I work for a small startup and we're building a web based book publisher, and everything is built completely custom (including a visual editor). I'm using my usual tech stack that I use for web apps (1)
The founder is asking if we should integrate InDesign server so I'm trying to understand what value it would provide.
The designs that users are creating is persisted as a simple JSON format with an array of text and image layers and other attributes. My plan was just to use one of the open source PDF generation (2) libraries to render it at 300dpi and send to print from there.
What value (if any?) would InDesign server provide by including it into this workflow?
The only use case I can think of is if we want designers to preview the book before it goes to print and be able to improve the layout/design - then it may make sense to export each final book to IDML, allow it to be edited in InDesign CC and from there send it to InDesign Server. But I don't think we're planning on having that manual step, at least not initially.
(1) its not necessarily relevant, but its Ruby on Rails + Backbonejs
(2) There are many The Ruby Toolbox - PDF Generation but I've used Prawn before so I would probably start there
No you don't need it, yet there are two benefits it might provide if cost/benefit analysis justifies the expense:
1. Superior quality print output. No PDF library is nearly as robust when it comes to subtle typography (optical kerning, transparency effects, paragraph composition, etc.). If you have a target audience with aesthetic sensibilities the quality of output may have value. If it is more purely informational, or the audience doesn't care about quality, then this may not matter.
2. Interoperability with desktop InDesign. As you mention, one big hassle with PDF-only output is that post-processing can be a headache. You can go back to the system that generated the file or you can pray Illustrator or Acrobat opens up the PDF in a way you can make edits, but IDS lets you go straight to InDesign, the tool of choice.
Before post-processing, the initial setup and art creation process can benefit as well, as you don't have to worry about using any InDesign functionality in the design phase only to see it render differently due to translation to a different text and graphic engine. IDS will render precisely like desktop, and will interoperate with everything desktop does (native AI/PSD files, PDF Presets, OpenType fonts,etc.).
I would say yes it is ideal yet it comes down to those external and internal benefits - how important are those given the cost?