philosophically, to investing in new issues. The major software publishers, such as Microsoft, Aldus, and others for whom they set the pace, are constantly releasing upgrades and superseding established product standards. Even the sharpest personal computer or Mac workstation purchased in 1993 will slip from its position at the cutting edge before the end of its depreciation cycle.

The human resource aspect

As painless as ownership can be (if one can resist the impulse to calculate return on investment), it is the implementation of even low-level desktop publishing that can be sufficiently painful to turn desktop publishing's silk purse back into a sow's ear. Most who have made the transition, successfully or not, will characterize its impact on organizational culture as expensive, disruptive, and frustrating.

The success of implementing desktop publishing will be mitigated by the relative success of cross-training efforts, where staff are indeed willing and trainable; the need (and political pressure) to accommodate or make allowances for tenured but untrainable (or unwilling) incumbents; the inclination to replace the untrainable and unwilling with the trainable and willing; the impulse to create "new" positions and recruit competent staff who have the right combination of skills; and the eventuality of recruiting a true desktop publishing professional to make the system perform as intended.

The most painful scenario could mean hiring that specialist who would bring the requisite computer and graphics skill to the table but cost the organization $30,000-$35,000 to justify the $10,000 desktop publishing workstation the editor or editorial assistant could not master.

In fact, the human factors of "going desktop" are as important as the economic implications. Joe Manganello, of ARK Publications, Alexandria, Virginia, cautions that one should be very careful to "make changes as gradually or as quickly as the entire staff will allow." Changing things all at once or too quickly will force you into a sink-or-swim situation and could cost you staff members.

"The goal is to save time, reduce stress, and become more cost effective while remaining practical," Manganello says. "Cutting costs may not be practical. The hardware needed and the skill level and training must figure into the equation when you consider entering electronic publishing."

No guarantees

Simply stated, it is a mistake to assume that investing in fast new computers, operating systems, conventional laser printers, or desktop publishing software packages will revolutionize your publications department, save you a ton of money, or guarantee total control of the publishing process.

Affordable (less than $25,000) desktop publishing systems, which terminate at a 300-dots-per-inch laser printer, are really high-powered word processors. Their most important contribution to a publication may be in elevating the editorial process from a one-dimensional, double-spaced, struck-type manuscript to multidimensional WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) pages, where editing can be done in the context of capability to "visualize" text and graphic enhancements such as photos, tabular material, and art.

The principal advantage of these smaller systems may be elimination of extra steps in layout and design, rather than at the printing end; the final product is not just "the touch of a button away," despite what Apple, Aldus, and other desktop publishing pundits would have you believe. After all, the service bureau or printer--which in virtually every case brings efficiencies and quality and cost--can do it.

Self-contained high-end (more than $100,000) production systems, which originate at an editor's terminal and terminate at an image setter and film recorder or platemaker, typically are difficult to cost-justify, either from an equipment or human resources standpoint. Virtually all competent service bureaus, which have replaced typesetters and many publications printers, already have in place both the equipment and the technical expertise that most associations will need.

The real revolution

In the final analysis, the only truly revolutionary aspect of desktop publishing is the elimination of traditional mechanical typesetting and pasteup, which inexpensive, user-friendly page-makeup programs such as PageMaker and Quark and cheap laser printers have made obsolete. Desktop's universal advantage lies in the capacity of inexpensive text processing and layout software and a garden-variety PostScript-capable laser printer to both save time and provide the publisher the paramount editing medium--WYSIWYG pages, spreads, and whole publications, where text can be both reviewed and packaged.

In determining when and how to embrace desktop publishing, consider this: If the investment required to upgrade or replace your present system with the necessary software, hardware, and expertise cannot otherwise be cost-justified, do not overlook desktop publishing's intrinsic potential as a quality-improvement, productivity-improvement tool.

Buying at the Low End

Except for having to face the board with a request to approve "another" new computer, it can be relatively painless (less than $10,000) to own low-end Macintosh or personal-computer-based desktop publishing technology terminating at a plain-paper laser printer. The operative term here is low end: The result is laser proofs, which are correspondence-quality, plain-paper images that a quick-copy store can reproduce adequately for your one- or two-color newsletter. However, imaged at even 800 dots per inch, plain-paper images are not suitable camera-ready images for offset reproduction of four-color magazines.

For less than $10,000 it should be possible to acquire a single-base workstation or server consisting of a fast 66-megahertz 486 personal computer running Windows or the equivalent Macintosh Centris or Quadra configured with a minimum of 16 megabytes of random access memory and at least 240 megabytes of hard-drive capacity; noninterlaced 15-inch color monitor; 400- or 600-dots-per-inch PostScript-capable laser printer; keyboard; and miscellaneous cables.

That price tag should also include at least one copy each of a popular page-makeup and illustration software, optical character recognition and image-scanning software, and a basic type font library.

Adding another $1,500 for a desktop scanner and software will allow importing of low-resolution images from photographic hard copies or clip art. Add another $750 for a Kodak multisession-compatible compact-disk-read-only-memory drive to access clip art, photos, and other large-volume resources commonly available on compact disk. Peripherals such as the scanner and printer can be shared by isolated workstations consisting only of the central processing unit, keyboard, mouse, and monitor. On the other hand, software copyright and licensing require one discrete copy of software per workstation where network packages are not available.

Some Advice for Implementing Desktop

Here's some advice about how to "go desktop" without losing sleep, losing your editor, or losing your job.

1. Identify your current and future needs; configure an appropriate system to satisfy those needs; and calculate the relative cost-benefit of acquiring, implementing, and living with that system. That calculation will include personnel, training, management information systems supervision, system software and future upgrades, your initial capital acquisition, and equipment depreciation.

You may find third-party analysis and conclusions useful because they can be insulated from political pressures and personal preferences of staff, board, and incumbent vendors, and can therefore be evaluated by a board or staff "on the merits." Do not succumb to the impulse to allow a willing computer vendor to do it for free.

2. Isolate and analyze the real cost associated with the mix of in-house and vendor resources you are currently using, and use the cost as a benchmark against which to measure your needs analysis. Do not play paper games with salaries and benefits of staff hired for publications positions or dismiss salaries as an overhead consideration.

3. Consult your printer or service bureau, or canvass prospective printers and reputable service bureaus, about their existing resources and plans to expand their "prep" services into "prepress," as well as their pricing. You want to minimize the risk of inadvertently investing in equipment, software, and technical redundancies. Your printer's equipment and technical expertise should be at your disposal at very reasonable rates and should function as seamlessly as if the assets were on your premises.

4. Poll staff who would be affected directly by going desktop publishing about their "feel" for its impact. Do not expect candid, totally honest responses. This is scary stuff for almost everyone involved.

Dennis F. Pierman is president of Marketing and Media Solutions, Inc., Vienna, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Special Section: Publishing; includes related articles
Author:Pierman, Dennis F.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Braving the new world of publishing.
Next Article:Gathering and evaluating printers' proposals.

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