Take the Express to the Press
Red Herring is one of those publications that make the magazine publishing community swoon. Ah, to pick it up from the newsstand and feel the noticeable weight of an issue reaffirms our faith that magazine publishing is by no means on the decline. This monthly mag is T-H-I-C-K, chock full o' ads!
In some respects, the magazine's bulk eventually became its curse. "Three years ago, we were a monthly magazine, averaging about 148 pages, with a circulation of less than 75,000 subscribers," recalls Fran Fox, Red Herring's vice president of manufacturing. By 2000, the magazine's girth bulged with issues ringing in at an impressive 634 pages. Its print run multiplied five-fold, and circulation quadrupled. "However, some readers actually complained that we were giving them too much for their money," Fox exclaims.
Red Herring's dimensions, along with its desire to provide more timely news, contributed to the magazine's decision to go bi-weekly. Certainly, the hope for additional sales opportunities had something to do with it, as well, and in September, the magazine officially became a treasured, twice-a-month mailbox treat.
Doom and gloom
When Red Herring's staff of editors, writers, art directors and production staff learned of the change in frequency, anxious feelings ran amok. "Sure, we were all very nervous about what this would mean to us," recalls Fox. "At that time, late hours and working weekends were the rule, not the exception, and we knew we had to really take a look at what we had been doing to produce this magazine and what we would have to do differently if we were going to keep our sanity and our jobs."
To complicate matters, the magazine's printing contract with R.R. Donnelley & Sons' Pontiac, IL, plant was due to expire by year-end 2000. Indeed, the magazine's future seemed destined for change and pressed for time. In the end, though, it was this simultaneous chain of events that enabled the magazine to come out on top.
"Within four-and-a-half months —from April to September—we went bi-weekly and computer-to-plate," Fox marvels at her team's accomplishments. "We brought prepress in house. We completely revamped the entire editorial and art workflow, from story pitch to editorial delivery to the printer. We changed Donnelley plants and started shipping our files by form. We adopted electronic pagination; we instituted color management, and we adopted QPS, [the Quark Publishing System." Whew.
Give it a name
Red Herring's first action item was to get help. Fox and her colleagues knew that they needed guidance to lead them through an objective evaluation of editorial, design and production procedures, and more importantly, make some streamlining and quality control suggestions. "We hired experts to help devise a workflow conducive to all of our objectives," Fox explains. "These experts—Alex Brown of Printmark and Linda Manes Goodwin of Manes Goodwin Associates—helped us to develop and actualize a streamlined workflow that we coined, 'The Machine,' or our 'Express-to-Press' initiative.
"This new workflow starts with the story pitch and ends with digital delivery to the printer, and it was devised from input from all the players," Fox says. "Alex Brown led us by asking questions like: How much time is needed for the first draft of the cover story? At what point should art become involved in story development? Or, how much time does copyedit need to edit an
article? All of these questions and more were asked and answered by the people who have to make it happen. … As a result, everyone bought into and supported 'The Machine,' because they'd created it themselves!"
Brown and Manes Goodwin got down to the nitty gritty of the workflow, Fox recalls. During intimate meetings with staff members, they were able to glean each department's needs for time and process. They learned about their perceptions of the existing workflow and heard their ideas for change.
"The bad news was that Red Herring was going to face extreme upheaval to accommodate the new publishing frequency," Brown expounds. "The great news is, we were able to take that pressing need and turn it into an opportunity to rethink the entire editorial workflow and develop it with everyone's commitment and insight."
Brown also became Fox's advisor when it came to renegotiating Red Herring's expiring print contract. Although Donnelley won the contract renewal, the change in frequency meant that the magazine would find its new printing home at Donnelley's Danville, KY, plant.
The next wave
Once the workflow was mapped out, Fox could then address the magazine's immediate needs for technologies. To help with editorial and art communication, Red Herring's editorial staff had already brought in Image Inc. to implement Modulo System's QPS. At the same time that "Express to Press" was being created, edit and art were being trained and brought up to speed on QPS' capabilities. To assist production staff, who were now charged with delivering pages in forms to the printer, the magazine licensed Managing Editor's Advertising Layout System (ALS) for ad pagination.
"Before I came to Red Herring, I'd heard that they did the layout on a blank wall covered with blank envelopes, in which they placed little slips of paper with the names of ads or feature articles. … When I arrived, I created a [Microsoft] Excel spreadsheet for the imposition. But that was still a really manual process and just as cumbersome. But at least with the spreadsheet, I knew that no one could move things around in the middle of the night," Fox quips. "When we went from 300- to 600-page issues, started bi-weekly production and had to start delivering forms to the printer, it made sense that we spend some money on software. We had ALS up and running by August, and we were trained on it the week before Labor Day. What used to take me … 12 hours or more to do over a weekend now takes us less than three hours to do during working hours."
