Gene Therapy: Managing Workflow: How Top Publishers Keep Their Houses in Order
It was only 26 years ago that Leonard Shatzkin, the legendary, former Doubleday manufacturing director and industry consultant, wrote that the book industry’s use of computers to “measure the effect of forces amenable to management’s control … is close to zero” (“In Cold Type,” 1982, Houghton Mifflin). The last 25 years have seen the deficiencies discussed by Shatzkin dramatically addressed, and he would have to be impressed at the pervasive uses of the computer today.
In part one of this series (“From Book Proposal to Profit,” Book Business, February 2008), I described in some detail the integrated, computer-coordinated workflow-management systems perfected by two university presses, Stanford and Princeton. Here, I review some of the workflow-management features of two large publishing houses, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley and Sons; and two smaller houses, Regnery and RAND.
For production and operations professionals, S&S is a marvelous case study in the evolution of scalable workflow management. It is currently completing the transformation of production, manufacturing and marketing systems to an integrated, digitally based platform to drive data management, product workflow and content distribution.
“We’re right in the middle of a major digital transition—we’ve had a digital asset management system since 1999—but we are now working in conjunction with our digital group and our publishing units to build an internal database that would aggregate XML content files, rights information and book metadata,” says Tom Masciovecchio, director of publishing systems.
“Our supply chain and production teams will benefit from the digital archive and distribution system because, in addition to its consumer-focused capabilities, it will also be a boon for our internal workflow and external business-to-business needs,” says Joe D’Onofrio, senior vice president of supply chain operations.
The S&S Workflow System
The S&S workflow system all begins when an acquisitions editor negotiates a book deal with an author. That is the point at which the human and the computer workflow-management system kicks in.
The key computer system players are: the title-management system that assigns the ISBN, and tracks title information and status from contract to delivery of the finished product into the warehouse—and beyond; a production scheduling system; a digital asset management system in which all of the content files are maintained; and a financial system that tracks actual costs against book estimates.
The key human player is the managing editor who monitors data integrity and schedule fulfillment for each title throughout the process.
“The managing editor monitors all the processes that are happening in parallel: copy editing, design, art and schedule,” says Masciovecchio. “Like a traffic manager or title controller, they keep everyone in the publishing process on schedule and on target, including the editor and author.”
Frequently, much time has passed between signing the contract and when the author submits the manuscript. When the editor feels the manuscript is ready for publication, it passes to production, which then takes over building and managing the schedule for all of the interior workflow dates through copy editing, interior design, page assembly and bound books.
Moving the Title Through Production
Approximately two months prior to the bound-book date, a print quantity is set at a meeting attended by publishing and supply chain staff who work from the latest sales forecasts.
Purchase orders are issued by the production department for outside services to have books manufactured.
For one-color books, PDF files and the native InDesign files from which they are made are sent to the printer. For four-color books, book files with “for position only” (FPO) scans and keyed art files are sent for page assembly and PDF conversion by the manufacturer.
The PDF files as well as the native and art files used for printing are archived by S&S in their digital asset management system. These files are accessed for corrections, revisions and conversions to other editions and formats.
Managing Title Data and ONIX Files
Helene Green, executive director of business information and data operations, says metadata is distributed into marketing and distribution channels outside of the company. “We follow [Book Industry Study Group (BISG)] best practices, and start the flow 180 days before the pub date,” she says.
Title information is entered when the book is acquired. Title information and updates are sent weekly to an outside data provider for conversion to Online Information Exchange (ONIX) format. The ONIX standard specifies and defines the data elements so that everyone is sure to refer to the same thing. The data provider then transmits the ONIX files to S&S-approved trading partners.
Prior to transmission, the data is reviewed for timeliness, accuracy and completeness (e.g., title, author, pub date) to meet the BISG requirements.
Digital Storage and Distribution
S&S and other publishers are benefiting from the flexibility afforded to them by digital storage and distribution. The files used to create the original, traditional printed version are also used to create additional printed and electronic formats. When demand for a book has slowed to the point it is no longer economical to manufacture using traditional printing methods, the book then becomes available through print-on-demand (POD) technology, saving valuable warehouse space and, at the same time, shifting the business model for these titles to sell first, print later.
“In a way, the whole process comes full circle,” says D’Onofrio. “The files we use at the beginning of a book’s life are the ones that we are still using at the end. Because we now have that ability to extend any book’s life far beyond what was possible in the past, it’s especially important to get it right at the start.”
