The Snowball Effect
You can't write a prescription for style. You can, however, create a recipe for success inside an 8x10˝ trim. For Bradford Fayfield, the 29-year-old editor and publisher of Freeskier magazine, a Storm Mountain Publishing venture, success and style are synonymous.
Skiing, explains Fayfield, is a lifestyle, not just a sport. Since the magazine's launch three years ago as ski gadabout, the brainchild of this Northwestern University grad and his fellow U.S. Ski Team member, Chris Tamborini, not only found a niche just when snowboarding gained popularity, but cut a new one for extreme skiers.
Tired of the conservative coverage ascribed to the now-defunct Snow County magazine, Freeskier's debut looked more like an MTV plug than a first-run attempt at publishing. Featuring decked-out ski bunny Cindy Crawford stealing the American flag from Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley, the first cover of Freeskier waxed the attention of 65,000 18-to-34-year-old ski enthusiasts in North America. Since then, the Boulder, CO-based magazine swiftly churns out news about the endless parties, premier events and images that shape the lifestyle. During 2000, production similarly ramped up adrenaline with a new computer-to-plate (CTP) workflow.
Once upon a slope...
When Fayfield sat down one morning with American Web's executive vice president, Clarke Fine, he remembers the conversation coming down to two important questions about whether to go CTP: How will the magazine look? What will the advertisers say?
Fine made promises that day that Fayfield says were right on target. Not only would the magazine's 70 percent graphic content look better because of exact dot replication, but prepress time would be 40 percent faster, and advertisers would jump at the chance to do away with film.
"In general," says Fine, "publishers can expect a two-to-three-percent dot gain from conventional film and plate preparation," whereas CTP technology enables a first-generation dot and more narrow gain. Fayfield, a man as concerned about aesthetics as he is content, embraced CTP.
Unlike many of his publishing industry peers, Fayfield is young and forward-thinking. Whereas CTP has been perceived as an obstacle to some of those who have been in the know for years, this more idealistic constituency of 20-somethings was weaned on it. Fine says that a lot of young publishers have never even heard of paste-ups and clip art because they matured in a digital world without wires. During Fine's many years in the industry, he's noticed distinct differences between Generation X publishers and the old school.
"[Younger publishers] don't seem to come with any predetermined expectations," says Fine. "On one hand, they lack traditional manufacturing experience, but on the other, they're open to new technology." They're also not as dedicated to maintaining ties. Fine explains that if a printer talks one of these young entrepreneurs into a selfish business venture that they later find out to be a bad idea, "They'll drop you and move onto someone who they trust and can grow with."
Since American Web, the magazine's printer, already installed Heidelberg and CreoScitex's Prinergy, a system that Fine says resolves digital quality concerns of the past, such as missing fonts, the guys at Freeskier agreed to the conversion.
Rick Urso, prepress manager at American Web, explains, "Three years ago when we looked at the [CreoScitex] system, we liked the equipment, but it was a hybrid work needing to pull together more quality issues. When Prinergy was released, it put PDF workflow together with good output media." Urso also charges that it's most important to remember that no workflow is 100 percent perfect. "I've yet to see a workflow that's flawless," he elaborates.
"The biggest bottleneck of the CTP workflow relates to [ad submission]," reports Fine. "In the future, all jobs will be 100 percent digital. In the short term, portions of the jobs will require copy-dot conversion." During transition, he says supplied film can readily be converted to digital files. For Freeskier, the first 108-page CTP edition with an ad/edit ratio of 40/60 required copy-dot scanning for 18 ads on CreoScitex's Renaissance II scanner, but by the second issue, that number was cut in half. And by the third, only six ads required conversion. All the non-digital ads now require plate-ready, negative film with emulsion-side down at 150 line screen. Proofs for film or digital submissions must also accompany such ads.
Fayfield reports, "Our printer gave us a grace period in which they did copy-dot processing for free for the first few issues. The idea was to make the transition easier for our advertisers. For our upcoming issue, the fourth we've done CTP, our printer will charge us for the copy-dot conversion of any ads and we will pass that charge on to our advertisers. … We've only had about three advertising clients insist on submitting film."
Fayfield attributes the otherwise swift progress to openly communicative printer relations and the magazine's young, adventurous mindset.
For Fayfield and Tamborini, CTP needed to also prove less costly. With cooperative advertisers in tow, Fayfield says prepress costs dropped by almost 30 percent. Overall, Fayfield says each issue of the magazine nets a five-percent savings, adding up to 20-percent revenue for the year since scanning responsibility is handled by American Web. But what he's most proud of is quality. "Because our readership is high-end," he admits, "our product has to reflect that. We're pushing the lifestyle theme, and CTP has made the experience better. Skiers are affluent people—the magazine must also have that look and feel."
