Outsourcing vs. in-house

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Most publishers don't have the luxury of handling all their prepress operations in-house. In these times of financial stress, they likely wish they did.

At Stamats Communications, only printing is outsourced, and has been for many years. "That certainly made things easier for us when the recession hit," said Gail Utt, production manager.

For other publishers, though, outsourcing prepress has become a tricky game of figuring out what's worth keeping in-house and what's worth paying another company to handle. "What is considered a core competency for a publisher has changed over the years," said Nick Mlachak, director of operations for Pfingsten Publishing's Financial Services Group. "Once it was just writing the stories, designing the magazine and selling the ads, but now it can be considered pretty much anything to do with putting the physical product together."

Cleveland-based Pfingsten outsources most of its prepress but is currently analyzing its processes from the top down to figure out how the various components can be brought in-house effectively. The plan is to have prepess fully in-house in the next six to 12 months.

One of Pfingsten's publications is experimenting with a Rip Alliance system to have its files ripped out-of-house while still gaining more control of them. The system enables a publisher to send files when it wants and to make changes without incurring additional charges, provided the file name doesn't change.

File ripping, or preparing a file digitally so it is ready to be printed, is an area in which publishers frequently change vendors as they look for faster and easier ways to get files to the printer.

Vance Publishing eliminated its outside file ripper when it began using R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co.'s InSite system last fall. This system also allows the publisher to send files electronically and make changes throughout the process.

"It's all worked out really well," said Ron Brockman, director of production for Vance. "We're definitely seeing the savings that we anticipated."

VNU currently handles prepress in-house for its weekly and daily publications, while outsourcing the work for most of its other titles. "We are evaluating the potential for adding portions of the prep process to in-house operations on some of these titles," said Karen Palmieri, VNU VP-manufacturing and distribution. One of VNU monthlies, Sales & Marketing Management, brought its prepress in-house in February.

Advanstar Communications handles most production in-house but has started to outsource its editorial content conversion process in which Quark documents are converted to XML. "We decided to outsource because this is a very redundant task but requires a relatively highly trained person," said Keith Hammerbeck, director of manufacturing services for Advanstar. "So it is difficult to find motivated, trained employees and have them do redundant tasks all day long."

When it comes to bringing prepress operations in-house, it's important to make sure the proper staff is in place and there is a sufficient workload to keep it busy. "You need good people with good skills," Hammerbeck said. "You will have to troubleshoot your own files, fix your own problems and design your own workflow. ... If you have peak periods, you need to evaluate if you staff in-house to cover the peaks or if you are better off going outside."

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