Solving Production Problems: Eight Production Directors Discuss Their Solutions to Difficult Problems, from Scheduling to Quality Control, from Budgets to Communications

Article excerpt

Production is probably the most rapidly changing segment of the magazine business and, increasingly, production directors are required not only to possess the traditional technical know-how of their trade, but to be as savvy as any corporate executive in handling schedules, budget balance sheets and personnel.

Magazine production is not a business where problems are solved once and for all: Technology, communications methods and personnel all change unpredictably. Solutions to problems are therefore often unique. What works for one manager might not work for another. Still, those in this business have enough in common that anecdotes such as the following could spark a thought process that will help identify and solve problems in their-and your-production operations. Finding ways to cut postal costs in production Niall Kavanagh Director of manufacturing and production Medical Economics Like most publishers, Medical Economics is facing the prospect of postal rates rising 20 to 25 percent in the next year. In good market conditions, Kavanagh says, a publisher might go to the rate card to cover the cost increase. But with advertising counts down and publishers reluctant to strain tenuous relationships by asking advertisers to pay more for a page, the high cost of postage has now become a problem for the production department to solve. With postal costs accounting for up to 12 percent of the company's overall expenditures, Kavanagh says, the solution is to hit the other big expense in publishing: Paper.

Now is the time to take an extra one-eighth inch off the trim size, he says, reducing the books to a 7 7/8 inch width. That decreases the amount of paper used by about 1.6 percent. Kavanagh also basis to take paper basis weights down from 40 lb. to 38 lb. stock, a decrease of about 5 percent ill weight. Together, the changes account for a 6 to 7 percent reduction in the overall weight of a magazine, thus reducing the weight charge imposed by the Postal Service.

Reduced postal costs are not the only benefit, Kavanagh says. The changes will also lower paper costs. The trim alone could shave about $93,000 off the company's $6 million annual paper bill, he says.

On top of that, to further cut paper costs, Medical Economics is going to larger roll diameters, which provide for less waste attributed to slicing role wrappers, splices for new rolls on press and core waste. Overall, Kavanagh expects paper costs to drop about 8 percent.

SATISFYING QUALITY DEMANDS John Hartung Production director Bon Appetit Knapp Communications' Bon Appetit maintains a strict set of quality control guidelines from a production department evaluation of editorial photos to a quality control person stationed at the printing plant. Still, Hartung says, the editorial department posts it share of complaints. "Once an editor who has approved a transparency sees the printed page, he remembers only what he saw in the original transparency," Hartung says. "They give us poor or unsatisfactory originals and want us to make a Cadillac out of a Chevrolet. "

To handle the in-house complaints, as well as to educate editors and art directors on their selection of photos, the magazine has a postmortem meeting after each issue to discuss reproduction quality. Typically, the meeting consists of Hartung and the art director, but if complaints are registered, it may include editors and the person doing the press check. All the original materials are shipped back to the magazine from the printer. When there is a problem, it is possible to retrace the process from photo selection through printing.

There are many variables in the process to consider, Hartung says, adding that the postmortem is a way of continuously re-educating people about such variables as in-line problems and press limitations. Nonetheless, he concedes that, despite efforts to assure good materials to start with, complaints will persist: Sometimes high quality originals just aren't available, and editors will continue to ignore the production department's rejection of substandard photos on occasion. …