Mar. 2002—And you thought your color proofing requirements were arduous? What if you were printing 600 pages of artwork, each from a different, highly paid commercial artist or photographer, each of which has to be color-perfect. That’s the daunting task facing the staff at Black Book every time they release a new issue.
The Black Book is a showcase of talent that art directors, designers and anyone who purchases art can use to find just the right photographer to take that cover shot, or the perfect illustrator to design the next big ad campaign.
"The Black Book is a resource book and we actually publish four books a year," said Tracy Russek, recently promoted to president from director of operations. "We publish a photography book, which is our real staple product that we got started with 30 years ago, and we also publish two illustration books a year and an annual report book which is targeted more towards the annual report and graphic design market. When I say resource books, what I mean is that photographers and illustrators advertise in our book, they pay for advertising space to have a page or spread or a group of pages. Our commitment to them is to distribute those books to end users who would be potentially hiring them for an ad campaign, for a book jacket, for a record album, or for whatever you might use a commercial photographer or illustrator for. That’s what we are."
Founded in 1970 by Stu Waldman and Marty Goldstein, the Black Book has changed ownership a few times, and is currently owned by BrandEra Inc., who has developed the Web side of Black Book. "It has been a good partnership for us," said Russek.
Black Book is based in New York City, with sales offices in Chicago and San Francisco. Each issue is printed by Mondadori Printing, which has offices in both Italy and Spain. The photography issue is printed in Italy, while the illustration issues are both printed in Spain. Mondadori uses a Komori five-color Lithrone 50 press to print the Black Book. The Lithrone 50 prints in sizes up to 38x50 inches at 12,000 sph (sheets per hour). All of the prepress is done in Italy.
Black Book is a controlled circulation trade publication in the truest sense. In order to receive the Book, you must qualify as an art director or other professional who regularly purchases services from commercial artists. The qualification process involves questions such as what your title is, whom you work for and how much art you purchase, or influence the purchase of, per year. Black Book also sells their publications in selected bookstores overseas, and ships the occasional copy to people such as college professors or art students.
"We have qualification forms we send out with all of our books. Sometimes we get cold calls from somebody who has seen our book and wants to receive it, and we send them a qualification form," says Russek. "Basically we want to make sure that our books get into the hands of people who really would hire the talent that has paid to advertise in our books. We don’t want them to just go to some place where they want to look at something pretty."
The bulk of the company’s revenue comes from the advertisers, who also supply the content. According to the rate card, the photography book commands around $4,000 per page, while the illustration book costs around $1,500 per page. For that fee, advertisers receive a two-page spread, one color separation, one proof and one image posted in the online version. The number of advertisers varies each year, with an average of about 700 pages in the photography book, and 200 in the illustration book.
Black Book accepts ad materials in several formats, but they require the material to be ready for prepress. Files can come in as film with a match print, transparencies, digital image files or as a native page layout file, like QuarkXPress.
"Our preferred method is that we receive the layout digitally and then the transparencies for us to do the scanning. We definitely prefer to do the scanning and the color separation," says Russek. "We’re not going to color correct and we’re not going to touch up their film that they gave us. So basically what they see is what they are going to get. And that is frustrating for our clients to hear and it is frustrating for us to have to say it. If we do the color separations for them and they say ‘Oh, I hate the way this image looks.’ Well, no problem, we’ll fix it. We have done the color separation, so we will therefore retouch and manipulate and correct the film to more closely match that transparency. That becomes our responsibility. And we definitely prefer to have that responsibility."
About 60 percent of production is in proofing the ads. The table of contents and index both receive content proofing, but the color is not as critical for these pages as the only art is graphic elements.
The proofing process starts when the image is first received. Staff members check the files to be sure they meet specifications, including a resolution of at least 350 dpi, CMYK color mode and the correct layout size. From there it goes to prepress.
All advertisers receive a "press proof," which is printed on the actual stock with a proofing press. The colors are a little less saturated, but are pretty close to the final product, according to Russek. "We promise each and every one of our advertisers a press proof," she says. "So they do see actual press proofs, ink on paper, on the actual paper we are going to use to print the book."
Proofs are printed two colors at a time in what Russek terms a "credit card imprinter" technique. Black Book receives the full-color proof and separations of each color, which is used for correcting the images if necessary. Advertisers receive only the full-color proof.
Here is where Black Book deviates from the traditional proofing process: Advertisers only see a first round proof, even if corrections are needed. They must trust Black Book to get it right after that. According to Russek, 40 percent of the pages go to press after the first proof, 40 percent go after the second proof, and only 20 percent go to three or more. "If they need to have additional corrections made [after the first proof], they’re trusting that we know what we’re doing," she says.
After the clients sign off on the proofs and all the pages are ready, the materials are shipped back to Europe for final printing. The schedule is tight: for the photography issue, materials must be submitted by July, the final pages go to press in October, the finished book is shipped in November and is in the hands of the art buyers by the New Year. And then it is time to start on the next year’s issue, not to mention the two illustration issues and the annual report issue that run on slightly different production schedules.
Proofing is an important part of the process – it is the last chance for both the client and the printer to make changes before it goes to press and becomes a major production, not to mention a costly one, to go back and fix a mistake. The process is long and sometimes frustrating, but in the end, the finished product is almost always stunning. So next time you start to feel the irritation that sneaks in after yet another proof has been rejected because that shade of blue was off just a bit, remind yourself that at least you don’t have 599 more to go.