Taylor Publishing -- Capturing Memories
By Erik Cagle
Imagine the phone rings and it's a potential customer. This person wants a short run of books, but has never purchased printing before and knows nothing about the process. Nor does the client have any background in publishing.
It's a single print job with no follow-up editions. This customer isn't exactly sure what he/she wants, but it should be memorable enough to please readers. Oh, and your customer is a group of teenagers, accompanied by an advisor. And, in a year, those teenagers will be replaced by another group of kids with absolutely no background in publishing.
Now, imagine that a majority of your customers fit this description.
Welcome to Taylor Publishing's world.
It is a unique world, indeed, for the Dallas-based short-run book printer, which specializes in those treasured keepsake mementos known as high school yearbooks. Taylor Publishing produces yearbooks for more than 7,500 high schools annually, predominantly in the United States (with clients scattered throughout Canada and abroad).
|Taylor Publishing executives, from the left: Don Percenti, senior vice president on campus and general manager, Print Div.; David Fiore, CEO; and Bill Cheney, vice president of manufacturing.|
Taylor is undoubtedly a leader among high school and college annuals, having more than $114 million in sales for the fiscal year that ended August 31, 2002. While the company produces full-color, short-run publications (commemorative, annual and coffee table variety), it is best known for creating the tomes that capture moments in time shared by all—the common experiences which enable these hard-bound books to have everlasting shelf life.
"We do not view the yearbook business as a task of just printing a job," states David Fiore, CEO of Taylor Publishing. "We view it as a total experience. It's an annual publishing job conducted by an advisor and yearbook committee, primarily a new set of students who come together each year. They're seeking to put together a fairly complex publishing project that carries a high degree of visibility within their respective schools.
"We provide the necessary assistance for a yearbook advisor to, in effect, teach journalism, as well as publish a book. We also provide the technology, from a software perspective, to put the book together. Our representatives guide them through the entire process—from the front end all the way through.
"It's a merging of technology, people and education, all in one experience," he adds. "Our job is to bring value, to make the advisor's job easier and to allow the students to produce a unique yearbook with a minimal amount of difficulty."
Taylor Publishing is part of a three-pronged business model offered by American Achievement Corp., a business that, in itself, is not quite three years old. What American Achievement accomplished was to piece together a comprehensive scholastic products company comprised of respected, established businesses in their respective specialties.
Also under the umbrella are Commemorative Brands, comprised of two divisions, Balfour (which manufactures class rings, graduation announcements, diplomas, diploma covers, and caps and gowns) and Art Carved (class rings and college graduation products); along with Educational Communications (ECI), best known for its line of academic achievement directories for college students (The National Dean's List), high school students (Who's Who Among American High School Students) and top teachers (Who's Who Among America's Teachers).
Founded in 1939 by visionary Bill Taylor and his brothers, Taylor Publishing was sold to International Silver in 1979. Investment firm Castle Harlan, owner of Commemorative Brands, then acquired Taylor in February of 2000. A little more than a year later, the current configuration was set.
Taylor Publishing has manufacturing facilities in Dallas; San Angelo, TX; and Chester County, PA. A prepress operation is located in El Paso, TX. At its seasonal peak, between January and June, Taylor employs roughly 1,600 people. Combined, the company boasts a little over one million square feet of operating space.
Competing in such a highly specialized field as high school yearbook production obviously calls for unique skill sets—but the concentrated workload may be Taylor Publishing's greatest challenge. Even so, it does bring great rewards.
"The primary advantage of competing in our niche is that it is a relatively stable industry, with a large amount of pride and emotion involved around each yearbook product," Fiore states. "The primary disadvantage is that it's a very seasonal business. Essentially, the lion's share of our business is done in the spring of each year. It forces us to have the ability to perform at very high levels in a concentrated period of time.
"It is refreshing especially when you consider that each (school) is trying to be special and unique. Each yearbook committee wants to set themselves apart from the ones that came before them. It's a challenge that keeps us on our toes, and that's a very rewarding experience."