With each team member resigned to high-end goals, American Web gave good reason to switch from No. 2 Utopia to a No. 3 Accolade 60-lb. sheet (International Paper) and No. 2 Aero cover stock (Sappi). Initially doubtful about the paper's brightness, Fine argues that the shift isn't really noticeable in print, but they've saved thousands of dollars over the last year. And Freeskier's subtle homage to snow-capped peaks is still very much intact.
Special issues of the publication have also been drawing much profit, including its December Buyers' Guide, which Fayfield describes as one of the most in-depth product reviews to date, as well as a Photo Annual packed with more than 25 pages of images from some of the most noteworthy sports photographers in the industry.
Behind the scenes of the high-gloss, high-energy magazine, Art Director Paul Marais warns that while CTP has saved time and made money, it's also added more internal steps during the production process. "Now, I have to
preflight and sometimes fix ads. It takes more time per ad, but in the long run," he admits, "the turnaround is much faster. I think we work in a slightly different way to a lot of magazines because we are so graphic intensive." The bulkier file sizes, as a result, are all preflighted in-house using Markware's FlightCheck software.
Marais says all edit pages are also readied in-house using a full slate of Mac-friendly products, including QuarkXPress for page layout. "Because we were already used to dealing with high-res issues up to 6 GBs," Marais explains, "when the ads came in for the first time [after CTP], we were used to it."
"It's a trade-off to be creative and fast," quips Marais. "You have to be both." To ensure that production stays on top of the workload, the staff developed standards and practices for the CTP workflow. "We try to accept a variety of image files, such as EPS, Bitmap and TIF," says Marais, some of which are loaded onto disks and CD-ROMs rather than directly onto the FTP site used to transmit to the printer. "We don't actually send the entire magazine via the Internet," he continues, because many high-res photo spreads and full-page graphics would take hours to load via a 640k DSL line. Marais says that the crew is considering upgrades to bandwidth and from Apple G3s to G4s, but no formal investments have yet been made.
In the future, Marais would like to produce the magazine in PDF format, but at this point he believes the undertaking would create more work than less.
For now, when the material reaches American Web, the staff receives Imation Digital Matchprint proofs within about 48 hours.
Tamborini jokes in retrospect, "I can't believe we were reluctant [to go CTP]. It's not like you're biting off more than what was there before. Now, we're just making it easier."
Marais pointedly adds, "Publishers are going to have to go CTP eventually anyway—whether they like it or not." One of the main reasons he favored the conversion was to get a jump-start on the technology rather than be left behind. It's not in the Freeskier credo to be anything but radical.
Realizing their adventurous spirit may not always be in season for everyone, Fayfield, Tamborini and Marais sympathize with CTP-hesitant publishers. Fayfield, however, is less sympathetic when it comes to direct marketing. He says it's expensive and difficult to get Freeskier newsstand distribution deals, although the magazine is currently available through Disticor Magazine Distribution Services and International Periodical Distributors at major retailers in 46 states and six Canadian provinces.
"In what other industry," he asks, "do you put out 100 units and hope to sell 35?" That's why he's also targeted ski shops, hotels and resorts with the specialty publication. The magazine is produced with a great deal of precision. He says that getting the publication to the exact audience is equally as important. According to Fayfield's market research, almost 75 percent of Freeskier's readership consists of males who've attended college and use the Internet frequently. As a result, Freeskier.com was created as an addendum to the print publication. The dot.com delivers more temporal information, such as slope reports and weather forecasts. "Take a look around you," Fayfield says. "The new face of skiing has arrived. … Born of the same revolution that started new school skiing," a more adventurous hybrid of traditional skiing, both of which he's pursued most of his life. To overlook his shrewd industry contacts and glamourous masthead would be to underestimate the magazine's selling power. Fayfield expects readership to reach upwards of 75,000 this year with revenue exceeding the $750,000 mark in an industry requiring extracurricular participation. During the past few years, Fayfield says that the staff has been active in movie premiers in Aspen, extreme sports award celebrations in Munich, as well as music tours and shows around the country.
Of course, the guys at Freeskier can't give CTP all the credit for their success. It turns out that the rock-n-roll tour bus they packed full of models, a Fox TV sports crew and beer for a Vegas ski show didn't hurt either.
-Natalie Hope McDonald