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Weekly Versus Monthly Pubs --Dickeson

November 2002
Douglas Laidlaw was CEO of a Republic web offset printing subsidiary called Los Angeles Lithograph in Redondo Beach, CA, in the late 1960s. LA Litho printed two million weekly copies of TV Guide magazine. Boards and art arrived from the publisher at about 3 p.m. every Thursday afternoon and the last shipment of the magazines left the LA Litho shipping dock at 3 a.m. on Sunday. Throughput: 3 p.m. Thursday to 3 a.m. Sunday for two million copies; about 60 hours total process time for two million books every week.

"Strange thing," said Doug, "We do that job at well below our Budgeted Hourly Cost rates, but it's a nicely profitable job." Later, in the mid-'70s, I succeeded Doug at LA Litho and observed the same phenomenon. Over the years I talked to other printers expressing similar experience. Weeklies were somehow better profit sources than monthlies, bi- or semi-monthlies, quarterlies or catalogs.

Unanswered Questions

"Why is that? How can it be?" I said to myself every time I thought of it. It was "a mystery surrounded by a riddle wrapped in an enigma."

Camera to press, to bind, to shipping and mailing, was a linear, overlapping, continuous process from start to finish for a weekly pub. Production scheduling was self-optimizing. There was no choice. It had to be. It was applied Ohno's Kanban system.

Weekly pubs pull the work through the plant—there's no pushing it up into queues. It's called JIT—Just In Time. It was also Goldratt's throughput optimization from his TOC for Theory Of Constraints. It was Deming's insistence on minimizing variation for Continuous Improvement. When you're working minute-by-minute against a shipping deadline, you either master variation or you blow the job.

But Deming, Goldratt and Ohno didn't come on stage in the United States until the mid-'80s. Then James Gleick and his Chaos Theory explained variation in '87. A bit later, Dr. Donald Wheeler clarified the arcane statistics for managing variation.

Henry Ford had taught it with a continuously moving assembly line for his Model T in the '20s. "Hey, you can't possibly sell Tin Lizzies at those prices," they said. Sam Walton reinforced it in the '90s with superb inventory management software for the Wal*Mart stores. "Hey, Wal*Mart can't survive at those prices," we keep saying. We hear faint echoes of Sergeant Bilko in the old TV series shouting, "Move it. Move it. Move it. Move those direct materials," is the repeated message. Laidlaw intimated it in his comment about weekly pubs and costs.


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