The experience is given a helping hand by Taylor's own desktop publishing application, called Elite Vision, designed specifically for creating yearbook pages that are PostScript capable. The proprietary solution simplifies the desktop publishing aspect, with templates and features that speak to the specific needs of creating a yearbook.
Taylor accepts most file submission software, including QuarkXPress and Adobe PageMaker and InDesign files. PageMaker is the most popular of the non-Elite applications, and Taylor offers a series of plug-ins called YBPro! for schools that choose to go this route.
Providing high-quality educational resources that complement a faculty advisor's curriculum enables Taylor Publishing to distinguish itself from fellow yearbook printers, according to Mike Cobb, yearbook product manager. Education, he says, is where their customer's experience starts.
Students and advisors participate in a variety of Taylor training events and workshops, covering everything from themes and page layout to photography and printing technology, according to Cobb. A series of unique advisor development seminars provide continuing education for both new and experienced faculty advisors.
"In the classroom, clients have access to printed and online resources like our award-winning Student Advising Materials (SAM) to help them create dynamic, well-rounded lesson plans.
"TaylorTalk, our quarterly yearbook magazine, has highlighted staffs, guided advisors and editors, and showcased the newest trends for more than 50 years," Cobb adds. "And our design annual, the 'YearbookYearbook,' showcases hundreds of successful themes, covers and design ideas from across the country."
|Two four-over-four Komori Lithrone 440 Super Perfector (SP) presses have helped to shorten makereadies and boost color yearbook production rates at Dallas-based short-run printer Taylor Publishing.|
Helping student yearbook staffs create lifelong memories is just part of the Taylor Publishing success story. Taylor stepped up its hardware arsenal in early 2002 with the acquisition of a pair of four-over-four Komori Lithrone 440 Super Perfector (SP) sheetfed presses and an eight-color Lithrone 840. According to Bill Cheney, Taylor's vice president of manufacturing, the presses did the best job of addressing the printer's primary needs for multiple colors, heavy ink coverage and short run lengths.
"We also chose the Super Perfectors because there is no marking, which enables us to deliver high-quality printing," Cheney says, referring to the fact that, unlike typical perfecting presses where sheets are gripped on both ends, the SP grips the sheet on one end only throughout its passage from feeder to delivery. The SP presses allow printing on both sides of the sheet in a single pass, with no flipping of the sheet, for complete one- pass, two-sided printing.
"The new presses have really increased our production throughput and our makeready efficiencies," he reveals. "And since we were Komori America's first Super Perfector installation, they were with us every step of the way. Operator training and service were outstanding. We experienced very little downtime through the whole process. It was a big move for our company."
Last year was also significant in terms of investment on the prepress end, with Taylor installing a new Creo Trendsetter computer-to-plate system and the Prinergy PDF-based workflow solution.
"It was a pretty bold move for a company with the seasonality that we have—a peak season that pretty much makes or breaks our production year," Cheney relates. "About 60 percent of what we do is delivered in the spring season. We put all of our eggs in that basket."
With the shift in equipment capabilities—adding a digital prepress workflow and the perfecting presses—Taylor was able to launch its Spectra brand of full-color yearbooks at an affordable price level. Augmenting the finished product is a litany of merchandising options, including Smart Pay, a customized direct mail and e-mail marketing campaign that utilizes a given school's colors, logo and sales message. Buyers can purchase yearbooks online, by phone or mail, and can pay via an installment plan. In addition, a back-end Website gives advisors the opportunity to track sales in real time.
Taylor Publishing also provides self-marketing campaigns for its clients, which includes posters, table tents, direct mailers, post cards, t-shirts and cafeteria tray liners.
"Our comprehensive program brings people and technology together," Cobb states. "We do more than just print yearbooks. We make them easy. We make them educational. We make them unique. And, most importantly, we make them fun."