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The PC corner: desktop publishing is for economists.

I normally do not have back-to-back guest columnists, but I am making an exception this quarter. At the recent NABE annual meeting in Pittsburgh, I saw a demonstration of desktop publishing that really opened my eyes to the potential of this approach for business economist. Back when Monsanto was putting out our quarterly Economic Intelligence Report, I can remember spending a solid week each quarter with our Graphic Arts people, proofing type-set copy and checking hand-done graphs. By the time we went to press, I was exhausted - both physically and mentally. Desktop publishing on a PC offers the potential to bypass this step completely - to go directly from text and graphics in your PC to a near-typeset quality newsletter that can be output on a laser printer.

The demonstration I witnessed in Pittsburgh was put on by Rob Wescott of Alphametrics Corporation. I offered Rob the opportunity to do a guest column for the PC Corner, and he accepted. Because of the potential of this approach for economist, I felt it important to feature it in this quarter's column.

One other item needs to be nentioned. I received several queried from annual meeting attendees on the availability of econometric software for the Apple Macintosh computer. I thought that it would be interesting in some future column to feature the Macintosh; however, my experience is solely with the IBM PC. Are there any guest columnists out there who would like to address this subject? If so, drop me a line in care of Ed Mennis, the editor of Business Economics, whose address is on the inside front cover.

IF YOUR DEPARTMENT publishes economic newsletters or reports, your production routine may go something like this:

You start with and armload of paper - articles produced with several different word processors and printers; graphs generated on a PC, sent to a pen plotter, and reduced on a photocopier; big tables crunched out from mainframe to a laser printer.

You now hand the pieces to a typesetter for rekeying and redrawing, with final output to come from a high-resolution phototypesetting machine. The result looks great in the end, but it may take days or weeks to get right, and it's expensive. Or may be you turn to an artist who will physically cut and paste the pieces into a "mechanical" for offset printing or photocopying. This process is cheaper than typesetting, and looks it - and it, too, may take days or weeks to get right.

Next cycle you start all over again, collecting the same armload of paper, paying the same bill, and trying to communicate the same wishes to the typesetter or artist (who has by now forgotten how you want it done).


Desktop publishing can put you back in control. It can give you the professional-looking results of typesetting at a cost that's close to pasteup. The turnaround time will be shorter - perhaps hours instead of days or weeks. You can make extensive last-minute changes to both content and format. And the work can be done by people on your own staff, who understand what you want.

What is desktop publishing? A full-featured desktop publishing package - one like the two biggest sellers, Xerox' Ventura Publisher and Aldus' Pagemaker - is much more than a souped-up word processor. It is a PC-based typesetting and page layout tool, with the following advantages:

1. It lets you electronically merge, without retyping,

your armload of files - text files from

a variety of word-processing packages; graphic

files in both image ("raster" or "bit-mapped")

and line-art ("vector") format; ASCII files of

statistical matter or equations.

2. In a menu-driven, graphics-based environment,

you use a mouse to arrange the pieces

into a single "publication" or "chapter" file.

3. You can add graphic and typograohic enhancements

(logos, complex ruling lines and boxes,

shading, arrows, bullets, large first capitals).

4. You'll have a wide variety of typeface sizes and

styles at your command, and the spacing of

the type - the quality issue that most distinguishes

word processing from professional

typesetting - will be precisely controlled

(techniques such as "kerning" will condense

the text by about 10 percent over word-processed

text, saving you printing and postage


5. In a WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you

get") system, the screen will given an accurate

preview of what the printed page will look

like, down to type styles and sizes, appearance

of artwork, and placement of headers and footers.

(In our experience, none of the popular

system are really truly WYSIWYG - they

are 95 percent WYSIWYG. In certain cases,

printing your page on paper is the only way

to get the final proof.)

6. You can do drastic screen editing (adding a

paragraph, deleting a graph, updating numbers

in a table), and the publication will

reformat in seconds.

