Designing or updating a print version of a multilingual product catalog can be cumbersome, to say the least. The graphical concept is the less heavy part. Interesting challenges arise when you need to fill in the page templates with the product pictures, visuals, diagrams, pictograms and description content. Some products indeed will need more page space than others. But the real pain only starts at the translation stage: how will the - much longer - German, Russian or Portuguese version fit in? This is where database publishing can be worth considering…
What exactly is database publishing?
Wikipedia gives the answer: database publishing relates to “automated media production in which specialized techniques are used to generate paginated documents from source data residing in traditional databases”. Simply put, it means automated filling of your templates with product data coming from your product database. Amongst the typical applications you will find order catalogues or telephone directories and many more amongst commercial publications. This technique has pro’s and con’s. Here are a few…
The fors of database publishing
Reduced production deadlines
Database publishing is an accelerating process. Without going too deep into technical details, the graphical templates are typically designed in a desktop layout application, where you define boxes and text areas as ‘placeholders’. These placeholders are then filled up with data content, flowing in from the database. The final output of your catalog is hence generated much more quickly with database publishing.
Updates in a heartbeat
Creating a catalog does not happen overnight. It is hence very likely that some product specifications will change during the creation process; or that some products will be added to your portfolio; or that some others will need to be put off the market. With database publishing, no need to worry or to redo the layout of full pages: once the database is updated, just flow the data into the related templates, and that’s it. There’s no or only limited manual intervention. Time- and cost-and efficient!
Automated formatting with metadata
Obviously, the database will contain text and pictures. Interestingly, it can also hold metadata related to formatting as well as special rules to be applied to the document generation. Automation can really bring your far.
Many tools at hand
You have the choice between a series of vendors and layout applications for your database publishing: Adobe FrameMaker / InDesign, Arbortext, Advanced Print Publisher, Datalogics Pager, Print:Suite and QuarkXPress, to name just a few. Those applications offer in many cases a related server version, that gets commands via web interfaces (and not desktop interaction). Nice to know: with Adobe InDesign Server and QuarkXPress Server, you can fully benefit from the design features included in their respective desktop versions.
The againsts of database publishing
Creativity: the template is the limit
Database publishing is based on templates. As a result, the graphical design will be as creative as the templates can be. Do you want to make each page of your product catalog look completely different, using innovative and highly artistic layouts? Then you better forget about database publishing.
Do you however allow for some repetitions in the look & feel of your pages? You will then be able to reap all the time- and cost-cutting benefits of database publishing.
IT expertise required
You don’t have IT people at hand? Then you won’t probably be able to define the relations and mappings between your product database and the graphical templates of your catalog This is however a part that you can always outsource…
The first issue is the hardest
Starting up is often difficult. Finding the right tools and their configuration, finetuning your product database in order to allow for efficient mappings with your design templates, going through several trial and error phases, … can be a stressful experience. But once the first catalog issue will have rolled out of the press, producing the next issues will be a piece of cake.
Traditional or database publishing, which one to choose?
Database publishing is a long-term solution. The first steps might be a little bit tricky but the high and fast return on investment is just around the corner. If, however, graphical innovation and creativity are on top of your priority list and you can’t count on technical expertise, move on and go your way.