Two minutes too much? 5 Ways to Improve Magazine Production

Two minutes doesn’t seem like much. When does it make a difference? To many people it won’t, but consider magazine production and all the bits and pieces that have to come together. Use these 5 tips and tricks to eliminate boring tasks and free up time for producing more interesting, creative content.

By Terje Olsen

"If everyone uses 10 minutes extra per day to get organized or fix problems, that adds up to 180 days a year. Almost any production team can drive down time and gain efficiencies with the right workflow and tools."

Two minutes doesn’t seem like much. When does it make a difference? To many people it won’t, but consider magazine production and all the bits and pieces that have to come together. Two minutes to find a picture, two minutes to re-edit a story, two minutes to match fonts, paragraph styles or margins. That time adds up quickly and it has a cost.

“Consider a team of 30 people,” says Marcus Lönngren, Project Manager and Consultant at Gothia. “If everyone uses 10 minutes extra per day to get organized or fix problems, that adds up to 180 days a year. Almost any production team can drive down time and gain efficiencies with the right workflow and tools.”

What can you do to eliminate boring tasks, reduce stress and free up time for to produce more interesting, creative content?

These 5 time-saving tips will help you make your content better and reduce wasted time. The list is based on 10 years’ experience of working alongside both small and large editorial and creative teams.

1. Stop hand-drawing your flatplans

Hand- drawn flatplans are time-consuming and hard to keep updated compared to their digital counterparts. Even once you have it updated, you need to communicate all the changes to the team. It’s like trying to make financial models on paper – it can be done, but most people use Excel because it is easier and allows you to do more. If you haven’t seen a flatplanning tool that you think will work for you, could it be because you haven’t found one that is simple enough? Or maybe changing habits is difficult? Today, there are plenty of options to choose from, so this is a good time to furthur investigate your options.

2. Learn to love templates

Everyone making magazines or other content believes in flexibility, creativity, and freedom. Not surprisingly, the idea of template-driven production can cause alarm for staff. Still, creativity and standardisation are not mutually exclusive. The trick is to make sure that you have engineered your production to match your goals. No matter what, some pages will almost always appear similar, from one issue to another. Templates save you having to remake the wheel and they reduce the number of errors. In other cases, such as with a feature article where you want lots of design freedom, it’s important to be able to tweak the templates or override them completely. This way you get the best of both worlds – with a lot less of the boring work that may go unnoticed and more time for designing interesting elements that will attract and entertain readers.

3. Stay organised

Journalists, designers, photographers, copy-editors, and freelancers! There are many people involved in production, and larger publishers may have several teams with shared resources. It is important that everyone knows who is responsible for the various tasks, where there are ‘hand-offs,’ and what to do when there are last minute changes. Marcus Lönngren advises, “It is important to create understanding. Why do I do what I do? Why is it important? What do we gain in the end? That way everyone is pulling in the same direction at each stage of the production chain.”

A well-run team will have clearly defined workflows with a defined series of actions that can be assigned to individuals or groups. The larger the organisation and the more channels you produce to, the more helpful good task management practices and tools will become for planning resource usage and increasing productivity.

4. Eliminate email.

Eliminate email? Maybe not, but sending text, pictures and comments back and forth isn’t the ideal way to collaborate between internal staff or with external contributors. How much time is spent searching through emails, resending large files or downloading and re-uploading to the server? When processes can be repeated 3-5 times during each story’s production lifecycle, two minutes for every email can have disastrous effects.

According to Editor Nina Granlund Sæther, “We had massive amounts of email being sent back and forth. It was easy for designers to lose a piece of an article and hard for them to keep track of important comments. Many files were being stored locally on PCs and in email rather than in one central place. If one person was sick or away, this meant that the magazine might not be published on deadline, readers wouldn’t be happy, and advertising income could be lost. A good production system is the only thing that makes sense.”

5. Get off to a good start

Every role should have clearly defined requirements and deliverables. Documenting the process, defining the hand-offs and sharing the developments of each story, section or issue electronically helps to reduce communication errors. If graphic and layout teams have to tweak all the inputs they receive from journalists or writers, they will not have the time they need for creative work and quality assurance.

The best way to save time is for those delivering material to deliver as much as possible as correctly as possible early in the production process. Helping each staff member organize their day by giving them visibility into the production process, and providing “to-do-lists” and friendly-reminders when bits of a production are running behind schedule are also ways to not only get off to a good start, but keep production running smoothly.

About the author
Terje Olsen has been an active participant in the Norwegian publishing sector for more than 15 years. His deep experience spans almost every aspect of newspapers and magazine publishing from print-to-digital and operational to strategic. Before joining PagePlanner Solutions AS as Vice President of Products & Services in December 2012, Terje held positions including Head of Print and Digital Production at Tech Magazine (Teknisk Ukeblad) and Varden, Head of Web Publishing, Orkla Media, Chief Editor and Managing Director, Kragerø Newspaper.

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