Desktop publishing is the process of using computers and software to design, prepare, and typeset a variety of documents (business cards, fliers, brochures, manuals, resumes, newsletters, periodicals, instore signage). This technology, which continues to change with sometimes dizzying speed, has been embraced by all levels of the business world, from giant corporations to small, independently-owned enterprises.
Small businesses need to take a number of different factors under consideration when pondering how to introduce a desktop publishing system into their operations. Writing in Association Management, Dennis F. Pierman cited a number of areas to examine when evaluating the proliferating number of desk-topping systems now available in the marketplace. First, he suggested that business owners should not only understand their business needs, but also study how new systems can help them meet those needs. Business owners and managers should take all aspects of the company's operation into consideration, including personnel, training, management information systems supervision, system software and future upgrades, initial capital acquisition, and equipment depreciation. In addition, managers should "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." Pierman also recommended that businesses consult with companies that currently take care of their publishing needs to: see if future expansion of their services or capabilities might lessen your need to purchase a desktopping system; determine if pricing changes can be negotiated; and ensure that you do not inadvertently invest in equipment, software, and technical redundancies.
Many small business owners have reaped the benefits of desktop technology in recent years, parlaying it into improvements in marketing, advertising, and bottom-line profitability. But while desktop publishing has many passionate defenders, even proponents of the technology's usefulness for business purposes admit that problems can crop up when it is used. Complaints about desktop publishing that small business owners should bear in mind include:
Lost Productivity. Ironically, some businesses actually report declines in productivity after turning to desktop publishing, as business owners, managers, and communications personnel fall into the trap of excessive experimentation with fonts, formatting, graphics, etc. Small business owners need to show restraint when using desktop applications, and they should monitor employee use to ensure that the company's desktop projects do not become a black hole of lost hours and productivity.
In addition, owners have to recognize that the purchase of a desktop publishing system is going to require an investment of hours of studying, training, and practice on the part of the owner himself and/or one or more of the company's employees. Indeed, one business executive indicated to Association Management that the human factors associated with turning to desktop publishing were as important as the economic implications of doing so: "Make changes as gradually or as quickly as the entire staff will allow."
Poor Quality. Many business analysts and consultants have lamented that the emergence of desktop publishing has also brought with it an upswing in the amount of poorly prepared and presented brochures, newsletters, and guides dotting the business landscape, particularly from in-house staff (whether owner or employees). To avoid this potential pitfall, publishing professionals urge users to practice basic rules of presentation when desktopping, just as they would in using any other communication media. "Knowing desktop publishing technology is just the beginning," stated Tim O'Brien in Communication World. "No computer can replace your own design sense or writing ability." As desktop publishing continues to increase in popularity, he added, "it is more important than ever to take the time to actually read the material from a critical perspective prior to printing. Make sure that the writing follows a logical sequence; that there are no typos; that the layout supports the writing; that type, format and spacing work together to provide a clean look that communicates effectively."
Applicability . Consultants caution business owners and managers to recognize that desktop publishing systems, while quite useful for many organizations, have varying levels of application for companies depending on their size, industry area, and future business plans. After all, some businesses may have a far greater need for brochures, newsletters, and advertising materials (grocery stores, retail outlets, manufacturers, resorts, hospitals, etc.) than gas stations and other businesses that are less reliant on advertising/public relations.
Desktop publishing services typically offer a broad spectrum of services, and they can provide clients with printed material in practically any form desired, from advertising fliers to dense training manuals or annual reports. And while all desktop publishing services are not created equal, most of them are armed with a fair amount of experience and technical knowledge. This leads many consultants to urge businesses to obtain the services of a professional desktop publisher when the project is a complex one. This is especially true when the material that is being prepared is intended for an audience outside the company's walls. Many entrepreneurs and long-time publishing veterans have taken advantage of this continued need. In addition to desktop publishers that make a living by providing their services for clients, LI Business News noted that by the mid-1990s, the "desktop revolution" had created a whole new business niche: the service bureau that serves as an intermediary between the customer and the high-end printer.
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Fanson, Barbara A. Start and Run a Profitable Desktop Publishing Business. Self Counsel Press, 1997.
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Hotch, Ripley. "Refined Desktop Publishing." Nation's Business. August 1994.
Jochum, Glenn. "Ups and Downs of Desktop Revolution." LI Business News. January 16, 1995.
Lentz Devall, Sandra, and Esther Kibby. Desktop Publishing Style Guide. Delmar, 1998.
McGoon, Cliff. "Desktop Publishing: Communicators' Best Friend or Worst Enemy?" Communication World. November 1993.
O'Brien, Tim. "Ride Hard on Quality: Don't Let Desktop Publishing Lower Your Standards." Communication World. November 1990.
Pierman, Dennis F. "Myths and Realities of Desktop Publishing." Association Management. October 1993.
Stonely, Dorothy. "Desktop Publishing Industry Evolves with Demand." The Business Journal. March 17, 1997.