The Production ‘Traffic Cop’
Technology has made publishing more efficient. Why can we still not meet deadlines?
Everything today is digital. From photography and color-accurate proofs to bluelines and printing plates, technology has reduced production-related costs and time, significantly shortening the production cycle. Editors and designers now are outfitted with machines powerful enough to work with high-resolution images. LCD monitors can be calibrated accurately enough to reduce some of the color-proofing cycles. PDF workflow has significantly reduced issues of missing fonts and images. And for that rare corrupted image error, FTP file transfer has reduced delivery time from overnight to same hour.
So why, then, is it no easier to get the content creators (advertisers, photographers, editors) to “respect” the production deadlines?
Here at Boys’ Life and Scouting magazines, the improved technology was going to resolve what I believed was the problem: Advertising close dates were several days after editorial, and editorial could not finish the layout without knowing ad placement. But now, because editorial and design are working with high-resolution images, color correction is happening in the middle of the production cycle. This allows us to move editorial deadlines after ad closing—and closer to press start.
But the advertising department tells me our competitors are offering tighter ad-close deadlines. And since that’s where the money is, we moved those deadlines, too. So we’re back to the same problem, except now production has even less wiggle room—and we’re still getting materials late.
Are we still too fat on our time in production? We average nine working days between the “material to production” and “page files to the printer” deadlines for our two titles. (Boys’ Life is published monthly; Scouting is published six times a year. Both titles go to press at the same time, so we slightly stagger the close dates to avoid a bottleneck in production.)