Publication layout and other questions?

Subject: Publication layout and other questions?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 1 May 2001 10:54:49 -0400

Ken Poshedly reports: <<I've just completed editing the first issue of a
quarterly scientific journal... Besides some general announcements about
this and that, the journal includes primarily unexciting reports stuffed
with data that most insomniacs would welcome to help them drift off to

Your questions (below) focus primarily on format and distribution, but it
occurs to me that you also need to spend some time talking to your audience
about what they consider useful content. For example, a lot of the
announcements should be published exclusively on your Web site rather than
in the journal. In addition to making room for more of the interesting
stuff, this provides several other benefits: these include (but are not
limited to) more timely publishing (since it takes about 5 minutes to add a
"coming attraction" to your Web site, vs. 3 months in a quarterly journal),
the ability to hyperlink to sites that contain more information (e.g., the
site for a conference organizer), the ability to increase type size and
white space without greatly increasing the journal size (thus cost), and the
ability to attract people to your Web site. For that matter, you could also
try the approach adopted by Scientific American: provide the main meat of an
article in print, and casually mention that the "full version of this
interview (etc.) is available online". Not coincidentally, putting much of
the material online will also reduce printing costs to the point that you
can more easily afford to publish in color (see below).

<<The layout and presentation of the publication should invite and possibly
spur the reader's intrest. Anyway, I digress.>>

You emphatically do _not_ digress. It's amazing how many designers forget
this crucial point. But don't focus on improving the design to the exclusion
of content, unless you're willing to provide a free pack of NoDoze tablets
to each of your insomniac subscribers. <g>

<<I'm introducing color (text boxes and photos where practical) and
publishing the approximately 40-page document in both pdf for downloading
from the organization's website (for viewing and printing by individuals)
and hardcopy format (for the great unwashed who still fight pdf and online

Count me among those who bathe irregularly, at least by your definition. <g>
I still want my printed copy. I spend far too many hours staring at a
computer screen as it is, and the last thing I want to do is spend another
few hours reading my journals online. I used to read _Byte_ every month when
it came out; now that they've discontinued their print version, I only head
over to their site if I need to research something, much though I miss the
magazine. Speaking as one of those who also practices thrift despite my
purported savings on soap <g>, I also deeply resent the practice of
publishers who produce color journals that they expect me to print at home
on my inkjet printer when it would be faster and less expensive for me if
they just billed me for the extra production cost. Compare, for example, the
cost of ca. $0.10 per double-sided page and an hour's printing time and wear
and tear on my inkjet printer (which like many readers I don't have, by the
way) with the cost of printing and mailing a 40-page journal and you'll see
why the printed version is far more attractive to most readers.

<<To keep pub costs down, the hardcopy version will be a standard
black-and-white publication and saddlestiched (double-stapled) on the spine
and mailed in full-size envelopes (yeah, I know it's cumbersome, but the
powers-that-be don't want
to chance mutiliation of the books in the mailstream).>>

If you're designing in color, make sure to choose colors that work equally
well when converted to gray scale (so they print legibly in black and
white). If you use a laser printer as your proofing device, this shouldn't
be a problem, because you'll spot problems at the proof stage. As for
mailing, I agree with the powers-that-be; I like to receive an unmutilated
journal, thanks. But check your local Yellow Pages for mailing companies;
many can do bulk mailings for you, even at surprisingly low print runs, far
less expensively than if you had to mail all those envelopes first class.
You may have to apply to the Post Office for a publications mail permit, but
the long-term savings are substantial.

<<The color pdf version for individual viewing/printing is produced by way
of printing to Acrobat PDF Writer and allowing its defaults to downsample
and otherwise compress the document.>>

Consider using Acrobat Distiller instead; you'll get better results,
particularly for graphics. And don't forget to play around with the options
to see which ones work best for your readers. Create at least two different
custom settings: one for online, and one for print. You may even want to
create hi-res and low-res online versions.

<<This issue of the journal, for instance, is 39 pages and pdf's down to
about 1.3 megabytes... And is the file size considered outlandish for casual

That's larger than I prefer to download, but not impossible. But since
you're going to a download distribution mechanism, I'd strongly advise you
to take advantage of the online medium: sending the entire issue is, after
all, a relic of the print distribution habit you claim to be trying to kick.
<g> Let users download only the parts that interest them! If your service
provider has the latest Adobe technology, they can show you how to provide
"page at a time" downloading (rather than downloading the entire document in
a single swell foop); better still, keep it simple and make each article
available as its own PDF file (in addition to the "whole journal in a single
file" download). That way, readers only download the ones that interest
them. Better still, if your service provider lets you create a download log,
you can track the downloads to see which articles attract the most interest.
To some extent, you can use this to figure out which subjects most interest
your readers, and that brings us full circle to my suggestion that you
reconsider the journal's content in addition to its design; you'll have to
use these statistics with some caution, but they at least provide a clue
about reader interests.

<<The b&w version is produced by way of likewise printing to Acrobat PDF
Writer... Am I going about this the correct way?>>

No way for _us_ to tell you this. The best advice I can ever give to people
who are doing print production for the first time (or for the first time
with a particular printer) is to talk directly to the printer. A good
printer or service bureau will have done this before many times, and figured
out what works--and more importantly, what doesn't.

<<I use primarily a two-column left justification on 8 1/2 x 11-inch page
layout, with full justification on some portions ("About the Author" boxes
at article's end, etc.). Some folks prefer to full justification throughout,
which I don't like because it tends to give an "institutional look" to the
publication. What kinds of research or professional opinions have you on

Distrust any research that makes sweeping claims; all the studies I've read
suggest strongly that this is as much a matter of audience preferences as it
is of absolutes. Full justification is commonly more difficult to read for
one main reason: designers can't be bothered making the type color even
(i.e., eliminating white space by appropriate typographic tricks, including
judicious use of hyphenation), and that makes word spacing vary sufficiently
that the text becomes harder to read. See Karen Schriver's "Dynamics in
Document Design" for everything you wanted to know about type that Robin
Williams doesn't know. <g> Bottom line: well-set type is equally readable
and equally esthetic whether you use ragged right or not.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"Arthur C. Clarke had suggested that any sufficiently advanced technology
would be indistinguishable from magic--referring to a possible encounter
with an alien civilization--but if a science journalist had one
responsibility above all else, it was to keep Clarke's Law from applying to
human technology in human eyes."--Greg Egan, "Distress"


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