Some people, in their lifetimes, may stumble upon a dollar bill on the sidewalk or upon a stray cat, or they may even accidentally stumble upon a new idea. But Elaine Fry stumbled upon a career that has led her to positions at some of the world’s most prominent publishing companies, such as Billboard, Ziff Davis Media, Penthouse, Time Inc., and eventually to Forbes Inc., where she currently is group director of manufacturing and production, a position she has held for six years. Her career achievements and her involvement in industry initiatives, such as those undertaken by Specifications Web Offset Publications (SWOP), have earned her the respect of many of her peers and induction into the 2006 Publishing Executive Hall of Fame. The BeginningFry always knew she wanted to be in publishing, but it was magazine production that she fell into purely by accident. “I don’t think anyone wakes up one day and says, ‘Gee, I want to be in production,’” she says. Fry had worked her way through college, taking a job with The New York Times during one summer break. “I joined The New York Times, like everybody, thinking I wanted to be a writer, a journalist,” she recalls. “But after I realized just how difficult that job was, in terms of making deadlines, I soon realized it wasn’t for me.” Little did she know then just how deadline-driven her entire publishing career would be.Fry moved around the newspaper, taking various news-clerk assignments with the metro, national and foreign desks. All the while, she was watching, learning the business, and she soon found that it was the mechanics of making the newspaper that fascinated her most. “There was this place called ‘The Bullpen’ … It was the place where all of the negotiations happened—where editors would come and barter for space when they needed more columns to cover a story,” Fry says. “It was so much fun, watching the power brokering. Just to put the issue together was more fascinating to me than the writing.”Fry continued working at the paper for two years post-college, but the relentless grind of publishing a daily took its toll, and she set her sights on magazines. She landed a production position with Ziff Davis, working on several of the publisher’s monthly titles, but admittedly, Fry says she found the pace “too slow” for her liking. “So, I went from there to Time Inc., to weeklies, which … was just right,” she recalls. There, she managed corporate editorial production at the publisher’s Pine Street location, and then moved “uptown” to become Time’s worldwide operations manager.Fry remained with Time Inc. until 1987, when the demands of raising a three-year-old daughter inspired her and husband Michael Lonier to rethink their lifestyle. They decided to go into business for themselves, opening a consultancy that, in its early years, focused on setting up desktop publishing workflows for magazine publishers and corporate clients.“Then, a lot of our clients began to come to us and ask how they should start outputting their own files,” Fry says. “We felt that we really couldn’t recommend equipment and software unless we’d actually used it first. So, we bought a scanner and a proofing system, and eventually, our living room started to fill up with all this equipment. And suddenly, we were in the prepress business.”For six years, their business thrived. “We worked for some great clients, like Sandy Alexander, Minolta, and a lot of the independent graphic designers in the area,” Fry says. “We tried to really stay in tune with the industry. So, we started looking at the future. By this time, our daughter, Jackie, was 17 years old, and she had lived through all the chaos of the business with us. But, I’m proud to say, we made every ballet class, every school play, through it all.”As they tried to envision the future of their business, Fry says that they saw the handwriting on the wall. “We knew that we were facing a monumental decision. It was time that we’d either have to remodel the business and make a big investment in some next-generation technologies, or get out of the prepress environment altogether. It became obvious that a lot of the prepress work was either going to go back to the publisher or be absorbed by the printer. We knew, as a mom-and-pop operation, we were going to get cut out of the equation pretty soon,” she says.Back to the FutureFacing another fork in Career Road, Fry made the decision to go back to where she’d started—magazines. In 1998, she rejoined the publishing community and took a position with Brant Publications Inc., and in 2000, with Forbes, Inc. as the group director of manufacturing and production, overseeing Forbes, ForbesLife, Forbes Asia, American Heritage and custom publications.Fry describes her tenure with Forbes in two phases—pre- and post-9/11. As with so many other publishers, post-9/11 for Forbes was tumultuous. “The challenges were a little more severe, with advertising taking a steep decline,” she recalls. But Fry and Forbes went on the offensive. “We had to work smarter,” she explains. “We re-engineered the workflow and took out all extraneous costs. There was nothing but bones. We were … poised for when the market came back, and we were profitable.”Fry says she also admires the Forbes family’s vision for the Web: “They kept Forbes.com running through it all. It wasn’t profitable at that time, but a lot of magazines had decided to bail out of the dot-com business, or leave just a shell of their Web sites. But Forbes decided to invest in it, and that made a big difference in how we were able to stay competitive. … For us, print continues to do well, but the Web is flying high,” she explains. “Steve Forbes is a strong proponent for print; he doesn’t believe it’s going to go away,” she adds. “We continue to have a lot of faith in the print model, and we know that Forbes.com wouldn’t be nearly as successful without the magazine.”And Fry suggests she wouldn’t be as successful without many of her colleagues. “There are so many great people in this business, like my first production boss, Gene Klein, who now works for News America. He taught me so much. Also, Roger Herman, who was a great by-the-book, non-nonsense production guy, who is now at Disney. “And what would our world be without folks like Steve Finnerty at Hudson Yards, or Tim Ogden, who used to be at Perry Judd’s and is now at Brown Printing? These are great people who share so much knowledge and have so much experience. I don’t think of them as mentors as much as I consider them to be my friends.”After three decades, Fry remains passionate about the mechanics of publishing with no regrets about forgoing the journalism career she’d once aspired to; it is in production and manufacturing where she belongs, she says. Her induction into the 2006 Publishing Executive Hall of Fame suggests that the industry agrees with her.

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