Print buying & Print Production - my case for a specialism
“The Design and Production roles in publishing or anywhere else are highly complementary, but very different. ” http://t.co/v0EFnoBrr8
— David Brimble (@David_Brimble) August 24, 2015
Recently a book designer I know was approached by someone with a project in mind. It was the client’s expectation he would design their book and seamlessly turn that design into a physical book once it was done.
The designer knew the specialist skills and knowledge it would require, and the pressure this would put on his time. He much preferred to concentrate on his design, knowing he would do that better without also managing the production, even assuming he had the background to do it well.
Within Book Publishing, Production retains a status as a distinct role separate to design but very much working in partnership with it. In design agencies and other organisations which buy print, the ‘print buyer’, the person taking the design files to print, is frequently a role filled by someone whose specialism is something else, often a designer. Some of the time I’m sure that works just fine, but printers and others say they often struggle with print buyers who don’t know all that much about print. This can lead to persistent frustrations which don’t serve the interests of either party.
These days designers often design for a huge range of digital platforms, limiting the specialist knowledge they can reasonably be expected to acquire when it comes to print, which is a huge and crazy world in itself.
While Production is an established publishing role a lot of what it entails perhaps isn’t that well understood, even within publishing. It’s a broad and eclectic skill-set. It needs a range of project management skills aside from the core part, of buying and managing quality print.
There is plenty of figure-work and admin, but amongst the dry stuff there is also a load of creativity, innovation and problem-solving required. It’s a role for someone who can’t quite decide which half of their brain is in charge.
It connects to just about every other bit of publishing but looks quite different to each department in turn – to Sales people it’s the department that gets books delivered; to Business Managers it’s about the costings, the price negotiations and the profit and loss spreadsheets; to Editors it’s about the schedule; to designers it’s about the format or the cover finishes or the paper or the colour management; to Marketing and PR and Rights its about the Digital Asset Management. It’s about plenty more besides in each case and different things again to external services like Photographers, Repro Houses, Printers or Warehouses. To buy print effectively there are a lot of tasks with which you need to be involved, in a complex process.
Some of these wont be required in print buying scenarios other than in publishing. Nonetheless, does this kind of thing sound like a part-time job for a designer?
The Design and Production roles in publishing or anywhere else are highly complementary, but very different. My design skills are negligible, but I understand what it takes to transform design into something visually and physically pleasing. I know what to do on a Press Pass and, more importantly, I know how to get things ready so it’s an exercise in fine tuning, not a situation where you have your fingers crossed. There are lots of important steps in preparing files for press which I know from experience are unknown to a high percentage of designers. Some of those could be blogs in themselves.
I worked in Production in-house in Book Publishers for many years, but now I work freelance for self-publishers, small presses and any other organisation needing Production help. Sure they have to pay for what I bring but there are big savings to be made from developing the right specifications, using the right suppliers and avoiding expensive mistakes, which in print are easy to make. Whether its print or digital material being produced the design is only part of the mix in getting a high quality result. Design and Production are most effective when they work together well, and keep to what they’re good at.