Publisher Perspective - Book Manufacturing Turnaround Times
By Rose Blessing
The top brass at printing companies insist that their top priority is finding ways to meet publishers' demands for faster turnaround times, an August feature in this magazine reported. Now, a look at how print buyers view this trend
Assistant Production Manager
Now and then Diane Grossman asks for a miracle from her printers--and gets it. Yet overall she has not noticed faster industry job turnaround times since joining Academic Press nearly two years ago, she says. On the whole, turnaround times have never been a problem area, possibly because she's able to give her suppliers advance warning, which helps her get good schedules, and also because, unlike college and high-school publishers, she usually has a few days' scheduling flexibility.
Grossman, who is based in Chestnut Hill, MA, buys print manufacturing services for both the Academic Press and the AP Professional divisions of Harcourt Brace & Company. Academic Press titles are mostly casebound. For those titles she has come to expect five-week turnarounds; for APP's softback products she receives two-to-three-week turnarounds for offset printing. For reprints, she expects slightly faster turnarounds, since with the files or film on hand, the printer already has a running start. Most of Academic Press' print runs are under 10,000.
"If we were to get a three-week turnaround for a case-bound book, that would be extremely fast," she says. Yet she has asked for it and gotten it; whether it is posssible for a particular book depends on the printers' existing customers and their cycles. "A few of our printers have been responsive when we've needed it, and we do give them warning."
Recently, in what she describes as not just a routine print job but an "episode," she needed nearly 2,000 copies of one book printed in three days. "They did it!" she exclaims.
Grossman just took her first foray into computer-to-plate production with a cover handled by Phoenix Color. "They did a beautiful job," says Grossman. However, because of the careful attention to each step of the new workflow pattern for a first CTP job, she did not see it compressing her schedule. She plans on moving forward with more computer-to-plate jobs for both covers and interiors.
So far, says Grossman, she sees more overall impact on production schedules from changes in other production stages. Compositors seem able to work faster, and authors are also taking on more composition tasks--like use of FrameMaker and LaTex to lay out pages. In some cases, her company provides the authors with templates to work from.
Author involvement in composition "takes about four weeks out of our production cycle," she says. But she's noticed something else happening too: "They are looking to us for more technical support. I need to learn a little more about these programs myself."
Vice President of Production and Manufacturing
John Wiley & Sons
Print schedules have been "getting faster and faster all along," says Ann Berlin, vice president of production and manufacturing at John Wiley & Sons.
Over several years, Berlin has watched her average film- or camera-copy to bound-book turnaround times shrink from six weeks to three to four. Times vary depending on the printer, and tend to be a few days longer when she sends computer files instead of film or camera copy.
Lately, she's been routinely receiving even faster turnarounds from some printers--even for case-bound books, she says.
Though she's obtained ten-day turnarounds even on four-color work, she still judges two weeks to be a very fast schedule in the industry at large, even more so if the print run is large. "It's still a favor--but we're definitely asking for it," says Berlin.
Director of Book Production
"We need to satisfy customer needs as quickly as possible, but we try to keep inventory as low as possible. We've been in this mode for a few years now," says Joe Romano, Director of Book Production at Book-of-the-Month Club.
He has observed the book and component printers he deals with--which include Donnelley, Quebecor, Maple-Vail, Phoenix and Coral--continually becoming more responsive to his company's goals over the past three years. Yes, he says, new equipment and better administrative processes have been a part of it, but what he's noticed most, he says, is a shift in printers' attitudes. "It's more of a mindset," remarks Romano.
The products Book-of-the-Month club sells to its direct-mail buyers are typically other publishers' books. Book-of-the-Month club buys the rights to the books.
Usually Romano can give printers more advance notice for first runs than reprints, so it's easy to get the turnarounds needed.
It's harder to give advance notice for reprints, which may be ordered in large batches of many small print orders.
Still, he says, he can just about count on a two-week turnaround from order to warehouse for a one- or two-color book. But it's not exactly a sure thing--he may have to wait a little longer if the printer has an overloaded schedule or if there are paper availability problems.
For four-color books, he considers four weeks a good turnaround time. "There are instances where they can beat those turnaround times," says Romano, "but that can't be the expectation." Not yet, at least.
Director of Production
"We are putting pressure on our printers to shorten schedules. On a limited basis they are able to do it," says Roslyn Udris, director of production, Brookes Publishing, Baltimore, MD.
Typically, Udris notes, a five- to six-week turnaround time from order date to book shipping is easily achievable for her one- and two-color, casebound and softback titles titles. Four-week turnarounds are obtainable--but less often, and she has to press her printers for them, which, she says, she might do for books that must make a conference or special event.
Some new printers that she has tried recently have been providing quicker turnarounds more often, she observes. She attributes this more to a service-oriented philosophy--"wanting to keep the customers happy"--than to use of new equipment or technology.
Brookes Publishing primarily produces books for professionals involved in the human services, child development, behavioral studies, mental health, communication, public health and disabilities fields.
Book Production Coordinator
Bureau of National Affairs
"It's hard to judge whether turnaround times for offset printing are increasing as a whole when turnaround times vary from printer to printer," comments Mike Wright, book production coordinator, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington, D.C.
"We do short-run books directed to a specialized audience with average press runs of 2,000 to 3,000," Wright explains. For these books, which include softcover books and case-bound books, Wright says he tends to get the best prices and schedules from printers geared for short runs, like Edwards Brothers and BookCrafters. In general, turnaround times he knows he can count on for case binding are about six weeks; for perfect binding, about four weeks, a few days faster for reprints, when film and materials are already at the printer.
But digital short-run printing is shortening turnaround times, he says. Some of his less voluminous, shorter-run books (which are typically softcover) cost less to print on DocuTech, IBM or Océ presses; by now about 20 percent of his work is run this way. These jobs are often turned around "in two weeks or less if I need it, and sometimes when I don't even need it," he says.
Senior Vice President and Director of Marketing and Development
Parachute Publishing, L.L.C.
Turnaround times vary for Parachute Publishing, New York City, but range from two weeks to a month or more, depending on the complexity of the project, reports Susan Knopf, the company's senior vice president and director of marketing and development.
Parachute Publishing is the producer and creator of numerous books and book-related products for kids--from board books through early chapter books to middle-grade and young adult books and book-plus projects as well. The company's original book series include the familiar R.L. Stine Goosebumps and Fear Street books as well as The New Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley; Full House: Stephanie; Full House: Michelle and Life with Louie.
The result is an intense production schedule: "We produce many, many paperback titles each year--some with photo or other types of inserts, some with foiled/embossed covers. We also produce full-color hardcover books, full-color paperbacks, large-size and book-plus packages," Knopf explains.
Throughout the industry, Knopf observes, "distributors and publishers are making their inventory decisions later and later, which puts real pressure on the entire process. We have less time to print a title than ever before.
"This is especially true with reprints, where publishers are ordering frequently, and only taking in a short-term supply at any one time," she notes.
Because of this, Knopf notes, scheduling press time was especially challenging last year. "I suspect the types of crunches we experienced last year were shared by many," she says.
With two new series in the works, Knopf does not expect that her scheduling will be any simpler this year.
Knopf expresses another concern: "The consolidation of printers threatens to limit our options. Customer service becomes almost as important as pricing in making a decision where to print a book or series." Her company may be forced to give more thought to off-shore options when appropriate.