From Publishing 1.0 to Publishing 3.0 – Catalog Production Breaks New Ground

By Jörg Oyen

The Disciplines of Print and Web are Becoming One; In Catalog Publishing, Formerly Separate Production Processes are Merging

The Disciplines of Print and Web are Becoming One; In Catalog Publishing, Formerly Separate Production Processes are MergingThe war between traditional and new media is over. The discord and associated “me print – you Web” pigeon-holing will soon be history, made possible by continuously configurable production processes in publishing.

Challenge: Keeping Loose Threads Together

It is said of marketeers that they organize global campaigns by telephone, manage appointment lists in Excel®, and like to use actual or digital Post-It® notes, usually yellow. In campaign planning amongst the pros it may well work this way. If we widen our view, however, campaign management is just the tip of the iceberg in what is involved in catalog publishing. Consider everyone that has to be involved from production assistants, product managers, designers, and buyers through to external agencies and printers. Think about version control, dispersed teams, review and approval, and then layer over multiple communication channels for last-minute pricing changes and paper stock considerations. It soon becomes clear that managing catalog publishing is a highly complex process, and Post-It notes on last year’s catalog probably isn’t going to cut it today.

Heavy-weight Production: Communication is Subject to Traditions

The term “heavy-weight” is popular with traditional catalog publishers to describe their bible-like works. For rural regions with little or no broadband Internet access, it is said that printed catalogs are the “economical” and functional solution for mail order companies to generate orders. For consumers with little technical experience or few technical aids, catalogs are therefore a “must-have.” The printed catalog is part of what has mostly been a rather one-way communication channel.

The typical processes of catalog production are almost a tradition: duplicate pages from last year’s catalog, update existing content, add new content, page approval etc. Even apparently simple processes: “The same products as last year, same product presentation, just update prices” poses a complex set of tasks for production processes that do not have systems support.

Previously – in the days of Publishing 1.0, with it’s stand-alone typesetting and CEPS systems from the 70s, catalog production was indeed a thankless task. In the age of Publishing 2.0, also known as desktop publishing, catalog production was simplified but still a format-bound one-way street, primarily limited to print formats.

Martin Spaar (publisher.ch) defines Publishing 3.0 as beginning with Web-to-print. It heralds the end of one-way workflows. Instead of, for example, repeatedly exchanging manuscripts and files up to the point of going to press, XML data streams take over the transportation of updated content at the same time as assuming overall management of the relevant print and Web publishing processes. As a consequence, this also heralds the end of processes that are too rigid, not up-to-date, and most certainly not appropriate for the target group, format, or medium.

Browsing Product Ranges has Changed

Anyone who frequently travels by train will know that the number of older users who surf the Internet using a mini Notebook and USB Wi-Fi® stick has rapidly increased. Usually viewed as one of the print communication target groups, these older users scroll through Amazon.com® and similar sites, which tells us that travel time equals research time. If we ask them, the answer comes back, “We will place the order later from home by post. We haven’t got a fax machine.” This is deliberate media discontinuity. We should not expect direct communication from this target group.

Far More Than Just Four Seasons: The Demands Made on Catalog Publishers

If the Internet goes down, the hearts of whole generations skip a beat. Whereas before, one spring collection and one autumn collection were enough to trigger the release of a new catalog, today global networking is increasing the pace in the various time zones so that new products appear overnight. This creates a fast-moving and unpredictable situation for suppliers.

The motto “serve Web first” has come to dominate traditional publishing and reveals a new requirement: just offering products at the best prices or having them immediately available is not enough. Products have to be presented in such a way as to meet the individual interests of the (information) consumer. The “watering can principle” of supplying all consumers with the same product information in the same way is obsolete. It is only with a detailed examination of actual need that we can define the type and scope of the product information to be communicated and published. This means that internally the business must react more quickly to external queries and trends.

Communication is Changing and Needs Greater Flexibility of Access on the Presentation Side

Hammacher Schlemmer – said by some to be the mother of all gadget shops – has been famous for offering unusual gadgets since 1848. What only works in print is successfully compensated for on the Web. Almost all conceivable questions that could hamper purchasing are cleverly pre-empted both visually and in writing. Pitfalls are avoided or, depending on the information required, appropriately addressed. If we look at the printed catalog for comparison, we see that a great deal of the content is duplicated. The information is bound by the limitations of paper in the print medium, but it is tuned to purpose and audience on the Web and other media channels. Such consistent communication, which is nevertheless tailored to the various output media and target groups, can only be efficiently and economically managed if it can access a single content source and if manual processes are largely eliminated. The aim of the catalog publisher is thus to expend fewer resources for the administration and re-formatting of content and to automate these processes so that more scope remains for the full exploitation of the creative opportunities of all presentation formats. Technologies that support this type of publishing will define the future.

Carsten LauStatement by Carsten Lau, Pindar

“Modern catalog publishing demands reuse of data and high levels of localization. Heavy-weight catalogs become personalized publishing – product communication becomes a controlled process.”

Stefan SporrerStatement by Stefan Sporrer, SoftBricks

“Dynamic Publishing is a fitting umbrella term for what is happening under the term of catalog publishing at our company. Thanks to the system-supported deconstruction of documents, we can give designers back their freedom without at the same time neglecting the information requirements of the Internet.”

Manfred HecktStatement by Manfred Heckt, Stibo Catalog

“Catalog publishing is a process which is responsible for supplying traditional media on a time-controlled basis. Customer-specific advertising media, on the other hand, demand fast and authoritative access to the widest variety of databases.”

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