Offshore book production is a relationship, not a transaction

Rebecca Goldthwaite and Jack Mitchell discuss the finer points of book publishing's offshore production model.

Saving money and cutting costs are staple items on most publishing meeting agendas. Some publishers have shied away from cost-saving offshore production options, however, because they’re afraid quality will suffer, or they fear the transition will cause too much upheaval in current production processes.

Rebecca Goldthwaite, vice president of strategic partner management at Cengage Learning, and Jack Mitchell, senior vice president for the higher education division of PreMediaGlobal, are heading up a workshop on this very topic at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference. In the following interview, they discuss the offshore production model and how publishers can establish strong, profitable relationships with offshore vendors without sacrificing quality or reinventing their businesses.

What does offshore production entail? Which areas of publishing are most suited for this business model?

Rebecca Goldthwaite and Jack MitchellJack Mitchell: An offshore production model generally entails almost all services that would have been provided by a traditional onshore production and editorial vendor. These services include project management, composition, art rendering, and proofreading, for example.

Rebecca Goldthwaite: Most areas of publishing are well suited for this model and can be completely successful with the right approach.

We’ve found that partnering with vendors works best. You can’t just give the vendor the content, walk away, and then wait for the vendor to return with the finished product. That old transactional model doesn’t work, and it’s painful for everyone involved. A successful offshore approach requires building a framework and relationship for working together.

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore “publishing without boundaries” through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

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What do publishers need to do to make sure quality standards are met?

JM: Publishers need to take the same approach they would when starting a new relationship with an onshore vendor. That includes setting clear expectations, maintaining an open dialogue with clear communications, being thorough and consistent with instructions and documentation, and testing projects prior to launching a live product.

RG: This can be particularly important when setting pricing with a new vendor. Without clear expectations or access to sample materials ahead of time, you may be putting your vendor in a situation they can’t get out of without cutting corners, and that doesn’t benefit anyone.

How can publishers ensure cost savings from an offshore relationship?

JM: A clear understanding of volume, pricing, and schedule will help both parties prepare accordingly. That results in a smoother process and it create areas of efficiency and savings. As a relationship matures, you’ll both find ways to be more efficient in working together and identifying new tools that can reduce cost.

RG: You need to do your research up front, set clear expectations, and test things before firm pricing is set. Basically, you both need to know what you’re paying for.

How does offshore production affect traditional workflows?

JM: The most obvious change is moving to a paperless and electronic workflow to eliminate shipping costs, which would be substantial when working offshore. This requires training and support for the current publishing staff and, if necessary, the authors they work with. That said, we find most publishers are moving, or have moved, to a paperless workflow regardless of where they’re sourcing their production.

This interview was edited and condensed.