Their Winning Ways
by Tatyana Sinioukov
University of California Press book producers achieve success by attending to the nuances of design and production
Since its inception in 1893, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, has become one of the largest university publishers in the nation, earning recognition for its diverse titles and creative approach to book design. Originally established to distribute the faculty research papers by exchanging them, for free, for papers from other universities, the University of California Press today serves as the university's non- profit publishing arm, creating titles from special editions of the classics to fine art books to historical studies to volumes of extensive research.
For this story, BookTech the Magazine asked Tony Crouch, director of design and production, to talk about what makes UC Press unique and to discuss points of interest in the UC Press production workflow. Crouch shared his thoughts on the intricacies of on-demand printing, how to keep up with the emerging technologies, and where, in his opinion, book publishing will find itself five years from now.
Do you consider yourselves a "typical" university press?
We publish books of general interest as well as scholarly titles for regional, national and international markets. Our titles are warehoused on both coasts and also in the UK for distribution throughout Europe. We could be considered different from other university presses in the sense that our list is often both eclectic and experimental.
Could you define what separates a university press from, say, McGraw-Hill or Random House?
The primary difference between a university press and a trade house is profit. Traditionally, a university press exists to disseminate the results of scholarly research and writing, whereas a trade publisher exists to maximize the profit potential of its products.
To have an outlet for their work, scholars need a publishing house whose basic goal is not profit but rather the dissemination of knowledge. The categories of books at the core of our publishing program would mean financial disaster for a trade publisher. Many university presses were originally subsidized by their parent institutions in recognition of the symbiotic relationship between the academy and the non-profit university press. Today, however, many university presses no longer enjoy the level of financial support previously provided by their parent universities. They have been forced to diversify their publishing programs to include some profit-generating trade titles. This delicate balance of trade and scholarly titles is a financial strategy to allow university presses to be nearly self-supporting.
UC Press regularly wins Bookbuilders West book awards and took home 11 awards in 1999, with books like Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself and Stalin's Forgotten Zion winning in more than one category.
How do you ensure the award-winning quality of the books? What are the points of working on books that end up winning that you're most proud of?
I attribute much of this success to a great staff of experienced professionals who are highly motivated by the challenges presented to them. Our designers are innovative and resourceful; they enjoy staying on the leading edge of contemporary graphic and typographic work by keeping up with technology and developments in the field of graphic arts. They take courses and attend seminars and annual graphic design conventions. Several teach and, in turn, learn about current trends from the student community. I would add that the designers are all grounded in the traditions of their craft; they know the developments of typography and page design, especially book work, which is so different from commercial typography.
Like our designers, our production coordinators are steeped in book production. They are attentive to details, and they know the nuances that distinguish a special book from an average one. The difference between an ordinary book and an award-winning one is essentially in the details. A few small features of the design or selection of materials will give a book a special lift and make chapter opening pages and text spreads sparkle; or an illustration treatment that is appealing but unobtrusive gives readers a comfortable feeling that everything is right about the look and feel of the book, which denotes, you might say, the successful marriage of form and content. We always try to avoid form overwhelming the content. Everyone in our department enjoys working on the titles we publish. Inner stimulation fosters a high level of commitment to fine bookmaking.
You contribute to the industry with speakers at BookTech and involvement at Bookbuilders West events. How does it benefit you personally and University of California Press in general?
Whatever I contribute to the profession by speaking at meetings or giving seminars is always rewarded. I learn through dialogs, through question periods and then often through the give-and-take of discussions with others in the design, typesetting, production, materials and book manufacturing communities.
It is enormously rewarding for me personally, and I hope it enables me to bring back to UC Press ideas about possible new methods for achieving our design and production goals, whether it is a more cost-effective method or a potential saving by using a different text stock or binding material. Beyond that, it is a pleasure to meet one's colleagues, exchange ideas and compare production alternatives, as well as to establish an ongoing dialog with our valued suppliers. We always regard our activities as only one side of the coin. We rely on the expertise and help of our suppliers as much as they rely on our business--it is the partnership that results in a successful end product. The efforts of our suppliers merge with our own efforts to create the best books, which is why we believe in long-term relationships and do not shop around very much once we have settled on satisfactory arrangements. As I mentioned before, our list is wide ranging in its manufacturing demands, and we select vendors in a variety of categories in the belief that no one supplier is suitable to handle everything.
