In the Black
The creation of In the Black Publishing Ltd., a grass-roots publishing firm in Denver, was a lengthy and arduous process for partners Ellsworth Grant, president and CEO, and Frances Grant, vice president and COO. With a year of successful publishing behind them, these two entrepreneurs can now look back at what they've learned and use their experiences in the continued evolution of their single title, In the Black.
Throwing the proverbial hat into the ring
"My publishing experience started many years ago," recalls Frances Grant. "I had a boyfriend who used to print neighborhood newspapers, and I started helping him out with that. … I became fascinated as to how you took a blank piece of paper and put a glob of ink on it. We literally had to hand-turn the machine to print the newspapers at that time!"
In later years, Frances Grant became increasingly involved in a number of Denver's community organizations, such as the NAACP and the Urban League. Her past fascination with print production allowed her to gravitate to communication tasks within these organizations. The community activist began to accept positions involving the management of various types of print projects, including brochures and event programs. The experience also allowed her the opportunity to interact with local printers, and her interest in publishing continued to flourish.
In Boston, halfway across the country, Ellsworth Grant (no relation to Frances), was about to embark on his own career in publishing. While working on his MBA degree, he joined the Boston chapter of the National Black MBA Association. Post college, a career opportunity brought him to Denver, where he continued his affiliation with the National Black MBA Association. The chapter opened Ellsworth Grant's eyes to the importance of written communication.
"I just could not believe that (the association) didn't have a way to spread the word. … I suggested a newsletter," Grant recalls.
Almost before he knew what hit him, Grant found himself in charge of a membership newsletter, which, he recalls, was a simplistic four-page mailer.
To offset the newsletter's printing costs, Ellsworth Grant began to scour the Rocky Mountains for corporate advertising support. He was pleasantly surprised when many local organizations and businesses expressed an interest in his product and solidified their support with advertising insertion orders.
"Since the corporations were excited about partnering with these types of projects, … I came out with a subsequent newsletter," Grant explains. The publication's page count grew to eight pages, and Grant knew he'd hit on an idea with great potential.
Attaining a unified goal
Frances Grant met Ellsworth Grant through a mutual friend. The two aspiring publishers became great friends, and, ultimately, publishing partners.
With the success of his 12-page newsletter, Ellsworth Grant set a new goal—a magazine! "It was quite obvious to me that the African-American community in Denver was starved for a magazine," he notes. "So, I asked Frances about it, and I convinced her that a magazine would be a really good thing to do."
With Frances on board, the two entrepreneurial publishers began to envision what would become their brainchild, In the Black.
Identifying the need
"In the African-American community," Ellsworth Grant explains, "publishing is a young industry. … There is a great deal of talk about a need for quality, African-American products coming out of the publishing industry. … We saw the opportunity, and we seized it."
The typical reader, according to both Grants, is an African American between the ages of 25 and 45. "The marketing focus for In the Black," Ellsworth Grant explains, "is a dynamic, African American who is doing well and travels a lot. … The person also has a big-time, disposable income, and generally likes the finer things in life."
With a launch date set for the summer of 1998, Ellworth Grant and Frances Grant began to systematically conceptualize the design and content goals for the magazine to best suit the target audience.
A mentoring program
During the early brainstorming days, Ellsworth Grant stumbled upon 5280 magazine, the enterprise of entrepreneurial Publisher Dan Brogan. "That magazine is awesome," Ellsworth Grant exclaims when referring to the regional periodical that focuses on current events and notable Denver residents.
After monitoring several issues of 5280, Ellsworth Grant recognized Brogan's publishing genius. "I went to Frances and I said, 'If we can get this guy to work with us, we will be headed in the direction we need to (head),'" he recalls.
On behalf of newly formed In the Black Publishing Ltd., Frances Grant conferred with Dan Brogan and enthusiastically reported back to her partner that Brogan "wanted to talk."
According to the partners, Brogan brought a publishing savvy to the table that both Grants lacked up until that time. With several large advertisers secured, Ellsworth and Frances reportedly had a "wonderful conversation" with Brogan. It went exceptionally well, in fact, for Brogan signed on as their mentor.
"Dan was a tremendous help in putting us on the right course," recalls Ellsworth Grant.
"We told him what we wanted and what we thought we needed, and he came up with a few design suggestions," Frances Grant interjects. "He also gave us lots of suggestions regarding advertisers, editorial and distribution."
But Brogan went above and beyond the call of duty by actually designing and laying out the premier issue of In the Black.
While Brogan continues to counsel In the Black's staff, he has since stepped out of the day-to-day operations, allowing the fledgling publishers to secure their own production and manufacturing partners.
After a brief relationship with its original Denver-based creative firm, In the Black landed in the hands of Cathy Holtz, owner of Blonde Ambition, also a Denver-based design and production shop.
Holtz's first order of business was to offer suggestions that would help In the Black survive manufacturing on a shoestring budget.
"As their designer, I understand that (Ellsworth and Frances) have certain financial considerations with the start-up of this magazine. … I see it as my responsibility to introduce them to different sorts of vendors, and, hopefully, to help them identify all the components of quality printing," notes Holtz.
"We all decided that the cover was very important for this magazine," Holtz continues, "so we began to use a scan house, GraphX (Denver). … We also began to use a professional photo retoucher to get the look that we wanted. Ellsworth and Frances really want to reach a national audience, so the covers have taken on a whole new look. They wanted it to really pop off the shelves."
