Monday, April 15, 2013

A conversation with a magazine company's production head: the strong motivation to keep print alive

One of the benefits of having been in the publishing business so long is the ability to pick up the phone and call a friend to get their perspective. Late last week I talked to the head of production at one B2B magazine company to say hello and to get an idea of where they were heading.

I was surprised to hear how upbeat they were concerning the company's prospects to launch new digital products for mobile and tablets. "I think that by this time next year we should have all our titles inside the Apple App Store," the production manager told me. "I've been assigned the task of making this happen, and I don't see any reason it can't be done fairly quickly."

One of the questions I wanted to ask was whether the magazine art directors were playing around with digital publishing solutions – either through the Adobe DPS or another solution such as Mag+ or Aquafadas. "Not that I am aware of," the production manager told me, "that would be my job."

It was at that point that the bells started to ring in my head.

My own experience at magazine companies is that on any given week I would receive a solicitation from a vendor to sell me Flash flipbook or some other digital publishing product. Sometimes, if I had not heard of the company, I would invite them in to hear their spiel. The sales pitch always started with a demonstration of features, but always ended with the words "cheap and easy" – it was the closer, and I'm afraid it appears to be a sure fire winner with many publishers.

But sometimes I would receive the call and simply tell them to call the head of production – it was a quick way to get rid of the vendor, though I knew that wouldn't be the end of it.

In the world of print magazines, the production head is the interface between the magazine and the printer – they are often the person who gives the art director the issue layout, complete with ad placements, then takes the final InDesign or Quark files and passes them on to the printer's pre-press department. Then they shepherd the magazine through to final printing and distribution.

By handling digital magazine decisions, they can pretty much decide their own future: if the digital magazine is the product of the PDFs produced for print, they remain in the middle of things; but if a native digital publishing solution is used, they may find themselves suddenly out of the loop. After all, an art director that uses a plug-in solution can handle most of the work themselves, and can even be the interface with Apple or Google if they have access to the developer account.

I asked this production manager about the choices they were considering to get their titles into the Newsstand and, not surprisingly, all involved PDFs derived from the print product. "I really don't want to have to deal with InDesign files once the print magazine goes to bed," the manager said. "Once the print magazine is done, that's it, we're finished."

I suppose every publishing company is different in how they handle digital platforms. But who, exactly, is the person in charge of creating these new products may ultimately determine the solution used. For some titles, there are strong, internal advocates from keeping print alive, even in digital form. Even if, ultimately, the print product disappears, some have positioned themselves well to keep themselves intimately involved in the digital production process though the selection of the digital publishing solution.


Anonymous said...

Irony is that print production has in fact been largely digital in process until is "in print" . Substrate ( paper or screen) may vary, dimension may vary however the process is quite similar even though the end design resolves on different platforms. Heck Adobe even Adobe products are used. The key is to capture and exploit the medium: rich media, location based utilities, analytics and links and develop engagement technique available therein.

Robert Brai said...

Audience Development should be responsible for the digital edition strategy. Production & designers should do what's needed to achieve the AD goals. Digital replicas of print don't drive new subs or subscriber engagement. Submitted by a former Production Director.

PGeorge said...

It would be nice if it were left up to the publishing team (publisher, editor, art director) to decide these things, But company politics I bet decides it at most media companies.