15 Ways to Save Time and Money in Book Production
Smart book production and manufacturing departments routinely evaluate their workflows and look for new and creative ways to streamline their processes, with a keen eye toward trimming both time and costs. Today, as the book publishing industry finds itself struggling in the same challenging economic environment as the rest of the United States, working efficiently is even more critical to preserving the bottom line.
“We try to [evaluate our workflow] as frequently as we dare, only because technology can only bring you so far in terms of change,” says John Walsh, associate director for design and production, Harvard University Press. “You really have to want to change the systems yourself. … We decided that we’re going to be doing more books either with the same number of people or … with a fewer number of people, depending upon the economic environment, and, in order to do that, something’s got to give.”
Here, Walsh and other book production and manufacturing professionals offer their best strategies for how to successfully “do more with less” without sacrificing quality.
The Proof Is in the Savings
Many production departments have overhauled their proofing processes, often transitioning from hard to soft proofing or eliminating proofing stages altogether.
“The most dramatic savings [we have experienced] has been in severely reducing the physical proofs we review,” says Neil Litt, director of editing, design and production, Princeton University Press. “Author proofs, in-house proofs, printer proofs for jackets and covers—all [have been] replaced by soft proofs.”
Proving that sometimes you have to spend money to save money, Harvard University Press recently invested in an in-house ink-jet proofing device. “We’re going to a PDF workflow, and we want to be able to hand an ink-jet proof and a PDF file to our printer,” says Walsh, noting that the press anticipates that in the long run, this process will save it “a tremendous amount” of prepress costs.
Previously, Walsh’s department would give the printer a laser proof and an application file, and receive an ink-jet proof in return, often finding that the colors on the printer’s ink-jet proof did not match their expectations. By adjusting the new in-house proofing device to the color standards that its printers use, “We expect it to match their RIP in terms of color output,” Walsh explains.
“We’re [now] controlling color from the desktop … and except in rare situations, where we’re dealing with metallics or something like that, we fully expect, even with PMS colors, to get a pretty good match to where we want to be,” he continues.
Walsh’s department also has eliminated printer proofs in most cases. “We’re not only saving a week in the schedule, we’re saving direct costs, which probably run 50 or 60 cents a page per proof,” he says. “Why do you need to check the PDF to make sure the printer ripped it? That’s [the printer’s] responsibility.”
Harvard has had this system in place for approximately two to three years, and has not experienced a decrease in quality by eliminating this proofing stage. “… The printers generally make fewer mistakes [now]. If they have a proof to send you, they don’t have to be as diligent,” says Walsh. “If you put the onus back on them to do this, they’re going to do it because they can’t afford to make a mistake.
“I say, if in doubt, get proofs, but don’t get proofs as a matter of course,” he continues.
Reach Out to Vendors
Working closely with your printers and other service providers—and tapping them for cost-cutting ideas—is another key to streamlining your processes and trimming costs. Last year, when Scholastic turned to its key suppliers for ideas to reduce costs, it resulted in more than $3 million in savings.
“Our suppliers came back to us with numerous suggestions, which we implemented,” says Maria Aneiro, director, manufacturing planning, Scholastic Inc. “We avoided price increases by extending contracts; we
increased volume for key suppliers to obtain price decreases; and we. reduced basis weight of some publications to lower costs.”
Educational publisher Cengage Learning also has worked with its paper suppliers to downgrade paper selections and, thus, reduce costs, according to Ken Brooks, senior vice president of global production and manufacturing services. “We’ve looked at lighter weight grades, papers with less wood content,” he says.
Brooks notes that Cengage monitored the paper selections of its competitors to ensure that any downgrades still would be on par with the competition.
Another important consideration when implementing changes that could affect the perceived quality of your product is your customer. “Our choices are customer-driven,” says Aneiro. “By closely managing our product specifications, we are able to optimize our value to our customers. Some customers are willing to pay a premium for a jacketed, Smyth-sewn, four-color hardcover book printed on 80-100# text stock, while others prefer to pay a fraction of the price for a saddle-wire, four-color paperback printed on 50-60# offset. [We] offer products for both of these customers.”
Brooks cautions that you must evaluate quality through your customers’ eyes, not your own. “Ask yourself, ‘How does the customer perceive quality?’ Some production and manufacturing folks’ standards of quality are very different than a customer’s,” he says.
The Importance of XML
Brooks also notes transitioning to an XML workflow—which Cengage initiated about four years ago—as a critical step in streamlining production processes. For publishers that have not yet converted to XML, Brooks recommends consulting with an experienced vendor.
