34 Cost-Cutting and Time-Saving Production Tips
Publishers looking to cut costs and production time face a wealth of challenges, not the least of which is shaking off old conceptions. Putting the focus on content, rather than on books as manufactured objects, can paradoxically help to uncover new ways to speed up the workflow (or, more accurately, customize the workflow to meet the needs of individual projects), and do so in as cost-effective a manner as possible.
Common themes among those who shared with Book Business their cost- and time-saving production tips are planning and adaptability, which depend on effective communication. Despite all the technological advances of recent years (and hype over supply chain innovations such as The Espresso Book Machine), book manufacturing is, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, a multileveled process dependent on deft coordination.
TIPS FROM … Michael Weinstein, Vice President, EDP and Manufacturing, Oxford University Press
Oxford University Press (OUP), a publisher of academic and educational books and journals, had to adjust in recent years to the lessening of demand from university libraries and the challenge posed by the proliferation of electronic content.
1. Think macro.
“One of the things I’ve tried to do is have everyone understand the whole process,” Weinstein says. “Make sure they are doing things that will positively impact the next vendor in the chain that touches something. Designers should be thinking about standardizing templates so that the page makeup can go faster, so that the comp can create PDFs faster for the printer—that sort of thing.”
2. Start at the beginning.
At Pearson, where Weinstein worked before joining OUP, speed and efficiency were achieved by utilizing templates at the beginning of the process. “Authors were writing in templates, which enabled us to use their codes … and enabled faster page makeup,” he says.
3. But keep the end use in mind.
“[Print-on-demand] comes into play at Oxford,” says Weinstein, who stresses to his staff that their job is all about creating files that can be repurposed with ease, a way of thinking dictated by market necessities. “We are not creating a print product, we are creating files that can be used to create a 3,000-copy print run or held for POD or shifted to Web sites. It’s content creation.
“The delivery methods, the time-to-market being asked of everybody, has been changed and shortened,” he notes. “Customers want multiple deliveries at the same time, print and online simultaneously, especially in the educational market, and we’ve got to do it.”
4. Consolidate paper choices.
“The big buzzword in production over the last 10 to 15 years is consolidation, and that does apply to paper,” Weinstein says. “Right now, in fact, we are talking to printers about consolidating the number of papers we use.”
Weinstein notes that having one printer keep 12 different papers on hand for a publisher is now “a luxury that, because of cost and time to market, nobody can afford anymore. … So we’ll say, ‘OK, there are three or four that are relatively similar, let’s just print [with] one.’”
Weinstein adds that consolidating paper options is both a time- and cost-saving move, as it eliminates expensive special ordering of small amounts and ensures your printer has the right paper on hand when you need it.
5. Plan ahead for reprints.
“Publishers take various positions on reprints, whether they automatically downgrade the paper on the second printing, on the fourth printing, or not at all,” says Weinstein. “As you’re planning out what you want your printer to stock, that philosophy or decision of reprinting needs to be factored in, so that if you are going to downgrade your paper, you want them to stock not just the first print [stock], but the second.”
6. Be mindful of changing demand.
Academic publishers have long recognized that online content is becoming increasingly more important as university libraries trim budgets. “It’s also affecting our preprint process,” Weinstein says. “It’s inevitable that more about this business is going to be online than it is now, and again, customers are beginning to demand that.”
TIPS FROM … Marcy Hawley, Publisher, Orange Frazer Press Inc.
Orange Frazer Press is a Wilmington, Ohio-based publisher of Ohio-related sports, history, nature and travel books. This smaller publisher has faced the challenge of maintaining a high level of quality that customers expect while keeping costs in line.
7. Check the specs.
“One thing we’ve learned is, once you’ve gotten a quote, to go over all the specs very carefully,” Hawley says. “Look over the quote from the printer … very, very carefully. We’ve gotten incorrect quotes several times, and that has held us up.”
Don’t just look at the big things, like page count, she notes, especially if your book project involves intricate design features such as front-cover flaps.
8. Pick your press carefully.
“Make sure you know whether you want it to go on web press or sheetfed press,” she says. “Some projects are more economical on a web press—books without many images can save you money [if printed on a web press]; it depends on dimensions and print run.”