Holtz is personally responsible for the entire design of the publication, and she takes great pride in developing a consistently clean product. Using Macintosh-based QuarkXPress and Adobe's Illustrator and Photoshop, Holtz has created a crisp design template and specific color palette upon which to build.
The publication's printer, American Web, Denver, "has the most stringent guidelines," claims Holtz. "They are very focused on streamlining the process. Their goals are to save their customers money that way."
When Holtz initially signed on with In the Black, the publisher's relationship with American Web (the printer specializes in short- to medium-run publications) was already established.
Holtz recalls the creation of her first issue of In the Black: "I had to submit a test file; the first one flunked," Holtz adds with a laugh. "I was an experienced designer, but I needed to understand the printer's specs. There were some tiny, minor things that went wrong, like the way the fonts were arranged." After the learning curve was maneuvered, Holtz notes that the second test file "worked like a charm."
And yet another production partnership flourished, this time between designer and printer. Throughout the past year, Holtz has grown to respect her colleagues at American Web.
"If you want a magazine from them in eight days, you will get it, but you have to follow their rules," Holtz notes.
Keeping costs in check
American Web's Executive Vice President Clarke Fine concurs with Holtz's assessment that cost is always a concern for publisher and printer alike. "(American Web) has a good deal of experience in dealing with new publishers," notes Fine. "With items such as paper being up to 40 percent or more of the printing costs, much of the advice and information we pass on to new clients involves cost savings."
American Web handles both prepress and printing for In the Black. "In 1990, when (American Web) entered the desktop market, we trademarked the name, 'Smart-Stream,' and created an internal workflow for cost-efficient page production," recalls Fine. "In review of competitors and service bureaus at the time, we found too many simply 'opened their doors' to process any and all types of file formats.
"(SmartStream) took the competition by surprise; we established a flat $39 (rate) per 10x12, four-color page, including Matchprint and composite films. This was, at the time, about one-tenth of the typical national cost for high-end film and proof production," Fine asserts.
All art, with the exception of the cover, is scanned using SmartSep, a component of American Web's SmartStream process. As Fine explains, SmartSep involves a Crosfield drum scan "done with the same setup and care as a 'conventional' scan."
SmartSep offers a financial incentive to a publisher, notes Fine, because the customer does not receive color proofs of the images after they are converted to digital data. This requires a special understanding between the publisher and American Web, Fine adds. There is a mutual understanding that the original art is of high quality, and, secondly, the publisher understands that the printer will take particular care when scanning the images, to result in a "commercially acceptable product."
Developed five years ago, American Web's SmartSep process was designed to cater to the cost-concerned publisher, particularly those who could easily bypass color approval proofs prior to page compilation.
Deleting random proofs from production saves a publisher a considerable amount of cash, Fine suggests: "In the Black saves (more than) 50 percent of their prepress budgeted costs using this process."
The risk to the publisher remains minimal, adds Fine, who says, "The scans made, using this process, do appear in final composite proofs, which are used for press checks, so the press does have something to run to for color." After images are scanned, low-res PSImages (PostScript graphic files), which allow designers to manipulate the images according to size and rotation needs—are passed on to Holtz. She places the low-res images within the finalized XPress pages and outputs black-and-white laser proofs that accompany the digital file (usually an EPS or TIFF/IT-P1) back to the printer.
Once at the printer, Scitex's Automatic Picture Replacement automatically performs the low-res/high-res exchange prior to imagesetter output. Film-based Matchprints are sent back to the designer and publisher for contract approval. Once the contract proof is approved, printing and binding occur within four working days, Fine notes.
The workflow established by the publisher, designer and printer allows for the cost-effective, systematic production of In the Black, according to all parties involved.
"The SmartStream system, when correctly followed by the client, continues to offer a very competitive structure for prepress," Fine adds.
Distribution of In the Black's 10,000 quarterly copies is currently handled by the publisher. Eventually, when the magazine goes nationwide, Ellsworth Grant explains that a more sophisticated fulfillment and distribution vendor will become a necessity.
Outsourcing production is a topic that all publishers face. How much of production and prepress should a publisher outsource? How do you find the right outsourcing agent with which to partner? Which is more cost-effective: outsourcing or bringing prepress in house?
These questions are among the many that entrepreneurial publishers must address before launching a title, and it is possible that even the most experienced publisher may benefit from periodically reviewing these issues.
At industry events, it is often acknowledged that no two publishers have identical workflows, and, certainly, relinquishing production control may at times be a frightening endeavor for publishers that lack a long-standing relationship with a prepress shop or printer. Thus, deciding whether to outsource certain workflow responsibilities is a choice that each unique publisher should take under advisement.
Ellsworth Grant and Frances Grant agree that it is a very personal decision to outsource production. "Starting out in the business, we're just not set up for in-house design or staff," Frances Grant remarks.
Ellsworth Grant concurs that In the Black Publishing Ltd. is not yet ready to bring design and production in house. "We're not going to rush into that," he explains. "As we grow, we may need an art director and other in-house people, but it is foolhardy, at the beginning, to do that, unless, of course, you have a million dollars."
Setting ambitious goals
The future is bright for the entrepreneurial publishers at In the Black. "If things continue to go as well as they have been, we'll probably go national sooner than we ever expected," Ellsworth Grant predicts.
"The African-American community is so under-served in quality publications. With close to $500 billion dollars in spending power, the market is definitely in need of these types of publications, and we'll definitely look into the
opportunities," Grant proudly concludes.
-Gretchen A. Kirby