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The New World of Offshoring and Automation --McIlroy

October 2004
It's widely accepted that desktop publishing killed the typesetting industry. This is not true. It certainly shrank the industry a great deal. As I recall back in 1984, just before the Apple Macintosh hit the market, roughly 6,000 firms in North America offered typesetting services.

In the short-term many of those firms morphed into "PostScript Service Bureaus," offering film output from desktop publishing software. Soon printers began to bring that service in-house, forcing many of the service bureaus out of business. More recently, the near-complete printing industry adoption of computer-to-plate knocked most of the rest of them out of the market.

But a core group has remained, offering composition services to the publishing industry. Nearly all of the newspapers and larger magazines do their production in-house, but most scholarly journals and technical, educational and trade book publishers farm out their composition to outside specialists.

What's Being Used

Much of this work is completed using QuarkXPress, building pages with stylesheets and lots of manual intervention. Some firms use Kytek's Autopage to automate a portion of the Quark workflow. There are also a few "high-end" composition systems still on the market, notably XyEnterprise and 3B2. Adobe's FrameMaker, along with add-ons such as Datazone's Miramo, is used for much of the published technical documentation, whether created in-house or through outside services.

There are two important trends that are impacting the existing North American composition industry. The first is a move to offshoring this service to less expensive overseas vendors, primarily in India (and to a much lesser extent China and the Philippines). Pricing overseas is generally 30 percent to 40 percent less than domestic pricing.

The other important trend is advances in automated page composition, represented in part by a new XML-based standard called XSL-FO, but also a new generation of "expert system" automated products such as PageFlex and the as-yet-unreleased Typéfi (a client of mine). These feature a degree of design flexibility not common in the earlier generation of rules-based, batch composition systems.

A related group of software is focused on the requirements for variable data printing, which I consider a different beast than full-page composition automation.

The offshoring aspect falls into the much larger trend of many U.S. businesses (and government agencies) to move what are seen as relatively low-level, yet highly priced, white collar and clerical tasks to lower-cost centers. There is mounting controversy about this subject across the political spectrum as unemployment in the U.S. continues to climb.
 

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