What's the favorite aspect of your job?
There isn't one, which is perhaps the whole point. I relish the diversity of the titles we publish, the endlessly unfolding options for materials to be selected, the typefaces to be used, the best way to handle the prepress and the manufacturing. It all means constant activity and choices. A terrific staff makes my working day that much more pleasurable.
When you combine all these satisfactions with the opportunity to meet knowledgeable, interesting authors and to be exposed to books on a wide range of topics, I ask myself sometimes, what other work could possibly provide such diversity and challenge?
I really enjoy the opportunity to participate in the way books are prepared, at least from a materials and production standpoint. For instance, at UC Press we believe in specifying the most environmentally responsible text papers. By using totally chlorine-free text paper, both uncoated and coated, we support the industry's move towards the use of pulp that is bleached without the creation of any harmful dioxin into the air or ground water. We recently extended this policy to include our materials for dust jackets, paperback covers and even binding board.
Are all of your books similar or different from a manufacturing standpoint?
The manufacturing needs of UC Press titles differ widely. That is why we have contractual arrangements with a variety of compositors, prepress houses and book manufacturers.
While the majority of our titles are published in the 6 x 9' page trim size, a portion of our list requires very individual trim sizes, and some multi-volume sets include slipcases or portfolio boxes. Our titles are mainly manufactured here in the U.S., but we also work with suppliers in Canada, Southeast Asia and Europe. The choice of manufacturer depends on the project in question. We review the needs of each title, its place in the market, the illustration program, and the compatibility with web or sheetfed presses. Typically, titles with four-color process work throughout are candidates for offshore manufacturing, while all one-color titles are manufactured in North America. One point to mention is that all of our high-end four-color and duotone books must be sewn.
Do you do color scans in house, or do you send them out?
Most of the time, the color or duotone scans are handled by our book manufacturers, either in their own plant or by subcontractors. Either way, they are responsible for the entire process and we avoid being caught in the middle, should problems arise. We have tried on several occasions to work the other way by providing film to the book manufacturer, but this process has usually not worked for us. Production overhead is doubled by having to work with and coordinate two suppliers' needs instead of one; we are vulnerable to the schedules of two suppliers and sometimes need the wisdom of Solomon to mediate disputes between them.
In my opinion, nobody knows better than the book printers about the dot gain percentages on their presses, the ink densities their presses run best on, and the chemistry between their ink manufacturer and the text stock they are using. All of these variables can be factored into the color scans if printers are in control of the whole process.
Are your schedules especially difficult or challenging because of your market?
Our schedules are dictated by the demands of our market. Every book is "launched" with a target bound book date, followed by its publication date, which is usually about eight weeks later to allow time for books to make their way through the distribution chain and to reach bookstores nationwide before the publicity and reviews are scheduled to appear. It is critical for the design and production department to meet these schedules. If we fail, the publicity budget may be wasted and sales opportunities lost, with some potential impulse sales never to be regained.
Because we publish titles in such a variety of subjects, the establishment of a bound book date may be influenced by different factors. Sometimes we want books for an annual academic meeting, sometimes for the opening of an exhibition, sometimes for the anniversary of an author's birth or death. To make sure we meet our goals, we hold bi-weekly "tracking meetings," at which the managers of every department in the book division review the status of all titles whose schedules are threatened for some reason. Our computer database generates a books-in-process report that flags off-schedule titles so we don't have to review all 200 or so books in process at any given time just to identify the problems. Once the reason for the delays are determined, the respective managers and their staffs can devise solutions.
Have you tried any new technologies recently: CTP? PDF? Digital links to suppliers?
We have tried and continue to try some of the emerging technologies. Several of our book manufacturers are now using direct-to-plate systems for both one-color and four-color process work. We like this technology for several reasons. With the elimination of film, there is one less medium involved in putting ink on paper, and the result is a sharper dot and improved overall resolution. Most of our titles are now supplied as paged PDF files from the compositors to the book manufacturers. PDF files are cleaner and more stable than previous page-application-only files; they are preflighted and compressed, requiring less time to image direct to plate and providing greater assurance of file integrity and completeness.
