News archives, databases, DAMs and ePapers from Comyan

From the musty basement to the cloud

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The concept of an archive, whether it was a physical store of disintegrating ink on paper or even microfiche facsimiles stored on film to be read on special machines, migrated from being a repository at the end of the workflow. With digital production, the pages became data to be searched quickly without wearing them out. With the advent of markup languages, the Internet, and search engines, the broadsheet page was fragmented into taggable, searchable, findable stories and image readable stories from anywhere. The daily now began an afterlife in the cloud that anyone could subscribe to – historian and lay reader alike became detectives and scholars.

Newspaper and publication archives have come a long way from the time they were located in the basement, in stuffy rooms of old newspapers with librarians ordering and navigating them. With the advent of digitalization, not only did the way to store and search for information change, but also the way these archives or databases were used in the editorial workflow. They became ‘Digital Asset Management Systems,’ which stored historical information for reference purposes and delivered the latest up-to-date images, graphics, and agency text to the editors for creating their stories. Instead of only saving the newspaper from yesterday, they also provided production support for the new issue.

Peter Resele of Comyan, an early bird in the digital archive game, tells us, “Very early on, we went beyond mere archival storage with a unique concept that we called the ‘Content Backbone.’ In this, the digital asset management (DAM) is not just a central place for storing information but becomes a backbone that exchanges information in real-time between different production systems. We observed that the requirements for print and various digital channels were quite different and challenging.

“The most successful publishers always used (and still use) highly specialized software for each of these channels, making the flow of content between them a primary concern. In this, we saw our unique opportunity. Since we already transformed and delivered data from the print editorial system to our own ePaper and digital editions – which we had developed even longer than the asset management – we extended the Digital Asset Management system to become a central place for feeding data from print to online and from online to print, which came much later, but is already happening.”

One can say that archives from being a repository at the end of the process, moved into the center of the process, once stories and photographs, infographics, videos, and audio became data. Also, not only because content needed preservation for research or reference, but also immediate practical applications in other channels such as web platforms, broadcasts, podcasts, and the ePaper. One can expect additional new pathways to emerge as well.

Peter Resele of Comyan

Coming into the center of the process and connecting various types of inputs and a variety of reference, repurposed, and even dynamic outputs meant that the library or archive had to be able to handle, tag, and store various types of materials. It had to be responsive, interactive, and learn to communicate in both directions, such as reader comments and social media. And since it had to meaningfully react to several types of calls and extractions for being reshaped and broadcast, it became the spine of a live 24/7 organism with information or data flowing in both directions – in short, it became a spine, or ‘Content Backbone.’

Rights and royalty management

Having the assets in one central place, instead of being distributed over so many production silos, with so many copies, is also becoming important for another reason – rights and royalties. Asset owners are more and more sensitive to violations of their copyright, and managing information about potential use and making necessary payments for using an asset is impossible as long as this asset has been copied all over the place. Having this information and records in a central location is paramount. From here, it can also be delivered to the ERP so that the ERP can take care of the necessary payment processes.

“We believe that production workflows should be as intuitive and easy as possible (including search and drag & drop) while supporting cost efficiency by flagging royalty-free pictures and automatically checking the rights for online use,” says Resele. He explains, “To make the use of the system easy and intuitive for the editors with features like drag and drop, and to guarantee high quality of data independent of particular system vendors, deep integration with all the production systems in a company such as print, web content management systems and ePapers is of utmost importance.” Comyan has been developing a unique integration framework for 27 years, which Resele says, “We regard as the ‘heart’ of our asset management and e-paper system.

“Technology-wise, the heart of our asset management system is the integration framework and then the database. It is obvious that scalability and availability are vital for the database, and the cloud offers a great opportunity to do that cost-effectively. Cloud also has the benefit of being accessible from anywhere, including other applications (e.g., cognitive services). So, we observe a small trend towards the cloud, which, from our perspective, should become faster as it makes a lot of technical sense.” Comyan has supported cloud for a long time, even making it mandatory for its ePaper system.

AI and cognitive services

According to the company, the use of AI and cognitive services is still in the early stages. While these services are offered by all major cloud providers such as Amazon, Azure, and Google, and are relatively easy to integrate, the practical benefits in editorial environments need more work.

Resele explains, “For example, while scene detection can be a big benefit for home users that don’t have the time to describe their pictures, in a professional setting it is (and should be) rare that a picture comes without a caption. This caption also needs to describe more than ‘beach with three people, aged 10, 25 and 30’ to be useful for editors, and those descriptions will mostly need to be provided by humans.”

Comyan has together with its customers integrated an AI application from another vendor in India for identifying faces. Based on an AI plus human inputs approach, it is not yet clear how well it works in practice.

The company’s customers in India include Bennett-Coleman, the publishers of the  Times of India, and recently the  Mathrubhumi group, which is also apart from being a leading Malayalam daily, a multi-channel media group.  Der Standard, Die Presse, Kleine Zeitung  – the leading quality and leading regional papers in Austria,  Süddeutsche Zeitung, the leading German national daily and the  Gulf News  in Dubai are amongst its users.

“The most remarkable development of the recent years is the growth and the rise of our ePaper output, with growth rates in excess of 30% per year, for more than three years now,” says Resele, “Since these are paid subscriptions, they contribute to the publisher’s bottom line. Comyan has a unique opportunity here through our integration framework that automatically transforms the print edition into a beautifully formatted, responsive digital app.”

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Naresh Khanna
Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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