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after reading the brief, i don't think data merge is what you would want for this project.
instead, XML would be more suited to what you want to do, but the learning curve is STEEP... especially if you are new to indesign. there is a book titled "A Designer's Guide to Adobe InDesign and XML" by James Maivald and in there is a tutorial (chapter 11) similar to the brief you have outlined.
data merge is great for direct mail or a business card where one page = one record; or for school yearbook pictures where one page = set amount of pictures e.g. 24 records, but datamerge is NOT great for one page = undetermined amount of records of different sizes.
this is made even more challenging if a page layout has multiple size ads on the same page - in fact it wouldn't be something i'd consider with data merge.
i'd also ask about the content of the ads - are they line ads akin to a classified ad section or google search; or does the advertiser have the opportunity to supply you with their own designs as finished art supplied as PDFs? if so, therein lies another complication.
i note though that the project is only 28pp, which really is not a lot of content compared to other projects that other posters may be familiar with. if the turnaround time is one week and it is the only project, i'd be inclined to set it all up manually, based of course on master pages; character, paragraph and object styles; etc.
in short, keep your layouts but don't necessarily populate them using data merge... again i think XML would be a good option if time is a factor and you'd be prepared to tackle the learning curve (i still don't like having to resort to it, it's fairly user unfriendly, but it does the job)... otherwise i'd set each issue up manually from templates.
thanks for that - i hadn't considered XML but I'm a fast learner and will give it a whirl..albeit probably a short one!
I don't think I made the listings part clear intially:
I have all the data here at work. We are a business agents (similar to estate agents) so for example the listings would be:
Heading: Convenience Store
This is a new project i'm working on in addtion to my existing workload so whilst it's only 28 pages it will still take me 2 or 3 days a week to manually enter the data and I simply don't have that time to dedicate. I'm prepared to spend a bit of time intially setting something up so that it takes the minimal amount of time each week/fortnight to produce.
I'm going to look into XML now. Whereas my intial plan was to use InDesign and Excel/Csv. files - based on your experience and knowledge what additional software might I need to use XML?
like i said, the XML learning curve is steep as indesign's ability to handle XML on its own is pretty user unfriendly, but ID does get the job done.
is the data for the publication exclusively coming from excel or is it coming from Management Information Software (MIS) which can export XML information? excel on a PC can generate XML but it is useless as a jelly pickaxe as there is a lot of extraneous information saved with the exported XML file.
there are several people on this forum with a wider experience on this topic than me, and hopefully they are reading this and can carry on with more detailed explanations.
i'm used to using online converters to take csv files to convert them to XML but the only real advantage of using XML generated this way is to create variable data which flows on in the same text box. This is opposed to ID's data merge which would not flow on the information but instead start the next record in a brand new text box, meaning if an entry has to move from the start to the end, it means making the merge again, whereas if an XML file was used i could simply open up the structure pane and move the record from record 1 to the last record.
AFAIK apart from indesign and the MIS used to generate the data, i believe that a piece of software called oxygen XML would help in editing the XML once it is generated, but i do not use oxygen XML myself, but perhaps other readers do and can assist you.
FYI, the project you are talking about is remarkably similar to one which i deal with at work... but we only ever receive the finished art as a PDF, but it appears that the construction method was the same as your idea - that is, take database file, parse it through indesign using different templates and then output it to a media, in my case a printed magazine. unfortunately i can't tell you exactly how they made it as it is proprietary to the client.
I think the XML route is out of the question for me. One option would have been to take the data from our website via XML but our website is in the dark ages and doesn't run XML.
I think my last option is to speak to an Adobe credited tutor and see if they can provide any help or training or simply out-source the work.
I'm still very surprised with all the options in InDesign there is not one that let's you pre-determine where you want the data to go - it seems really backwards.
An opening in the market for any plug-in programmers I guess!