Saturday, November 13, 2010

Entertainment Weekly and the Case of the Upside-Down Pages

You can automate all your processes and follow every industry standard known to God and man, but that won't make your printed product immune to human error. Just ask the staff of Entertainment Weekly.

Print industry blogger Deborah Corn questioned recently whether the production team at the Time Inc.  magazine was “asleep at the wheel” because of upside-down pages in a subscriber copy she recently received.

Here’s her description: "I received my EW (with Captain America on the cover) and saw that the back cover, an ad for an upcoming TV show on TBS, was upside down. My automated address was also upside down on the right side up cover. I looked carefully to see if perhaps it was some gimmick – like “this show will change your perspective” or if there was some reference to why it was placed this way – but there is none. I flipped over the mag, and saw that the back inside cover was also upside down, as were the last 2 text pages, also ads for this show."

As a Time Inc. publication, EW no doubt did everything in a sophisticated, leading-edge way. SWOP-compliant, PDFx/1a page files? Check. Ad file preflighted by Time and virtual-proofed at the printing plant? Check. Instructions to the printer generated automatically in a computer-readable format (instead of the usual spreadsheets and emails)? Check.

So what happened? It sounds to me as if this went wrong at the imposition stage – what PrintWiki defines as "the positioning of pages on a press sheet in such a manner that when the sheet is folded into a signature and cut, the pages will be in the correct sequence." In the U.S. magazine industry, imposition is almost always done by the printer, not the publisher.

How did it happen on both two cover pages and two body pages? This was probably a single eight-page signature. Saddle-stitched magazines often run mixed-stock cover signatures, where one web of the press prints four pages on cover stock that are assembled with four pages of lighter body stock from the other web.

And what about the upside-down address? That was no accident; it’s almost universal for mailed magazines in the U.S. these days. Postal regulations require flat mailpieces to have a right-side-up address in the upper right-hand corner when the bound edge is on the left. The back cover (where catalogs put the address) is prime advertising space, so most magazines meet the requirement by putting the address upside-down near the bottom of the front cover.

Why haven't more people reported seeing this? The big weeklies usually print in several different locations to meet tight newsstand delivery schedules, so this error only affected part of the country.

And I'm guessing not many copies had been produced before someone at the printing plant in question said, "Holy s#*t! Stop the cover press and fix these pages pronto!" But there might not have been time to redo all of the defective magazines.

And how did this mistake happen in the first place? An actual human apparently found a way to goof up an almost comply automated process. So much for the dream of a "lights-out" pressroom (although the error does make me wonder if the lights really were out).

Reminds me of the famous Warren Bennis prediction: "The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment."


Anonymous said...

I have not seen this magazine... but from the picture, I am going to guess intentional. The glory daze ad is called "glory daze weekly" and appears to be designed to mimic a magazine cover, which are often printed "come and go" style. Could be a mistake, but if an upside down page made it on press, and then wasn't pulled, made it through bindery,.....possible, but seems a bit implausible. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous above. The periodical Complex (produced by Marc Ecko) features every issue with a "come and go" reversal style.
In fact, it appears pretty obvious that this is the case. This probably shouldn't have made such big headlines, if not fact-checked.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous--I seriously doubt this was a mistake. I've seen magazines do this on many occasions for ads or special sections that they want to highlight. Cover 3 and the last 2 pages being inverted supports this.

Anonymous said...

It was no way a printer error. EW is very regional with targeted advertising. The two pages inverted with the back cover more than likely could have been a eight page signature. The printer on the west coast most certainly would take exception to a error claim.

Anonymous said...

The second comment raises a good question about your fact checking. While it is understandable that this common design technique could be misinterpreted as an error, it is not as easy to overlook the fact that no one contacted Time Inc. to get the facts. One would think that a magazine dedicating an entire article to analyzing another publication's purported error would make sure that an error actually occurred.

Jim T said...

My copy is exactly like the picture shown. It was very obvious to me that it was intentionally done this way. With the title "Glory Daze Weekly" it is hard to understand why it was assumed this was an error.