Digital Asset Management 101
by Brad Grimes
DAM. Looks like something you might say if you couldn’t find a photograph you needed for a front-page story. But DAM—digital asset management—is actually designed to preempt such frustrated outbursts. In an age when oodles of media, including print, images, video and audio, are stored in computers rather than file cabinets, newspapers and other groups need a way to organize, manipulate and share those media quickly and easily.That’s where digital asset management comes in. Also known as media asset management or digital asset warehousing, the techie buzzwords simply mean a centralized repository for any and all of your digital content. Short descriptions or thumbnails of your digital content, known as metadata, are stored in a database for easy searching and management. This metadata is linked to the actual image, file or video clip, normally stored on a server. When you’ve found the description of the media you’re looking for, you can quickly retrieve them. And you don’t necessarily have to be in the office—a good digital asset manager will let you retrieve clips over the Internet.
Broadcast news agencies, multimedia publishers, advertising production houses and others have begun to embrace digital asset managers. One reason is the rise of the World Wide Web, where they make it easier to repurpose content for online use while keeping track of the original media.
But digital asset management systems are still relatively new. There’s a slew to choose from, and they vary widely in cost and features. Some popular systems include Bitstream’s MediaBank, Canto Software’s Cumulus, Cinebase Software’s Digital Media Management System and Imation’s Media Manager. And what is Quark, the bellwether of publishing systems, up to? Its new Quark Digital Media System should be out by the end of the year.
If you decide to shop for a digital asset management system, keep the following questions in mind:
Is it customizable? No matter how feature-rich an asset manager is, you’ll need to mold it to the way you work.
Is it relational? Make sure that whatever you store in your asset manager has links to any and all related media.
Is it secure? Lots of different people—both inside and outside your organization—may need access to your media. Make sure you can control who gets to see what, and that your information is secure as it travels among computers.
Is it flexible? You should get client software allowing you to access your media on a Macintosh or PC. And you should be able to easily convert file formats so people on different computers can use it.
If you decide not to shop for a digital asset management system, third-party companies can organize and store your data for you. Some are specialized companies that do nothing but manage clients media on their huge servers. Others are the same printers and service bureaus you may currently use for scanning, color correcting and/or printing.
Before settling on a service provider, at least check to see how much it would cost to buy and maintain your own system. The companies are as new as the software itself, so the time and money savings will vary greatly from provider to provider. Do your homework.
Brad Grimes is a senior editor for PC World magazine in Boston. E-mail, brad_grimes@ pcworld.com.