Major Wiley divisions include higher education, professional/trade, and science, technical, medical and scholarly (STMS). Wiley’s acquisition of Blackwell Publishing last year added 1,000 journals to the 400 it already was publishing, largely within the STMS division. It maintains two warehouse distribution centers in Somerset, N.J. and Harrisonburg, Va.
The company creates its own ONIX files, which are used primarily as “a communications format to send data out into the marketplace,” says Mike McDonnell, manager of business information. Data for the files are drawn from Wiley’s Book Project Management system and what McDonnell describes as marketing-oriented “rich data” files that contain matter such as title descriptions, author bios, cover text and graphics.
“We prepare a full-title ONIX file monthly and push it to about 24 partners by FTP to their sites,” McDonnell reports. “We send update files weekly, and we also make the files available for anyone to pick up from our own site.”
Project files in the database, opened by acquisition editors, provide documentation for the initial proposal, precontract and contract stages. The editor owns the space and assures content quality until its release into production. By that time, the following workflow data needs to be completed: author’s name, working title, Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication record and copyright application, which are monitored by a product information services group. The ISBN is assigned by the inventory control unit when the contract is signed.
For some time, Wiley has been committed to electronic publishing through its journals, and e-books for trade and reference markets in various platforms. Consequently, prepress workflow is in PDF format, with XML as one of the outputs.
XML files for titles that pass the marketing screen are automatically passed to the publishing technology group, which manages proofing, quality control, formatting, storage and distribution with in-house and outsource resources. “We currently have about 7,500 titles available as e-books,” says McDonnell. “We’re doing about 80 [percent] to 90 percent of new titles as e-books, except for higher-ed titles, which are not part of the program.”
All slow-moving, inventory-depleted backlist titles enter Wiley’s digital POD program. “We also use POD for ultra-short runs to cover out-of-stock situations,” McDonnell says.
RAND, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., has a backlist of about 20,000 publicly available documents and an average new list of 150. Trade distribution is handled by National Book Network.
Regnery is a subsidiary of the Eagle Publishing Group, which also publishes the newspaper Human Events. It has a backlist of about 100 active titles and averages 30 titles a year for its front list, distributed by Perseus.
Both Paula Currall, former managing editor for Regnery, and Jim Zerr, director of production and distribution for Eagle, describe a workflow-management system that relies on traditional, paper-based reporting and “word of mouth” among a small staff. The managing editor manages scheduling for project editors who move the titles through copy editing to a five-person design department, which assembles a file in Quark and delivers a PDF to one of two printers.
Regnery is an active participant in the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle e-book platforms. It has 30 to 40 titles in a POD program with Bertelsmann’s Berryville Graphics in Virginia.
In contrast, RAND maintains its own POD production unit at its Santa Monica office, where it operates a four-color Canon 7000 digital press for interiors and covers. It also uses the POD service maintained by the Edwards Brothers satellite operation in the National Book Network facility in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. A small shipping operation for direct sales is handled at RAND.
According to Claudia L. McCowan, business manager of publications and creative services, “our best-selling title, ‘Countering the New Terrorism,’ has sold over 10,000 copies, and our average best-seller sells about 2,000 copies.”
Nonetheless, its workflow burden of 150 new list titles is demanding for accuracy and production quality. Print-ready PDF files are delivered to the company’s printers from an FTP site, mostly to fulfill on-demand orders. “We are advocates of the long-tail theory, and we do very few reprints for inventory. We are tied to a demand model and pour over lists weekly to anticipate demand printing needs,” McCowan says.
In this review of workflow management at diverse publishing houses, a few lessons stand out:
1. Maintaining data integrity (meta and content) should be built into the workflow process at every stage.
2. Regularly feeding title information in ONIX format to trading partners has great value, needs to be done expertly and can be outsourced if necessary.
3. A clear assignment of human responsibility and gate-keeping should be required to trigger the release of data internally and through external distribution channels.
4. Content workflow should be built around the goal of a digital platform format “ready to go” into the emerging multiple-media marketplace for book publishing.
5. The sophistication and degree of computerization of workflow management should balance a realistic use of resources, support for a publisher’s distinctive workplace culture and the primary goal of effective outcomes in a highly competitive marketplace.
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.
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.