The magazine production department used to be about tracking insertion orders and hard-copy ad materials and shipping by hand all of the magazine pages to the printer. These days, with so many automated tasks and so many different and growing publishing outlets, that traditional production department has gone by the way side.

Publishers have a lot more to worry about than just publishing a print magazine. Most are publishing online, to a bevy of mobile devices and to various social media. Yesterday’s production department has had to morph into a tech-savvy group of multitaskers.

“It’s an exciting time and it’s a time of great change,” says Ellen Payne, director of editorial operations at Hearst. “Traditional production people are wondering, ‘where do I fit into this New World Order’? You should be able to do more than just one thing. The traditional production departments—the people with the strongest technical skills—will have a bigger role to play down the road.”

Hearst shook up its production department about five years ago by doing away with silo-ed, individual production teams for specific magazines and created a core production team that services all 15 titles. “We have a core centralized production team of four highly skilled people that handle 17,000-plus edit pages per year,” Payne says. To make it work Hearst has automated a bunch of things and designs pages as cleanly as possible, Payne adds. This new team also handles the production of Hearst’s digital magazines, such as Popular Mechanics, which are published by Zinio.

New Tech Solutions

The ability to publish to multiple outlets wouldn’t be possible without the ever-developing technologies publishers have come to rely on. Hearst uses Adobe InDesign, InCopy and K4 for its editorial prepress side. The company also uses the plug-in Made to Print to automate much of the editorial workflow. And it uses Kodak’s Prinergy and InSite prepress portal to send pages to the printer and PDFs to its asset management system, Payne says.

Prinergy enables the publisher to do a lot of virtual proofing and press-side virtual proofing at printers. “It saves a lot of time and energy and paper,” Payne says. Six months ago, about half of Hearst’s titles were virtual on the press side and two to three were virtual internally. The company plans to do virtual proofing on a wider scale and will roll that out over the next year, Payne adds.

The production workflow at Hearst looks something like this: When the edit pages have all gone through the editorial and design processes and are ready to go to the printer, the production staff uses Made to Print to send files to the printer at Prinergy.

At the same time, Made to Print sends files to Hearst’s archives—a temporary repository where files are manually collected and bundled and uploaded to the FTP site where it is outsourced to India to have XML added. The files come back within 36 to 48 hours. The digital staff then grabs the files from the FTP site and puts them into the home-grown XML repository site. From there, files are sent out to syndication partners and can be adjusted to fit whichever XML feed they require.

All of Hearst’s digital systems were built from scratch using open code. “We can maintain controls and updates; the same for the ad platform, the circ platform, etc.,” says Erin Dailey, director of project process and business standards. Dailey is responsible for maintaining resources and standards throughout Hearst’s digital media and identifying repetitive actions or things that could be automated—a task most publishers should employ.

“The beauty of having XML created in India and put on FTP is we can do whatever we want with it,” Dailey adds. “We have an automatic process and have our open-source internal platform. Our CMS platform is handled by internal engineers, so all a Web editor has to do is go in and grab it.” Dailey says the average time for print to Web production for Web editors is now between two to five days thanks to all of the automation the publisher has incorporated. That compares to two weeks from start to finish with the old system.

Hearst also uses a program called Meebo that allows it to share content across all of its different Web sites and extends its brands into the social networking arena, Dailey says.

Production Partners Adapt

Of course, to make all of these new automated processes work, production partners, from digital magazine producers to printers, have to be on board and using the same technologies. The same is true for advertising partners. “We have come a long way with the quality of the files provided which had caused the most problems in recent years,” says Louise Morrin, vice president of production and manufacturing for Haymarket Media Group. “We had to talk advertisers through file preparation but people are getting more savvy.” The publisher, which serves a wide array of sectors from automotive to technology, uses Intuit QuickBase to organize orders and vendor software for Webcasts and e-newsletters. R.R. Donnelley is Haymarket’s primary vendor. Morrin says the most significant involvement the printer has had to adapt to is taking the print pages to produce Haymarket’s digital editions, which is now seamless to the publisher.

New Workflows

Morrin has seen the production staff grow into the new workflows and various content outlets. “All material is provided on e-mail or FTP no matter where it ends up,” she says. The production teams “are talking to more contact people, which adds time, but they embrace the new exposure. Some are also providing detailed reports on traffic and lead generation so that is a new area of interest.”

While the production department has always been involved in all areas of the Haymarket brand, from print to marketing and events, it is spreading into even more areas of the business now. “We’re coordinating and reporting e-newsletters, Webcasts, licensing, etc.,” Morrin says. “It’s a challenge to keep on top of more deadlines, but it’s a good challenge as long as it’s the right person who is willing to take on more.”

Hearst, meanwhile, spreads its work among a few of the larger printers, including R.R. Donnelley, WorldColor, QuadGraphics and Brown Printing Co. All of these print shops now provide a whole host of digital solutions to cut down on time and errors.

They are also incorporating virtual proofing, digital asset management and other prepress solutions to extend the window for ad placement as well as editorial production. And some are using proprietary systems to add further efficiencies to the workflow. For example, Brown’s B.Direct system works with InSite and has the added benefit of providing inlines with thumbnail images which allows publishers to discuss inline scenarios before going to print and troubleshoot potential problems.

What’s Next? Mobile and E-Readers

The next frontier for multichannel publishing are the emerging new iPhones and tablets, Payne says. Publishers are trying to figure out how to put content on them because they look and feel different from a Web site, she adds. “I’m excited about this year and the changes that are happening. We love magazines and were sadto see some go by the way side, but something new and exciting is emerging. I can just tell.”


Tips for Becoming Tech-Savvy

The production world is changing as fast as lightning thanks to a constant array of new technologies and demands. The most tech-savvy production managers who can juggle many tasks are the ones who will stay in demand.

“You should be able to do more than one thing,” says Ellen Payne, director of editorial operations for Hearst Magazines. “The people with the strongest technical skills will have a bigger role to play down the road.”

Here are some tips for staying abreast of the latest multichannel production technologies, courtesy of  Payne and her Hearst colleague, Erin Dailey.

Be an early adopter: Try out the latest devices and platforms as soon as they are available because chances are, you’ll be publishing to them sooner or later.

Stay informed: Read up on the latest trends and techniques via any of the numerous Web sites and blogs that span technology trends. Or create a Google Alert on your topic of choice to pull any article or blog published online.

Practice at home: Open a Twitter or Facebook account. Upload images and videos to get familiar with the ins and outs of the different platforms.

Take classes: Take a class in Flash or HTML or Dreamweaver—or on any topic you want to expand your knowledge.

Talk to your own in-house gurus: Go to your tech-savvy colleagues and ask questions or set up a brown-bag lunch where a guest speaker can illuminate some of the finer points of the emerging technologies.