Out With the Old Production Department ... and in With the New
Today's production department bears little resemblance to the analog world of film and FedEx of not so long ago. As digital and multimedia are layered on top of a print process that is undergoing rapid change, "doing more with less" has become a common refrain among production people—and in their case, it's far more than a tired cliche.
The relentless drive toward efficiency required by shrinking budgets, coupled with the need to expand fully into the digital realm even as print products continue to be important, may be as good an illustration as any of the old Chinese proverb about the curse of living in interesting times. On the other hand, the possibilities and prospects of this transitional era are, for many production executives, tremendously exciting.
The rise of digital products has, of course, led to many of the momentous changes affecting production departments in the last decade. In the Internet's early years, digital product creation could be folded neatly into print workflows by uploading content to the Web at some fixed point in the process. With the focus now on flexibility and efficiency, and digital no longer considered a mere adjunct of print, production departments have had to rethink the workflow entirely.
"The new requirements for being able to sell content in mixed-media mode have created new strains on the production group where they've brought in new workflows around that," notes Todd Eckler, vice president of printing and publishing at North Plains Systems, a digital asset management (DAM) solutions provider. "[Add to this] the state of the economy, with ad dollars down and all the competing sources for reading entertainment, and it's created an environment for publishers to say, 'Enough with the old; now it's time for change.'"
With the rise of customized covers and targeted editions, even the print realm has been upended by the possibility of sending different product versions to thousands of individual subscribers. In every aspect of production, a new level of planning and coordination is required.