9. Choose printers carefully.
Hawley’s broker recently switched from a Canadian printer because of the falling U.S. dollar, and a serious problem arose with the new printer, who trimmed off some text (including page numbers). Because they had to reprint, the publisher will lose four or five weeks of sales time during the critical holiday season.
To avoid this type of situation, Hawley suggests, “Research your printer carefully and work up to more important, time-related projects with them. Start with a small project and a long lead time. Learn the personality of your representative, and their commitment to quality and customer satisfaction. (Some printers may not care if you come back, especially if they deem you less important than the large presses.)”
If you do run into problems, make sure to hold the printer accountable. In the situation in which Hawley ran into problems, she says, “They have dragged their feet picking up the damaged books. I have kept track of the hours [spent] going through to find the 750 books that were usable. We will deduct this from the final bill. The remaining new books will arrive today. I don’t know yet how we will be compensated for a month of lost sales for a book that is event-related. It’s not over yet.”
10. Develop a relationship with a printer.
“Developing a good relationship with a printer and their customer service rep, knowing they understand what you want—that’s enormously important when it comes to saving time,” she says. “There’s no bigger waste than having to do something over.”
TIPS FROM … Jim Robinson, Vice President, Operations, Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Romance-genre leader Harlequin has pioneered new methods for digital print-on-demand, allowing it to closely align print runs with demand for its large catalog of short-run titles. Robinson offers some “quick tips” applicable to digital web printing:
11. Structure files so they can go seamlessly to offset or digital.
12. Standardize web width for ease of format change.
13. Manage room humidity with care.
“Humidity is important to counter drying during printing and [to] minimize paper curl after printing, especially when paper is going to be cut and folded inline,” says Robinson.
14. Don’t underestimate time that can be lost in reel changes, and consider a reel-to-reel option if web widths are consistent.
15. Maintain a clean web press to significantly reduce cleaning time and
“Paper, particularly lower grades, has loose ‘lint/dust’ and if the web is cleaned, there is slower build-up of lint/dust in printers, resulting in better performance and longer periods between cleaning,” he says.
TIPS FROM … Pam Weston, Vice President, Publishing, Research in Education Assoc.
The Research in Education Association (REA), a Piscataway, N.J.-based educational and test-prep book publisher, offers a full range of materials for the AP, SAT and teacher’s certification exams, among others. The company publishes frequently updated test editions, handbooks, study aides and reviews.
16. Templates help speed frequently updated series through production.
“Typically, books in a series are somewhat ‘templated’ in the sense that there’s a format we’re going to stick to,” making it easy to add or remove material, Weston says. “In many cases the changes are rather mild, and we’re able to deal with them without too much effort.”
17. Stay on top of developments.
REA pays attention to changes in testing, education law and scientific research, and reacts quickly in order to build these into publications as they are being produced or, when necessary, to create new editions. Editors constantly check for updates and maintain close contact with authors, who keep track of developments and are best able to seamlessly integrate changes and updates.
18. Build clear job descriptions into the workflow.
“Editors are assigned to certain titles, so we know who the go-to people are,” Weston says. Communication is facilitated by weekly production meetings, which, she says, keeps everyone on the same page.
19. Pay attention to page counts.
The most important means of cutting per-book unit costs involves controlling page count, Weston says. “In planning a book, be aware of that cost,” she notes. “Less paper means a less-expensive process.”
20. Look into changing your choice of paper.
Most REA materials are printed on groundwood stock, though a certain number have traditionally been printed on more expensive opaque paper. The company has switched some of the latter books to groundwood in recent years in order to save money.
TIPS FROM … Cathy Craley, Head of Production, Stackpole Books
Stackpole Books is a Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based publisher of titles on crafting, nature and outdoor recreation.
21. Schedule titles together.
“Probably the most significant way I have found to cut costs is to schedule several titles together at the same supplier and have them ship at the same time,” Craley says. “There can be significant savings in shipping costs alone to ship five titles together rather than have five separate shipments. Suppliers also can give better pricing when they are awarded blocks of books as opposed to single titles.”
TIPS FROM … Hans Laeven, Vice President, Publishing Operations, S&T Books, Elsevier
Headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier is a leading scientific, technical and medical (STM) publisher that, in addition to an extensive catalog of journals, publishes about 1,900 books a year.
