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Cal Poly Plays Major Role in Variable Project Using Satellite Photography

Press release from the issuing company

SAN LUIS OBISPO -- Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department played a major role in a recent experiment that will help define the future of print media’s role in communication. The experiment was aimed at Reason Magazine’s more than 40,000 subscribers, whose June 2004 issue arrived with a surprise on the cover -- a satellite aerial photo of their neighborhood with their house circled. Below the map was their name in large type followed by the words, “They Know Where You Are! The unsung benefits of a database nation.” In partnership with Entremedia, Reason Magazine and Xeikon America, Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication laboratories produced an individualized, variable-data magazine cover never done before. Entremedia provided the database and Xeikon provided Cal Poly with the necessary equipment -- a Xeikon DCP 50D digital variable data press. The inside cover of the magazine included a personalized letter to the subscriber about the average commute time, in minutes, of people in their neighborhood. It refers to “an audience of one,” telling the subscriber the percentage of people in their neighborhood with college degrees and the number of children in their neighborhood cared for by grandparents. Below the letter is a street map of the subscriber’s neighborhood with directions to their street, plus information such as their neighborhood’s population, median income, median age, and number of people per household. Printed on the back cover is the subscriber’s address and information about how many houses in their state over the past five years have been “threatened” or “condemned” by private developers. Reason Magazine, a Libertarian publication, calls this “eminent domain abuse.” “Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department has been in the forefront of digital imaging education since such technology emerged in the early 1980s,” said Harvey Levenson, head of the department. “In fact, one of the first completely digital full-color prints produced on a computer with no hand-produced artwork was done by a Cal Poly graphic communication student in 1984, when he wrote the software as part of his senior project. “This experiment with Reason epitomizes the Cal Poly learn-by-doing philosophy in which students are exposed to some of the latest thinking that forms the basis for the future of the printing and publishing profession. Building a digital file of satellite aerial maps has never been done before for direct marketing variable-data printing applications.” The essence of the experiment, according to Levenson, is that in the course of one Xeikon press run, more than 40,000 covers were produced -- each one different. No film or printing plates were involved in the process. Levenson attributes much of the success of this experiment to Xeikon America for donating the press withthe capability to do this. “Xeikon is a leading manufacturer of digital printing presses offering web-printing capabilities. The color quality is superior and the technology represents the future of the printing and publishing industry.” “Providing Cal Poly with the digital tools to take on variable data projects of this magnitude is vital in educating the next generation of communication specialists” said Ivan C. Verheye, president and CEO of Xeikon America. “This project sends a wonderful message about the endless capabilities of today’s technology.” Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason Magazine, said in a recent Los Angeles Times article, “The customization of the magazine was a nifty experiment and a great promotional opportunity for everyone involved. A team of a dozen people in six states, from Connecticut to Arkansas to California, spent several months collating data and publishing test copies before realizing the final product. It was a very difficult task of orchestration. None of the main people involved were in the same time zone, much less the same office. The first step was compiling information.” The files were developed by San Bernardino direct-marketing firm Entremedia. Entremedia downloaded maps and free satellite photos of each subscriber's mailing address, according to the Los Angeles Times article. Then hundreds of details about each subscriber's neighborhood -- from the number of children living with their grandparents to the percentage of neighbors with college degrees -- were pulled off the U.S. Census Bureau's Web site. Entremedia President Rodger Cosgrove said that his staff spent a week creating a computer file for each personalized cover and stored everything on two hard drives. Then they drove the hard drives to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where all the data were merged and downloaded onto the Graphic Communication Department’s Xeikon DCP 50D digital web press. “This was an ideal project for the university because it represented experimenting and research, and a university setting provides the time for adjustments and some tweaking that was necessary,” Levenson said, The Los Angeles Times article points out that the response from readers has been mixed. One subscriber, a former Reason writer, said the mail clerks wanted to keep his copy because their post office was featured on the cover. Others were "freaked out" by such a sensational use of personal information, said Gillespie.