Despite the influx of technologies that should make magazine workflow easier, the process of producing a magazine and bringing together all the components;editing, advertising, art;and sending it in a workable file to the printer is getting no less difficult or complicated. With stricter budgets causing many staffs to shrink, offline freelancers are relied upon more than ever before and that creates a less watchful eye over the workflow process. That, along with other challenges, can create one of the biggest problems a magazine workflow faces: lateness. To combat this, of course, the options vary. Ahead, four magazines share their secrets and challenges for their magazine workflow process:

Information Security
This 60,000 circ title, published by TechTarget, is all about being technical;yet the challenge is making sure it can cut through the jargon to also make the publication readable. "The same people who have the knowledge for the field we cover, don’t always have the writing skills," says editorial director Jon Panker. "That means we’re doing as many as four or five revisions." This translates into a two-month process, which can put the magazine under the gun with production and printers. Panker works closely with the editor-in-chief to oversee the editorial, but he also finds himself often dealing with advertising. "I get camera-ready materials in and then press proof for color," he says. "One advantage is our ads are mostly full-page so we don’t need to try and fit a lot of small ads around the other content."

"The major workflow challenge is that the advertising sales people always want to stretch the time they have to get an ad in," says Panker. "However, we have the process streamlined where an advertiser can come in late and we can be receptive. Can anyone afford to turn down ad revenue in our business?" One important improvement in the workflow process has been in prepress. Originally, TechTarget sent its magazines to two different prepress houses;but no longer. "By consolidating to one prepress, it really improved the way we organized. Every prepress house has their own way of doing things and now we don’t find ourselves having to be bent in different directions.

Agencies send full page ads as PDF or Quark files. If the file is good, production manager Patricia Volpe sends it to the prepress house, since Information Security doesn’t have it’s own prepress department. "We would rather outsource because I’m really the only person in production as far as dealing with advertisers," says Volpe.

You may think when a monthly magazine has a 10,000 circulation that its challenges are few. Even if there are less complications for Prism Business Media’s Radio, a tiny staff means much more individual responsibility than at most titles. "We work roughly two months from the cover date," says editor Chriss Scherer. "But with such a small staff we can’t always leave it to the writer to keep rewriting. About half the time, I just have to roll up my sleeves and finish the job."

When production hits, much of the responsibility falls on senior associate editor Kari Taylor. That’s right;she’s the production manager, too. "There’s not much we can do ahead of schedule because we need the creative materials, which can make it difficult sometimes," Taylor says. "The ad production coordinator does the larger ads and I place the fractional ads. I start with getting the ad number and then working with an InDesign file for completion."

Taylor says InDesign easily beats the old system;PageMaker. "We switched to InDesign in late summer and the improvement was immediate," she says. "Before, we had to print out lasers and approve everything on hard copies. We were also looking at film all the time, but now we have a digital workflow where it goes from InDesign to another program we invested in, PageTrack, to get it prepped for the printer." Taylor says the changes have cut her production work time down approximately 40 percent. "When you only have 11 days to lay out the magazine and get it to the printer," she says, "you need all the time you can get."

Budget Travel
In Jay McInerney’s famed Bright Lights, Big City, the main character’s pressure-cooker job is at a Manhattan travel magazine. Though Marilyn Holstein, managing editor of 550,000-circ. Budget Travel, insists they have a lot more fun than in the movie, she also agrees that the process an article goes through is an arduous one. "Nine out of 10 of our articles come from our own ideas, so our pool of freelancers are mostly assigned pieces instead of the common pitch style," Holstein says.

After the article meets the assigning editor’s expectations then it goes to the editor-in-chief, who will either give it the go-ahead or ask for further elaboration. Once he’s satisfied, it’s released to Holstein . "Then comes the brutal fact-checking," she says. Holstein also notes that fact-checking and design are done simultaneously so nobody’s waiting. After they print out a "clean sheet," showing both editorial and design, it goes back to the editor-in-chief to make sure it flows to his liking.

Then it’s back to research for one more go-around in case anything was missed. "The process isn’t too bad when we have an article that could be written a year in advance," Holstein says. "But for many pieces in our FOB, it could be even less than four weeks from initial assignment to ship. Not easy." Ton Vu, production director for Budget Travel, says they strictly use Quark for the editorial end of production while 95 percent of ads come in through PDFs. Vu’s insists on doing a press check at the printers for every issue. "It’s mostly so editorial can sure," he says. "After all that work, you don’t want to get the cover wrong."

Foreign Policy
Once content to be a quarterly and in a digest format that was admittedly short on the visual, production manager Travis Daub has watched Foreign Policy go to a quarterly full-size now known as much for its style as its substance. But with growth comes growing pains, which Daub felt handling production for a 110,000-circ magazine. Recently, that’s changed somewhat as Daub now has two designers who work under him. "I oversee the production process, but can have the other designers handle the departments mostly on their own," he says.

Managing editor Will Dobson also has his work cut out for him, with the magazine working two months ahead but always having the possibility of a breaking news story forcing them to switch gears. The editorial process is rigorous but that provides safeguards, says Dobson. The assigning editor does an initial edit on an assignment and then Dobson line edits the magazine himself. Then the third edit belongs to the copy editors, who also handle the fact checking. The unusual step to Dobson is that Foreign Policy lays out the entire magazine after the first proof. "It just goes to show you what a premium the magazine puts on visuals," he says. But it’s not just the layout in the art and production process that may be unique. Another difference Daub sees from comparing notes with other titles is that Foreign Policy continues to send the whole magazine over to the printer instead of bits and pieces. "We don’t like to send in an article early because our page count can change closer to the end of the process," he says. "If news hits last-second, we don’t want to leave it out because we’re stuck to a certain page amount."

One of the two major changes to the production workflow since Daub came to the magazine seven years ago was switching from film to digital-to-plate PDFs. "The change also meant less involvement from the printer," says Daub, who estimates this saved the magazine 60 percent on its prepress costs. The other major technical investment has been adding PitStop Professional. "It allows us to make changes later in the process on the PDF," he says. "I used to have to go back to the beginning of the production process steps to make a fix PitStop cost us $650 per license for each workstation, but we’ve found it to be well worth it."

Daub is at the printers for a press check as often as every other issue. "I once caught a prominent red bar missing from the cover," he says. "If I wasn’t at the press check, the magazine wouldn’t have looked like it should. I also want to be able to see how the ads look off the press. Just because it looks one way on your computer screen, doesn’t mean the press run will come out the same."

Simplify Your Complications
Though all the magazines that weighed in seemed to agree that the workflow process continues to throw them new curveballs, it seems one message is clear: no matter how complicated it gets, keep it as simple as you can. David Steinhardt, president and CEO of IDEAlliance, an organization dedicated to improving publishing for print industry executives and distribution manufacturers, believes that printers and magazines will be finding many more ways to improve the workflow process in the near future.

"With better applications for the cataloging and tracking of articles, such as Prism," says Steinhardt, "I think you’ll see most magazines will be able to make changes much closer to printing than they do now." But until that time, Robert Ivy, editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, will continue to cut down what he can. "We’re letting our deputy editors do more of the editing, rather than having every story go through the complete hierarchy that it once did," he says. "It doesn’t just save time, but also creates a trust. That’s something we need more of in our business." | | | | | |

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