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In a year when postage is rising, paper prices are fluctuating and modes of delivery are rapidly changing, most production departments are taking a break from major capital investments. Here's a glimpse at what a few companies are (and aren't) up to.

Reed Business Information is investing in new planning software, a content-management system and new Adobe CS2 programs, as well as infrastructure and systems to support e-business work flows and repositories for content.

"I'm excited about all of it because it's an integrated set of capabilities that will lead to overall print and electronic publishing efficiencies," said John Blanchard, VP-manufacturing at RBI.

Blanchard said the upgrades should help RBI's efforts to boost efficiency. "Discounting fluctuations in business, we use a system of metrics that captures true costs on a unit-by-unit breakdown: number of pages, number of issues, number of stories, etc.," he said. "Our belief is that the improvements we are making will be reflected in those metrics."

Advanstar's director of manufacturing services, Keith Hammerbeck, said his company isn't doing too much this in terms of capital improvements in production.

"We invested in our new prepress system last year, so we are focusing on taking advantage of that this year," Hammerbeck said.

Advanstar is also in the process of changing its editorial system, as it migrates from Quark to InDesign. Hammerbeck has been working on this project for about six months and has already done a test. He plans to do a more thorough pilot test later this year.

"The test was just to see how InDesign would work in our work flow, and it went pretty well," Hammerbeck said. "The pilot will start to use K4, InCopy, etc."

Hammerbeck said that because all Advanstar's titles have started to use virtual proofs, the prepress system slows during the busiest part of the month. "It seems to be a volume issue," he said. "We are working on a few different things to get the speed where it should be."

CMP Technology doesn't have much planned in terms of production-related capital investments this year.

"We're still paying on the major investment we made last year" on an ad portal, said Marie Myers, senior VP-manufacturing at CMP. The company has run a demo and expects to have the portal fully functioning in June.

"I don't know if there is a return on investment," Myers said. "All I know is that our prior method of advertising delivery was an FTP site. It wasn't 100%; it was messy. We had ads coming from all over the place."

The earlier system sometimes led to confusion over which ads were in and which were not. Myers said the new system sends automated e-mail to all the concerned parties when the advertisement is received by the portal. "It's really clean. It's separated by pubs, and advertisers can send the same piece of material to two different pubs at the same time if necessary," Myers said.

The new system was tested on two of CMP's publications and it caught on so well that the titles don't receive any advertising in the mail anymore, Myers said.

At Vance Publishing Corp., there are no capital investments planned this year. "We contract with R.R. Donnelley for all of our manufacturing of the magazines, so we have no capital investments in that area," said Ron Brockman, production director at Vance's Food360 Division.

At Ascend Media, Tom Fogarty, VP-production, said the company's acquisition of Medical World was followed by big upgrades and capital improvements. "We're working [in 2007] on communication, process improvement and offering a higher level of customer service internally," he said.

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