Brown and Manes Goodwin worked with Donnelley to design the prepress workflow, for both editorial and advertising. Preflighting software (Enfocus' PitStop is used to verify PDFs, while Rorke Data's TIFF/ITeyes is used to preflight TIFF/IT-P1 files) was brought in to quality control digital ads, and the magazine also licensed Acrobat 4.0 to create PDF files that would be fed to the printer's Prinergy workflow.
For proofing, a resident Epson 5000 driven by a Fiery RIP outputs close-to-contract-level proofs for edit pages. The device is frequently calibrated to SWOP and does a fairly good job at ensuring color accuracy, notes Fox. "Because it's not a true black—it's a cyan and magenta black—we're finding that the blacks and the mid-tones tend to have a greenish cast," she adds. "But this is something that we are addressing."
Donnelley's Los Angeles-based Premedia Division, supplies Red Herring's scans, accompanied by Kodak Approval digital halftone proofs. These act as an added QC measure, reports Fox, who notes that the Approval proofs are attached to in-house-generated Epson proofs and are sent to the plant for color verification.
We're not gonna take it
As for CTP, Fox notes that it was critical to devise a strategy for soliciting digital ads. The first step called for Red Herring to work with Donnelley to create a complete set of digital ad specifications. Armed with these specs and the need to forego potentially wounding copydot scanning charges, digital ad submissions had to rise—immediately and dramatically.
"It was a little daunting to find out the timeframe we were working with," recalls Manes Goodwin. "Talk about turning on a dime! We only had a few months from the time the idea of accepting digital ads was first introduced to when the first bi-weekly issue went to press, and we had some pretty aggressive goals to meet. We were counting on having 25 percent of the ads in that first issue come in digitally and being completely digital within
just four months."
"We were very specific about our digital ad specifications," Fox concurs. "We wanted good PDFs, PDF/X-1s or TIFF/IT-P1s. We were not going to accept PostScript files or native application files. "Linda was the one who solicited our digital ads. She suggested that in addition to the printed version of the ad specifications, we post our specs on the Web site, as well. She called all of the production contacts at the agencies, and walked them through how to prepare their ads, if that what was necessary," Fox adds. "For that first bi-weekly issue, we had far above the 25 percent digital ad submissions we expected; it was more like 45 percent, if you don't count the pick-ups."
The second digitally produced issue came in at 43 percent digital ad submissions. "If you don't count the pick-ups, 67 percent of the ads were digital," Fox adds. "Not bad, huh?"
Fox adds that Red Herring received a higher percentage of PDF files for the first issue, while the second issue brought in about a 50/50 split between PDF and TIFF/IT-P1 ads. "We have yet to receive a PDF/X-1 file," she notes. "We had very few problems with the TIFF/IT-P1s. However, the PDFs were more problematic, primarily due to font embedding or color-space issues. If time permitted, we'd request a new file. Fortunately, electronic transmission allowed us to receive new files quickly. On the few occasions that we were unable to receive a new file—or if we received a new file that still had problems—we worked with the advertiser to find a solution."
The people factor
Perhaps the most profound effect of the new workflow hasn't been on the manufacturing of the popular magazine, but rather, on the people who make it. "To perform all of the aforementioned miracles, we've increased the production staff," Fox reports. Peter Discoe, formerly with Ziff-Davis, joined the group as production technology manager. Zach Brenner became production tech coordinator. Dan Mallory joins production director Karen Price and senior production coordinator Jodie Wennberg as ad production coordinator. And Christine Jacobs, as manufacturing manager, was hired to tackle print-buying for each of Red Herring's corporate divisions.
The secret of success
What's been the secret to Red Herring's success? According to Fox, the answer is two-fold. First, she says, it was vital to get the people involved who are charged with making it all happen. "You have to listen to their problems, their concerns," she suggests. "The other thing that helped us through this was not being afraid. Whatever we paid our consultants has been saved many times over. When you're faced with all these questions about cycle time, CTP, going bi-weekly, you can't be afraid to say, 'I don't know. I need help.' "
Even though Fox and her colleagues seemed destined for chaos with so many changes taking place at once, they held strong and worked through it together. "Although our former editorial process was the result of evolution at its worst, inertia did a marvelous job of maintaining the status quo. Yet, to go bi-weekly and take advantage of all the efficiencies that technology had to offer … we needed to completely revamp our editorial schedule. CTP was the greater good—or the scapegoat—that we used to reshape everyone's thinking and attitude about the process and procedures. It enabled us to throw out the old.
"Initially, in the days before 'The Machine,' our production schedule was haphazard and overtaxed. This led to a predictable tension between editorial, art, copyedit and production," Fox adds. "Our new workflow, and the formation of a task force that meets twice a week to trouble shoot future problems and solve current ones, turned our interdepartmental relationships a-round. We are now truly a unit, working for a common goal: putting out a fantastic magazine on time, but with no overtime!"
-Gretchen A. Kirby