Digital Leaders: Spiegel Goes Global

A number of catalogers have begun to centralize their images and other data within one system accessible to all departments and divisions. But few marketers have the scale and wherewithal to centralize data not just from various divisions but also from sister catalogs in various countries. Downers Grove, IL-based Spiegel Group, however, is one of those companies.

“We’re trying to centralize our images not just in the U.S. but also with our global sister companies through [Germany-based parent company] the Otto Versand Group,” says vice president of production Randy Heiple. “Digital database publishing is the direction we’re trying to move in.”

Spiegel Group, which mails the Eddie Bauer and Newport News apparel books as well as the eponymous general merchandise title, began implementing the centralization project in 1997. Basically, the company stores images that have appeared in one of its books so that they can be reused in the future by another title. For example, an image that has been captured and used for a Newport News women’s apparel spring catalog can be picked up, without being rescanned, for a fall Newport News catalog or a Website update. Or the image can be used by another division within the company, such as the Spiegel catalog, or for an advertisement or a promotion.

When it began digitally storing data four years ago, Spiegel opted not to archive older images. “We decided not to go through the expense of having a more than three-year reference of photo files,” Heiple says. Instead, the cataloger keeps “thousands” of images in storage for a three-year period. Only select photos are stored in an archive database for a longer period of time.

Low-res images, high-speed turnaround

Spiegel has a contract with R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. that calls for the printer to store high-resolution versions of the images, while the cataloger keeps the low-resolution versions. If Eddie Bauer wants to reuse a stored image for a sale flier, one of the catalog’s designers would build a mockup of the page in Quark using the stored low-res images. After building the page, Eddie Bauer sends it to the printing plant, where Donnelley would replace the low-res image with the high-res one.

“We don’t need the high-resolution data to create a page,” Heiple says. In fact, points out Laura Wayland-Smith Hatch, director of communication for the Gravure Association of America (GAA) and editor of Rochester, NY-based Gravure magazine, “working with low-resolution images is much faster, because they’re easier to manipulate than 20- to 50-megabyte files.” Spiegel stores most of its standard product shots as 10-megabyte files, though some full cover shots take up 30 or 50 megabytes.

What’s more, photos no longer have to be rescanned for reuse — another time savings. Prior to instituting the asset management program, Spiegel kept all its images in a film library. Whenever a photo was to be picked up, it had to be rescanned before being put on a printer-ready page. With the digital data files, “the images are closer to their final form, so they take less work to prepare,” Heiple says. “And since the high-resolution data have already been color-corrected [during prior use] and stored, Donnelley only has to go in and get the images for the page.”

Then there’s the simple fact that the cataloger no longer has to ship images overnight to Donnelley. All in all, Heiple says, Spiegel has whittled weeks off its catalog production schedules since implementing the asset management program.

And in the course of saving time, Spiegel has also saved money. “It is logical that if you take out the step of rescanning data, you will spend less,” Heiple says, though he won’t reveal exactly how much Spiegel has saved, nor how much implementing the system has cost.

Deeper into the archives

According to R.R. Donnelley product manager Lee Webster, clients that have already started managing their digital assets need not lay out a significant amount of money to have Donnelley archive the high-res images for them.

“There is not a specific cost to our existing customers, because to us it is part of the regular workflow and is a key element in making our operations as efficient as possible,” Webster says. Donnelley charges for storage of — or in effect, access to — the images on a per-click, or per-use, basis, though Webster wouldn’t disclose specifics.

In terms of infrastructure changes on the part of clients, Webster says it boils down to working out “what kind of hierarchy they would like us to set up their images in.” Images can be sorted by a variety of ways, including by catalog edition, name, year, season, SKU, or photographer. To search for an image within its archive, a client can use a Web browser such as Netscape or Internet Explorer.

As for who has access to the archive, at Spiegel, the managers in the merchandising and marketing departments decide which staffers can access the data. “There are passwords required for data retrieval, and the data are stored in a firewall-protected environment,” Heiple says.

Benefits beyond the tangible

Heiple says that the centralized data has made intracompany communications easier. “There was no connectivity before we centralized images,” he says. “Now our data can be stored on a server in Warsaw, IN, or Lynchburg, VA, or Chicago or St. Louis, and it’s all accessible.”

Such centralization can even make national — and international — branding more consistent, says the GAA’s Hatch: “The benefits of storing data this way is for worldwide operations to be able to maintain a uniform presence across the world.” Moreover, she says, “with all of the versioning that’s going on with catalogs being created for specific types of customers, being able to archive this data must be helpful.”

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