January 16, 2018

Publishing in the age of global production

Two workers talking in tin can telephones.

For publishers, globalization is no mere trend; it’s a fact of life.

Publishing operations are no longer contained within a single city, time zone, or even continent. Modern publishers may have authors and management in New York or San Francisco, and editors and proofreaders overseas in the UK or India.

This global staff composition offers a number of advantages. No longer are publishers geographically limited in selecting staff. And they can shift certain aspects of their operations to lower-cost locations. A significant number of publishers already use partners in another part of the world to manage portions of their production processes.

There are growing challenges for publishers managing complex production processes with so many key players residing in far-flung locations. The days of sorting out snafus and getting questions answered by walking down the hall or by picking up the phone are over.

How can publishers keep their production schedules on time and within budget when various parts of it are managed in different time zones around the world? By keeping a few things in mind:

Use technology to gain deep insight and control over the process

We can no longer manage publishing production on spreadsheets. It requires sophisticated technology that provides both a bird’s eye view of the overall process and a granular knowledge of individual content pieces. In other words, publishers need to understand what’s happening with their production process overall, and what’s happening with individual pieces of content at any given point in time. That’s the only way to keep the production flow moving at the right pace.

Yet mere insight is not enough. With so many parties playing a role in the production process, publishers also need technology that automates the cycle as much as possible, so that each person knows what to do with each content item and when to do it, and so that the many content handoffs endemic to production schedules happen smoothly and without fumbles.

Take the Public Library of Science (PLOS), for example. As one of the largest publishers of scientific information in the world, thousands of articles move through PLOS’s production system each month requiring precision monitoring and expert management to keep the content flow moving on time, on budget, and error free.

To do so, PLOS adopted ProTrak, Apex’s cloud-based production management solution, which “force-marches” content through each step of the workflow — alerting editors, proofreaders, production managers, and other key parties when a piece of content is ready for them, and providing a prioritized list of actions and deadlines.

“We track everything on the production side of the house though ProTrak,” said Mike Fisher, a PLOS production manager.

Manage your day with time zone differences in mind

Automating your production workflow diminishes the challenge posed by time zone differences because each step — editing, composition, review, and approval— happens when it’s supposed to. Yet those time differences can still cause headaches, especially late in the production cycle.

Imagine a piece of content needs some rework as a publication’s print date draws near. You move it on to a proofreader in England, unaware that she just left for the day, as it’s past 6 p.m. her time. You were hoping to have the piece back before the end of your day, but now you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Situations like that can cause a lot of sleepless nights for publishers working towards crucial deadlines.

One solution is to structure your day with the time zone differences in mind. If you’re in New York, India is more than 10 hours ahead of you, so (unless they work nights) don’t expect anything from your overseas partners the same day you send it. Instead, plan to send work their way by close of business your time, with the expectation of getting it sometime the next day.

Likewise, don’t make it your first priority in the morning to send work to California, since they’re three hours behind you.

The point is to bear in mind your partners’ work hours so as to maximize their availability, as well as the efficiency of your day.

Manage your cycle from the beginning

Of course, those scary time-crunch moments late in the production cycle are more common when publishers fail to effectively manage their process from the start. That’s why the phrase, “Oh, we have plenty of time to deal with that” when you’re still early on can be counterproductive to an efficient workflow.

You’ve likely padded your timeline, but the more you put off until tomorrow, the greater your risk of chaos as you get close to your publication date. And that’s especially true for global publishers whose production cycles are managed in multiple time zones.

So, the very best advice is to do everything you can to reduce the frequency at which time zone differences present a crucial challenge — by knowing and managing your production process up front, deploying technology to help, and by managing your day as needed with your partners’ work schedules in mind.

We’ve helped plenty of publishers manage the challenges of global operations, and we can help you, too. To start a conversation, reach out.