Friday, May 28, 2010

The do-it-yourself picture book. Or not.

Got a call yesterday. Printing rep I’ve done business with. (He’s an American who represents a printer in Asia, and he’s a straight shooter.) Wanted my advice on a job.

He had been sent a book to quote on, a do-it-yourself job on which the “yourself” who did it was a clueless amateur. The printer in Asia had raised an alarm that the files would not result in a high-quality book. The printer was loath to take on a job that the customer might complain about after the fact. What did I think?

I asked him to send me a few pages so I could see what was what.

The book consisted of separate one-page PDF files, all of which had been prepared using Photoshop. Each page was a montage of photographs (of a deceased pop icon) with cutlines. Now it’s true that Photoshop files can include a text layer consisting of font outlines, and in a few instances the author took advantage of this. But most of the type was rendered as part of the composite image. Type rendered that way (as a raster image) does not print with sharp, clean outlines. The edges of the letters are either fuzzy or jagged (a choice available to the designer). This guy chose jagged (probably unintentionally), but neither of those choices is really the right one. The right choice is to use Photoshop for optimizing photographs and to build pages in a page layout application, such as InDesign.

There were other problems too. The photographs were a long way from being optimized for printing. Colors were not corrected, black and white photos did not have their tones adjusted. Scanned newspaper halftones were not descreened. And in any case, it was not at all clear that the author had the rights to reproduce all of these images (perhaps he did, but if not, this could have exposed the printer to a lawsuit).

I said I thought the book could be redone by a professional, using the existing files as a design dummy, for something in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars, maybe more.

My advice was to recommend redoing the book to the author. The second choice would be to collect prepayment in full for the printing and get an ironclad, lawsuit-proof contract stating that any quality problems resulting from printing the files as furnished were the author’s fault, not the printer’s fault. But because we all know there is no such thing as a lawsuit-proof contract and because the author already had a bid from a U.S. printer who saw no problems with the files, my buddy decided he didn’t need the money enough to risk bidding the job. He passed.

In the end, the author will get his books. But he’ll pay through the nose for them and the quality will still be terrible. All because he figured he could save money by doing the work himself. My guess? He would have been both time and money ahead had he hired a professional book designer in the first place.

Self-publishing is not the same as do-it-yourself publishing.

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