12 Profitable Book-Production Tips for Publishers and Printers
Book-production management is, in many respects, an act of faith. For some, faith in the universality of Murphy’s Law—if something can go wrong, it will. Or, faith that virtue is its own reward—if you do everything right, things will always come out right. Old hands come to realize that “trust but verify” is probably the most prudent maxim to apply in managing workflow. Without systems in place and proven procedures, we’d have to reinvent the wheel every time. But without an occasional revisit to the last batch of XBIT transactions or Job Definition Format (JDF) specifications sent through, that error in the PMS color or oversight in paper surface specs might not be caught.
It is also good to bear in mind that publishers are in a manufacturing business—and our physical plant is managed by our vendors of choice. Good communication and collaboration is an essential basic principle. Profitability in plant operation means efficiencies that translate into cost benefits for the publishing operation.
It is valuable for the print buyer to keep abreast of developments in technology and to network with other professionals and vendors: Attend industry expos at least once a year (the upcoming annual Publishing Business Conference and Expo, March 10-12, 2008, is the major one); go to targeted printing trade events and regional book-builder educational programs (Bookbuilders West, Chicago Book Clinic, Bookbuilders of Boston, and the Bookbinders’ Guild of New York); and follow trade publications such as Book Business and Printing Impressions.
Be on the lookout for print industry webinars and familiarize yourself with the resources of Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (PIA/GATF) and TAPPI, the printing and paper industry trade associations. Send your production staff to relevant workshops and conferences hosted by the Book Industry Study Group, International Digital Publishing Forum and PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, and to summer publishing courses such as those sponsored by NYU, Stanford, Columbia, University of Iowa, University of Denver and Simon Fraser University in Canada.
For some insight on the tried-and-true as well as the new, I got in touch with a cross-section of vendors to offer some reminders of what works and why it is valuable to be both virtuous and skeptical.
Courier (www.Courier.com) is the third-largest book manufacturer in the United States, and last year shipped 200 million books from its six networked U.S. plants. It is unique in the industry since it also owns (and prints for) Dover Publications, Creative Homeowner and REA, with 10,000 titles in print among them.
Vice President Peter Tobin shares his tips for optimizing workflow management:
1. Take advantage of one-stop shopping. Whenever possible, cut a single purchase order to a single vendor to deliver all the manufacturing services you need every step along the way. This is especially true, for example, for placement of component orders—covers, jackets, etc.—for which you will pay only for the quantity delivered on bound books.
2. Utilize automatic Internet data exchanges with your trading partners—using XBITS, a set of book industry standard specifications for encoding business transactions (developed by the IDEAlliance; www.IDEAlliance.org/xbits). Typically, Tobin observes, the variable cost of processing an XBITS order is 1 percent the cost of a paper-based order!
3. Use online proofing and file approval. Collaborate with the manufacturer and train production staff to use soft proofing/approval. Publishers can customize the approval process to be managed entirely online.
Setting up online data exchange and online proofing/approval with your book manufacturer “places transactions in real time, enabling both the publisher and the printer to save time, cost and effort in the exchange of information, as compared to FedEx, mail and phone calls,” Tobin says.
Founded in 1997, Lightning Source (www.LightningSource.com)—an Ingram Industries-owned printing plant in LaVergne, Tenn.—is known for its book-at-a-time, toner-based digital-printing prowess. To date, it has delivered more than 45 million books, now producing them at the rate of about 1.2 million/month on 19 black-and-white lines and 12 four-color lines. It also handles conventional offset printing. With more than 500,000 titles in its digital library ready to drive its presses, it has shipped as many as 44,000 different titles in a peak day.
J. Kirby Best, president and CEO, advises three strategic priorities:
4. “By far the most important, pick a proven supplier that has complete end-to-end solutions and the horsepower to back it up.”
5. “Aggressively monitor your books in the supply chain: It’s not the cost per unit, it’s the unit cost.” Minimize distribution costs and cash tied up in inventory.
6. “Go for speed in delivery as well as quality in selecting printers.” The ability of a printer to respond quickly to the publisher’s marketing demands cuts down on inventory investment and provides drop-ship flexibility, suggests Best.
He advocates for a demand-printing strategy as the optimum profitable benefit for both printer and publisher.
Lightning Source offers 24-hour shipping turnaround and seamless distribution to the bookstore market through Ingram wholesalers. Ingram Publisher Services provides a distribution service as well for independent publishers that links to its manufacturing and wholesaling services.
