“The editors send the author a questionnaire and edit the manuscript, then it goes back to the author for revisions. From there, the manuscript goes to the copy editor, then back to the author for proofing. The document gets sent out for page layout, composition, and blurbs for the back cover. The designer of the back cover gives us back the template and we have the files ready for the printer and the interior,” Crawford explained.
Allworth Press doesn’t have an in-house prepress department. “We outsource our design work because of pricing. The design work is usually done in InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator. Our ‘prepress department’ just consists of editors,” he noted.
Publishing companies are also doing more electronic proofing, and printers are using CTP technology, all of which makes book printing faster. At Allworth Press, all copy editing is sent through FTP servers.
The Prepress Lifecycle
Kevin Spall, president and CEO of Thomson-Shore, a manufacturer of soft and hard cover books in Dexter, Mich., described how the trends in prepress date back many years.
“One of the primary measures as a driver is cycle time. The quote to the estimate stage is important, but it’s ultimately about the delivery of the file to ‘when do I get the product.’ Then there’s the proof, and the OK to proceed stage, also known as preflight. Four, five, even six years ago, the (preflight) process was in terms of a few days, but now the expected time is usually a day,” said Spall.
He continued to explain the preflight stage: “The ‘It’ thing now is the file drop to proceed stage, or mechanical preflight—is it laid out with the right margins for back drop? Until about 18 to 24 months ago, we created an organizational shift that eliminates what used to be a dead zone in this area. We created pods, where the CSRs open the file and determine whether or not it matches the specifications required to go further. Next, the prepress specialist, who is beside the CSR, makes sure the spines are right and the bleeds are the right width.”
Proofs usually go out 24 hours later, but this remains a pressure in the prepress area. To combat this stress, Spall talked about the “lights out” prepress model, which involves customers sending the company a file complete to its specifications so a PDF can be generated.
“To do this ‘lights out’ model properly, the customer must set up the file perfectly and drop it into a hot folder. The process is supposed to be completed within minutes if done correctly, but we have to worry if our customers are ready for this. The ‘lights out’ prepress provides time savings and cost savings benefits. We provide training for our customers in the form of Webinars,” he noted.
Education Is Key
Thomson-Shore’s educational Webinars are done at least monthly and offer training on Kodak’s Prinergy and Insite soft proofing system. Twenty to 30 people log into them at a time to review live demos and videos.
Spall continued, “We have a customer advocate whose job is to relate to customer front end issues, for example Photoshop transparency problems. We find this service to be a real value to our customers.”
Because of what’s happening lately with the economy, Spall said publishers are choosing to keep the prepress work and page layouts in-house. He said people are trying to save costs by preparing their own files. “The problems we face—wrong fonts and bleed issues to name a couple—aren’t different (than in the past) but the folks who are doing this work aren’t professionals, so there’s a higher level of error. We try to overcome this by having our Webinars on bleeds, impositions, and fundamentals.”
“During these times, it’s time to focus on printing 101: page layout topics,” he continued. “There’s a turnover issue in the industry and we’re trying to save money on turnover every couple years. Right now, there is a vacancy in the page make-up area.”
However, he said that although it’s time to go back to fairly basic issues, it could pose a problem with the ‘lights out’ opportunity. If the files aren’t done properly, this concept won’t fly.
Lastly, another area he said to focus on is automation, but only as much automation that feels good to the customer. “There’s a lot of miscommunication out there that says we can lower costs by holding the customer’s hand. That’s not true. We still need to invest in the customer service department. When companies do business with automation, you still need people to implement it properly. The folks who are in the self-publishing market need a lot of attention,” he said.