New Snags Emerge In Production at Digital Speed
By Tony Silber
For publishers, digital-production means a much later ad close, much more timely editorial, more flexibility in modifying pages after they’ve been shipped and a reduced time from shipping to mailing.
All good, right? Maybe not.
It also means a higher level of organization, and some printers are reporting that not all publishers are fully up to speed. With a collapsed production process, printers say, publishers are dropping the ball and negating their shortened production time by not sending their print orders and mailing lists early enough. Or they’re not proofing their pages in a timely manner. Or they’re not replenishing their postage accounts. “With some of our publishers, we are seeing each piece in the information flow creating problems in the process,” says Wayne Peterson, vice president of sales and marketing for United Litho, a short-run printer in Ashburn, Virginia. “Lists are being managed as a secondary or tertiary responsibility of the production people, which delays a print order, making paper management harder. And proofing (hard or soft) is sometimes treated as a low-priority annoyance.”
Other printers report similar challenges. “Printers have been under increasing pressure to shorten cycle time,” says Mike Sartorelli, vice president, sales and marketing, for Dartmouth Printing Co., a short-run specialist in Hanover, New Hampshire. “Yet it doesn’t seem that publishers have realized that there are still a number of events which they control that have a huge impact on how fast the printer can get the magazines out the door and into the mail stream.”
Specifically, Sartorelli says, publishers should build in time for:
ﾕ Proofing. “If proof-approval requires people from more than one location, it may not be possible for them to get everyone to sign off in one day. But publishers typically only build one day into the cycle time for approval.”
ﾕ Creating print orders. “The printer can’t print without a print order,” says Sartorelli. “But often we find ourselves with all of the press forms approved and plated yet we have no final press run.”
ﾕ Updating and forwarding mailing lists and postal funds. “Nothing is more frustrating for the printer than to schedule a job for print and bind, only to discover that labels and postage are not available,” says Sartorelli.
A ﾑScary’ Trend
Behind these observations are one underlying trend, says consultant Steven Frye. “The biggest reason is the continual elimination of the conventional production manager,” Frye says. “Publishers find themselves communicating with several people from each title rather than one central expert. Now multiple staff submit instructions to the printer without realizing how that information relates to the overall process.”
For their part, some of the publishers Folio: quizzed for this report say they have no problems managing a compressed production cycle. “I am not aware of our printer running into any of these problems, and I’m sure they would let me know,” says Gail A. Utt, production manager at Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Stamats Business Media. “We have established deadlines one year in advance for the production and circulation departments. We are also very good about estimating postage on a monthly basis for all of our pubs,” Utt adds. “We occasionally run short, but not often.”
ﾑThe Last Ad’
Cam Bishop, CEO of Overland Park, Kansas-based Ascend Media, tells a similar story. “We just aren’t experiencing this problem,” he says. “Certainly, like every publisher, we have our moments but nothing on a consistent basis. Sorry I can’t offer more color but among our many challenges, production logistics isn’t one. The best thing about faster production times is that we close later and get that last ad!”
Still, someone out there is causing printers to have heart attacks. “Needless to say, our approach is to scramble and back up our clients as well as we possibly can, even when the expectations are based in inexperience in light of the real work required to meet them,” says United Litho’s Peterson.