Another reason for going to PDF files is the ability to capture the entire book in digital form, ready to be adapted for any current or future form of publication, be it a CD-ROM, a print-on-demand edition, or an electronic publication on our own Web site or on a Web site with which we have a licensing agreement. We are learning to retain these files with the halftones in various resolutions, as various applications require different resolutions to work satisfactorily--e.g., a 72-dpi resolution for on-screen viewing, compared with a 300 dpi resolution for eventual 150 line screen reproduction in print form.
The value of securing printer or compositor downloads of final documents is significant. Fast disappearing are the days when we could rely on stored film negatives at the book manufacturer's plant for reprints. Direct-to-plate technology means there is no film to access, and it eliminates film negative storage charges as well as the inherent danger of film deterioration. The PDF method also enables a publisher to go into the files and make changes for a revised or second edition. The challenge of this new technology will be updating as the best electronic media for digital storage change, as well as transferring data to evolving new media so that digital files will indeed work on whatever comes next.
We are just embarking on our first efforts with digital remote proofing of our dust jackets and paperback covers. We believe this method will enable us to receive color-accurate proofs over the Internet from our suppliers, thereby shortening the proof approval time and reducing our courier costs. The digital mechanical is sent on disk to the component printer, who outputs to our specifications and then transmits the color proof directly to our proofing machine, using a dedicated Mac G4 to handle the files. Our color monitor is color-calibrated to match the monitor at the supplier's plant, so if we make changes, we and our printer can both view the identical colors and discuss the changes in real time. The next step will be initial file transmission to the supplier.
When did you start to print on demand and why? What is the typical run length?
We do publish titles manufactured by on-demand technology, but we are not in the business of printing just one or two copies--at least not yet. We began to use on-demand manufacturing in a serious way about five years ago. We carry over 3,000 titles on our active backlist. If we mine our backlist, reprinting quantities of, say, 50 to 100 copies per year for 10 percent of our backlist titles, we can generate a significant amount of revenue that we would otherwise be deprived of. Many of these titles were out of stock when we initiated the program because, using traditional book manufacturing equipment, we could not reprint them in the quantities required to achieve an acceptable per-unit cost. For instance, we publish a number of multi-volume series. Even though some volumes outsell others, we want to keep all the series volumes in print. Print-on-demand presses have enabled us to keep entire series in print and to match the original materials and bindings.
Our print runs currently do not go below 50 copies at a time. We warehouse these and handle order fulfillment to our customers along with the orders for other titles. The quality of halftone reproduction was initially an issue--and still is to some degree--but it has significantly improved over the years. My sense is that it will improve further as the technology develops. The holy grail is high-end quality with four-color process on coated stock for "ultra-short runs," which is what we prefer to call titles in this category.
To print covers on demand, you can either hedge your bets by printing additional covers with the first printing and storing them for possible subsequent use, or you can redesign the covers for the print-on-demand market.
What, in your opinion, is the "state-of-the-art" in on-demand printing? Do you see the big printers getting into it, or is it becoming a specialty service for companies solely dedicated to providing on-demand printing services?
Most of our print-on-demand titles are currently handled by companies specializing in this type of work, although several of the large book manufacturers have certainly made us aware of their intentions to enter this market. Many are also including order fulfillment from their plant to the publisher's customers.
As the equipment to handle this category of a publisher's manufacturing needs is improved even further, I can see print-on-demand manufacturing becoming one of the most competitive areas of the market.
And now, the inevitable question: How would you say book publishing is changing most, at least from your vantage point?
Unquestionably, the issue of electronic publishing is changing the whole landscape of our professional lives. We are being asked to deal with many unknowns, to make predictions and to invest in future scenarios of uncertain validity, because what we know today may not hold up tomorrow. But you have to aim at a moving target or be doomed for standing still.
UC Press has a Web site on which we are now making the full text of selected titles available free of charge in the belief that potential readers will not want to download and print out an entire book, punch holes in 320 single-sided sheets, and place them in a three-ring binder, when they can order the printed book from us for less money and with less hassle. We are using ultra-short run initial print runs, with print-on-demand reprints in the event that the market is there, for some of these Web site offerings.
Personally, I do not see the demise of the printed book. The tactility of a book in the hand is a very pleasurable human experience, while extended text reading on screen is not.