One way that Cengage has been able to reduce costs as a result of having an XML workflow in place is through “mass customization” of book designs. Cengage now uses standardized templates to design its books; however, some variables within those templates, such as choice of color treatment or number of columns, enable a wide range of final products.
“[This] is where you get a bunch of savings,” says Brooks, who notes that simplifying book designs in this manner can decrease the cost per page from $8 to $12 to below $1.
Another successful strategy that Cengage has employed to trim costs is outsourcing, both domestically and off-shore, says Brooks. The education publisher has outsourced a range of duties, including composition, project management, permissions research, design and copy editing.
While “not a pain-free exercise,” says Brooks, outsourcing can be effective if you take the time to establish a good working relationship with the service provider as well as establish certain guidelines, including clearly communicating your expectations for a particular job.
Also, he advises, evaluate a specific job before outsourcing it to determine if it’s appropriate to send out. For example, a technical manuscript may be appropriate to send out for copy editing, while a more colloquial manuscript may be best served in-house. Keep in mind language and cultural differences when determining if a job is appropriate for outsourcing; you may even encounter such differences when using a domestic outsourcing service, as many of these firms send jobs off-shore themselves, notes Brooks.
Decreased Print Runs
Almost every production and manufacturing professional interviewed by Book Business mentioned decreasing initial print runs—and thus, a greater reliance on digital printing and print-on-demand (POD)—as a strategy that has led to both cost savings and better inventory management.
“We print more often [as a result of decreased initial print runs], but we are managing our inventory better,” says Litt. “With more new titles annually than ever, we find ourselves with less inventory on hand than in the pre-digital printing era. … Digital printers are competitive up to 1,000 copies. … We consider digital printers to be the best choice for those [books] with [a] short first printing and eventual transition to POD.”
“We’re doing fewer initial print runs and reprinting more often on new books and front list,” echoes Walsh.
In order to have the flexibility to reprint quickly, Harvard University Press has ceased making routine reprint corrections. “[Making these corrections was] so time-consuming and wasteful,” he says, noting that it was costing $100-$150 an hour to make reprint corrections. “We can’t afford it in terms of schedule, and we can’t afford it in terms of dollars.
“Unless it’s what we call an egregious error, we don’t make it,” Walsh continues. “An egregious error generally means, [for example], we spelled the author’s name wrong on the title page.” Instead, Harvard corrects any non-egregious errors in a book when it goes to paperback.
According to Aneiro, in addition to “exploring additional uses of digital printing to reduce order quantities and help manage inventory,” Scholastic also has reduced quantities on printed promotional pieces, which has lowered manufacturing costs.
Experimenting With New Systems
While still in the testing stages, a new remote-server application in place at Harvard University Press already has proven successful. According to Walsh, one of the press’ typesetters established the system, which facilitates collaboration between the typesetter and the press’ authors, editors, project managers and others. “The idea is that you work off of [the typesetter’s] server,” explains Walsh. “So you don’t have to have Microsoft Word, you don’t have to have InDesign; all of that [software] is on his server.” Anyone with broadband access can log in with a user name and password; once logged in, users have varying levels of access within the system.
An author’s manuscript is added to the system and converted into a Word editing template, which the typesetter designed. Then, the author, editor and anyone else involved with the manuscript—from its initial stages to the final PDFs—may log in and work on the manuscript and leave comments, even simultaneously.
The press benefited from this system when presented with the opportunity to publish Judge Richard A. Posner’s “A Failure of Capitalism.” With a competing offer to publish the book from a commercial publishing house in New York, Posner needed assurances from Harvard that the book would get to the marketplace quickly. “We said, ‘Well, we have a plan to do that,’” says Walsh. “[Using this system], we went from manuscript to PDF files in something like 23 days.
“The question we have now is, ‘Is this something we want to do strictly with this typesetter, or do we want to bring this in on our own server?” he continues.
A Time for Innovation
While these strategies, and many others, have saved production and manufacturing departments significant time and money, revamping or even eliminating traditional book-production methods is not easy. “The hard part is for the people who have been in the business a long time. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, are you sure you really want to do this?’” says Walsh. “But once it happens, everybody says, ‘Why did we wait so long?’
“We’re not going back to the old way,” he adds. “We simply can’t afford to do it that way.”
It also is important to involve your staff in workflow-modification decisions, both to ease the transition to new methods and to generate additional cost- and time-saving ideas. “In production and manufacturing, there is a lot of opportunity for innovation in your processes,” says Brooks, who suggests periodically asking your staff to come up with, say, 10 new cost- and time-saving ideas. “That’s where your production folks can really shine.”