7. The finished product can be output either to

your office laser printer or to an off-site high-resolution


And what about next month? For publications following a standard format, Ventura offers a big bonus: simply write over your old input files with new files of the same names, and your new publication is virtually done.


Getting a desktop publishing system in place, of course, involves growing pains and startup costs:

1. Publishing Software. You'll need to start with

a desktop publishing package like Ventura

Publisher (street price, roughly $500). It will

read in text files directly from virtually all industry-standard

formats - WordStar, Word

Perfect, Word, Xywrite, MultiMate, etc., so

you should not have to buy new word processing


2. Economic Analysis Software. Getting graphs

and tables into your documents is more work.

Ventura imports HPGL, GEM, Lotus PIC,

PC Paintbrush, and MAC Paint graphic files,

but if you do statistical analysis with a PC

database/regression package, you could waste

a fair amount of time translating files from one

format to another, perhaps losing graphic resolution

along the way (if you choose a screen

capture method, for example). You might consider

a statistical analysis/database package

that prepares Graphs and tables for Ventura

or Pagemaker automatically. For example, Alphametrics

Corp., has been shipping since fall

1987 publisher editions of our MODLER,


database and statistical analysis PC software

that prepare time series graphs and

tables for direct import into these publishing


3. Equipment. You'll need an AT-class 286 or 286

machine with a hard drive and at lest 512K of

RAM (and, ideally, a clock speed of at least

10 MHz); a graphics card; a mouse; and a

graphics-capable laser printer, such as the

Hewlett-Packard LaserJet Series II. To this

basic complement you may want to add additional

printer fonts, printer memory expansion

cards (1 megabyte minimum for full page

graphics), a scanner, or an extra-large high-resolution


4. Training. Desktop publishing is more complicated

than word processing. It takes time

to learn and fairly regular use to stay in practice.

Some background in page layout, typesetting,

or graphics is helpful, although not

necessary, if you want to take advantage of

advance features. We at Alphametrics run

desktop publishing workshops for editors of

economic reports and newsletters, for example,

and a number of other companies are

starting to offer general Ventura and Page-maker

training as well.

Nevertheless, you can get a working system in place in a matter of weeks and begin to save time and recover costs very quickly.


A glance at the advertising or a visit to a desktop publishing consultant for a look at sample pages may have left you thinking, "Nothing here for me." The examples you usually see imply that desktop publishing was designed for needs quite different from yours: letterhead with cute logos and scanned photographs, community newsletters, cheap fliers, advertising brochures, nothing technical.

Not true, Don't be misled by the gap in the marketing effort. The capability is there for economics publications using tables and high-resolution graphs of time-series data; Ventura supports the complex sets of tab stops needed to format wide tables and equations. And its style sheets are tailor-made for exactly the kind of weekly and monthly reports and analyses almost all economists regularly produce. Also, the capabilities are getting better all the time; each new release of Ventura and Pagemaker offers additional file import capabilities, printer interfaces, bug fixes, and document management features.

Importantly, a surge has occurred in the number of printing service bureaus that can now accept, via disk or modem, Ventura or Pagemaker files for printing on expensive Linotronic printing presses at up to 2450 dot per inch resolution, the kind of high quality printing your readers may well expect from you. You are no longer constrained to the 300 dot per inch resolution of your laser printer, which previously might have limited you to less critical publications.

Existing developments also are taking place among statistical software vendors. As mentioned earlier, Alphametrics has integrated desktop publishing with out statistical database offerings. Other software vendors probably will also be offering a range of desktop publishing interfacing capabilities and products.

Whatever the role of time-series data in your publications, desktop publishing can help you take control of the production process, giving you professional-looking results at lower cost, with greater timeliness and stronger quality control.
COPYRIGHT 1989 The National Association for Business Economists
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wescott, Robert F.; Yates, Mary V.
Publication:Business Economics
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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