22. Expand what you outsource.
“We are working on all factors of our costs structure; some activities are outsourced or offshored,” Laeven says. “Both typesetting and printing can now be done competitively in low-cost environments.”
23. Eliminate workflow duplications.
According to Laeven, the “harmonization of working practices” can eliminate duplications in the book-creation process, largely thanks to new technologies that define end-to-end workflows and monitor all steps, “irrespective of where the actors in the process are, and whether they are Elsevier’s or a supplier’s employees.”
24. Use print-on-demand when practical.
25. Seek to consolidate manufacturing processes.
For example, says Laeven, “Use [fewer] printers in [fewer] locations, allowing for volume deals, and for more economical shipments to the warehouses. Use [fewer] typesetters for the same reason, and also use typesetters validated for providing e-material according to required DTD [document type definition]. [Consolidate] paper types being used, again allowing for better bulk deals. Standardize cover designs.”
26. Manage the workflow carefully.
Elsevier closely manages the planning process between authors, internal development and production in order to get books to market as quickly as possible, Laeven says. This includes providing authors with tools, such as templates, to facilitate the writing process, and reducing the production cycles for some titles, when necessary, through “fast-track routes.”
With fast-track routes, he notes, “In general, we would not skip steps, but make steps shorter. But multiple proofing steps are avoided and proofing is shorter. All process steps are managed more rigidly. Obviously ‘fast track’ comes at a price, as suppliers will charge extra for prioritizing work. So, ‘fast track,’ as a rule of thumb, is not skipping steps, but reducing waiting times between steps and actors.”
27. E-books: There’s nothing quicker.
“The more fundamental change is, of course, the exciting transition to electronic books, which allows almost immediate availability of titles after typesetting,” Laeven says. “This is really a great step forward to get books to the market quickly, but also to extend their lifecycle significantly.”
With respect to e-books, the change toward XML coding, bandwidth improvements and platform development contributes greatly to their usability, he adds.
28. Embrace technology with an eye to improving communication.
“[Technology] helps us a lot in developing better planning tools,” Laeven notes. “Having said that, IT is important, but equally important is the ability of the managers of the processes to modernize working practices by using IT tools. Communication is key; the tools to connect actors all over the world have improved quickly over the last few years, especially video- and teleconferencing. In the old days, all workflow steps were strictly sequential. The new technologies, communication means and planning tools help us to have process steps that are partly overlapping so that much time can be saved,” he says.
TIPS FROM … Denis Beaudin, Director, Strategic Business Development, Information Products—Book Group, Transcontinental Inc.
Ontario-based printer Transcontinental offers a vendor’s perspective on cutting costs and speeding production time.
29. Consolidate vendor lists.
“Increasingly, major publishers are consolidating their vendor lists and purchases,” Beaudin says. “The objective is to derive cost benefits from volume purchasing and volume incentives. Publishers are leveraging their buying practices for composition, materials and printing. Smaller and medium-sized publishers are ‘ganging’ print runs, which leads to cost reductions.”
30. Ask about off-peak discounts.
Publishers may be able to take advantage of cost incentives to manufacture new and reprint titles during off-peak periods. For Transcontinental, for example, the off-peak season, during which publishers are offered incentives, is January through April, says Beaudin.
31. Spend less on cover art.
Cover designs, especially in the textbook market, are becoming less “sophisticated” in terms of features like stamping and embossing, Beaudin notes.
32. Standardize sizes and materials utilized.
“Publishers need to standardize their products both in terms of sizes and materials. Products that ‘fit’ the conventional supply side are more economical to produce,” says Beaudin.
33. Seek manufacturing solutions that can expedite the process.
“On the manufacturing side, zero make-ready presses are also speeding up the process,” he says. “Digital printing and customized publishing continue to grow significantly.”
34. Attention to prepress is critical.
According to Beaudin, more emphasis on file-production options that can be supported by new technologies farther down the line reduces unit costs. Where appropriate, prepress solutions such as electronic file transfer, soft proofing and “proofless” workflow can speed the process. “This is the most important factor for publishers to consider,” he says.
“The most critical part of the process is prepress,” he stresses. “Increasingly, publishers are adapting to the new technologies and providing PDF-certified files. Providing files that are … error-free is essential to streamlining the entire workflow. The only factor that remains in place for presses and bindery is that they become faster and more productive.”