While outsourcing can be a valuable method to manage costs, the need for staff, and the flow of titles, it can also have some negative effects. We risk losing our expertise in producing books. We can become sloppy, because our mistakes do not “cost” us anything. Outsourcing may allow us to maintain poor habits (and possibly lose our competitive edge). This may lead to a loss of functionality in our books. However, working with vendors can be profitable.
Work with your vendor to develop book designs, working methods, and specifications. All vendors are under pressure to be efficient and develop best practices to remain so. In addition, most of us have the good fortune of learning from multiple clients, so we can select what seems to work best from a number of environments. When given an opportunity, most vendors will share methods for you to become more efficient, or at least give consideration to things that hinder the development of your books. If you work with them on this, you’ll find that will profit you both. If you create an environment where you and your vendor can provide candid feedback, you will both benefit. In many environments, the customer is always right. In the competitive world of publishing, this is often the case. This means that vendors will not alert their clients to problems. In conversations that I have had with competitors, the topic of publishers’ bad practices often arises. I will frequently ask my fellows if they bring this to the attention of their clients. In most cases, the answer is, “No,” meaning that the client lost an opportunity to learn and improve. Vendors (myself included) are not supposed to “complain.” So problems continue.
Don’t assume that an error is the fault of the vendor. Obviously, vendors are only human and can make mistakes. But just because something is wrong doesn’t mean that it’s their fault. If the error occurred due to the vendor, he needs to be alerted. But, if the error happened within your office, controls must be put in place to avoid those things. Even if the price is low to have the vendor make a correction, the cost of that correction may be high.
Be sure that the price, schedules, and work flow are not damaging the process. Also be sure you are considering every aspect of the publishing chain, not merely the one for which you are employing the vendor. I often receive files that are done in the most expeditious manner for one purpose, but not so for another. For example, typeset files are often constructed in ways that allow the typesetter to meet crazy deadlines or adjust to various types of alterations. But, when those files are needed for electronic or other publishing purposes, a large amount of work needs to be redone. In most cases, vendors know how to do things well. But, it has to be in their interest (and ability) to work properly.
It’s very helpful to make sure that the work of one person, or your vendor, is coordinated with that of others. This is a continuation of the previous point, but the vendor should be included in all of the aspects of the project (or at least the project launch). While this may be less necessary for regular projects, involving vendors in the process can help to alert you to potential problems, avoid costly decisions, and develop streamlined approaches.
Remember, vendors are highly invested in your success. Their (our) revenue comes from your projects, thus, everyone is motivated to improve processes and develop successful books. When cooperation is developed, a vendor can prove to be a valuable asset to your project, not just a way to save money.