Malloy (www.Malloy.com) is a family-owned and -managed independent book manufacturer located in Ann Arbor, Mich. Founded by Jim Malloy in 1960, it is now owned by the Upton family, with Herb Upton as chairman, and his sons Bill and Joe Upton as president and vice president of sales and marketing, respectively. Today, it is a $45 million company employing 325 people.
Bill and Joe Upton stress the importance of planning and preparation, offering the following advice for mutual profitability:
7. “The production manager should try to partner with a relatively small number of printers.” This is especially true for the smaller publisher with standard formats who can build a strong relationship with its manufacturer.
8. “Meet with your vendor to map a strategy for your entire list.” In this way, the vendor can anticipate your needs, and you can plan your production so as to take the best advantage of equipment and scheduling.
9. “Make sure the files you send to the printer are built properly.” The most common mistakes that hold up a job are missing fonts or images required in order to move smoothly through preflight to press.
The Uptons emphasize the concept of partnership. With this comes mutual trust and confidence, and efficiencies in time and expense. “Most of the time on a job is spent during the process of printer selection and getting to press,” the Uptons point out. The more handling back and forth, the more time expended. “The least amount of time is spent from plate to shipment, because there is the least amount of customer and printer human intervention.”
They advocate strongly for soft proofs instead of hard proofs and, eventually, no further proof inspection after preflight signoff. “From the printer’s standpoint, each proofing stage is an opportunity for editors and designers to take ‘one more look’ and introduce another correction cycle that would interrupt workflow. This uncertainty factor leads to plant inefficiencies by creating the need to have a larger backlog of jobs in the pipeline to ensure that presses don’t go idle, and larger backlogs translate directly into longer cycle times,” they say.
Regarding the use of electronic order and job specifications, Dave Booth, Malloy’s IT manager, reports, “We anticipate using the JDF job ticket and Job Messaging Format (JMF) in the future. As we move toward linking job tickets, preflight and other downstream departments, these are likely to be part of our solution. This will make it straightforward for publishers to initiate transactions with us for orders, quotes, packing/shipping specs, etc. Our prepress department is also looking at prep systems that incorporate aspects of JDF.
“As for XBITs, we’ve been using it daily with one of the major publishers for several years to report usage and receipts in their paper inventory,” Booth continues. “Up until about a year ago, another publisher was having us use it to report drop-shipping information; however, that publisher has implemented new systems that no longer rely on this information.”
In order to help buyers understand and take best advantage of workflow efficiencies, Malloy has developed an array of fact sheets about its specific capabilities as well as issues of interest in the industry (Malloy.com/FactSheets.asp). It has also recently installed an Océ digital printer for short-run and demand-printing requirements to complement its primary offset equipment.
Acme Bookbinding (www.AcmeBook.com) is a family-owned business based in Charlestown, Mass. Started in 1958 as a library bindery, the company traces its roots back 186 years through acquisition of a number of older bookbinding companies, including the Harcourt Bindery, a custom shop specializing in leather binding and box making. Acme provides full-service hardcover- and paperback-edition binding as well as library binding. Through its Digital Printing Division, Acme produces facsimile reproductions of out-of-print books as well as digitally prints and binds short-run books. Paul Parisi, Acme’s president, estimates that Acme binds upwards of 300,000 unique titles a year.
Parisi offers the following three production tips:
10. For lamination of cover stock for paperback and hardcover books, wax-free, low-solvent inks must always be used when offset-printing book covers. Ask your ink supplier for an ink that is compatible with film lamination. Inks with wax content or high solvents will not allow lamination to adhere. This can be a serious problem with de-lamination of the film in the joint (hinge) area of a case-bound book.
11. For Smyth-sewn books, when printing books with bleeds that run into the binding margin, leave a 3/32” unprinted and unvarnished “glue trap” in the gutter between signatures. Without the glue trap, adhesives may not penetrate sufficiently into the paper fibers to provide a strong binding.
12. For material purchases, check in advance with your binder when materials such as cloth, board, endpapers, slipcases and other special-order book components need to be purchased. Some manufacturers and suppliers of materials have long lead times.
A visit to Acme’s bindery requirements page (www.AcmeBook.com/Resources/BindFold) offers other binding tips as well as impositions for folding, information on binding styles and other considerations that provide an introductory primer on binding specifications.
Eugene G. Schwartz is a regular contributor to Book Business. He is a publishing industry analyst, writer and editor-at-large for Foreword Magazine. A former PMA board member, he is president of Consortium House, a management and business consultancy to publishers. He previously was a manufacturing, production and operations executive.
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.