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Can Design and Production Be Outsourced to India? Should It?



By Tony Silber
10/30/2006

PDF workflows and high-speed Internet access have dramatically changed magazine manufacturing, especially on smaller magazines. These days it's common for a title to have a freelance designer, often off-site. On deadline, files fly back and forth, thanks to FTP sites. Final files are frequently sent to the printer from an outsourced designer's location and at his or her convenience.

So if a magazine in New York can use a designer in Des Plaines, why can't that same magazine use a designer and production staff in Mumbai and save a ton of money?

That's the argument of Cadmus Communications, which is now exploring a rollout of a full-service outsourced design and production solution for traditional b-to-b magazines.

Cadmus has for years used an extensive 600-person design and production facility in India for its medical-journal printing business.

"You literally can do away with your production and design department," says John Miller, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Cadmus. "You can redirect headcount into other areas of the business."

In fact, says Miller, a good pricing target is $15 to $20 per page for a typical fully composed, proofed page and final PDF. A typical b-to-b freelance art director, by contrast, may charge from $50 to $125 per page.

Miller says Cadmus has three clients among b-to-b publishers already. "One who has been with us for two years started when they had some turnover in production," he says. "They needed someone to step in and compose some pages. They used us, did not have to replace the staff and in fact reduced staff further. In the end it was a huge financial win, and they didn't miss a beat from a production and design standpoint."

But there are other considerations. Folio: conducted an e-mail mini-poll on the question, and eight respondents gave extensive feedback. The upshot: Four respondents said it can work. Four others said it can be done technically, but should not, for a variety of reasons, design quality, workflow, workforce morale and general reputation.

On the plus side was a production director, a former publisher, an e-media consultant and a b-to-b CEO, Ascend Media's Cam Bishop. "I see no reason why it could not be outsourced to India or any other geographic location for that matter," Bishop says.

And Keith Hammerbeck, director of manufacturing services at Advanstar Communications, said that most magazines ought to easily split into categories;some that can be easily templatized and others that are more design intensive. "It shouldn't matter if a designer for those templated sections is located in a different building or a different country," he says. "I guess you could even make an argument that a designer in India could improve your turn-around because they are working while you are sleeping, so more could get done in a 24-hour period."

Paul Conley, a b-to-b consultant and influential e-media strategist, posed the question rhetorically. "Can overseas freelancers or outsourcing companies do the same sort of design and production work that in-house staff does here?" he asks. "Yep. No doubt about it. There's nothing about being in India or China or Vietnam that prevents someone from doing fantastic work for a U.S.-based publication. The software is the same. The skills are the same. And the Web creates a situation where working with a guy in Bangalore isn't so very different from working with a guy on another floor in your building."


The Case Against

Coming down against outsourcing was a production consultant, a full-service association-magazine publishing-services provider, editor, and a b-to-b CEO, PennWell's Bob Biolchini. "We deal with last-minute ads on a routine basis," Biolchini says. "We have a lot of movement up until we ship the magazine to the printer. Customer support is an integral part of our process. Although there could be some costs savings, we believe the quality of our publications and our reputation could be compromised."

Debbie Stratton, president of Stratton Publishing, a publishing-services firm that specializes in association magazines, agrees. She says the biggest hurdle would be ensuring effective communication. "I'd be very wary of this approach, and I'd think many association publishers would be as well. While the potential savings may look attractive, that may be offset by the oversight and review needed to ensure content has been accurately reproduced."

Marianne Mattera, editor of Advanstar's Medical Economics, offered a more practical perspective, saying that the traditional interplay among editors and designers is critical. "You'd lose the creative interplay needed to produce a truly compelling magazine if you don't have face-to-face interaction," she says.

Bert N. Langford, a production consultant, sums up the argument this way: "If someone thinks so little of the design of his publication to outsource the production portion, and can save enough, so be it. I'd keep pushing for automating the production portion but leave the design skills with the art director;in the office next to mine."

By Tony Silber
10/30/2006







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