In an outsourcing industry dominated by SSTM publishing, cookbook projects (and other trade categories) are about as rare as Périgord truffles. It is not that vendors in India have shied away from lighter stuff; it is the publishers that have been slow to jump onto the bandwagon, still assuming that composition and design tasks should be done in-house for better control and that any savings would be negligible.

But harsh realities have forced a reluctant change in attitude. In the developed world, a career in typesetting is no longer an attractive option. The number of freelancers has dwindled steadily, while experienced workers are becoming costlier and time consuming to hire. Outsourcing offers an attractive way out. “Fast-track scheduling and fast turnaround—synonymous with trade publishing—are often cited by those reluctant to cross the time zone and geographic barriers,” noted COO Vinay Singh of Delhi-based Thomson Digital. “Interestingly, if you think about it, the different time zone is actually a blessing in disguise. We can get the work done while our client is asleep, so that when they return to the office in the morning the files would be ready for proofing and we would have identified any issues that may arise during production.” For more savvy publishers, India's larger production capacity and considerable cost savings—mostly from currency exchange and cheaper labor—are reason enough to move projects offshore, SSTM and trade alike.

Thomson Digital, known for its complex SSTM and full project management expertise, does many cookbook projects as well, to PW's surprise. Singh explained, “Our creative team of designers and illustrators has been able to leverage our elementary schoolbook experience and fine-tune that workflow to fit cookbook production. Still, cookbooks do require different design styles and composition skills, and our team has been learning on the job, so to speak, for the past year.”

For one 20-volume cookbook series, the publisher provided Singh's team with a detailed style sheet, an item crucial for reducing cycle time and minimizing errors. Art briefs were also provided, but the designers had considerable flexibility in terms of the ultimate look. “PDF proofs were e-mailed to the client two weeks upon receipt of the project. We then made the necessary changes as indicated on a hard copy, sent them the new proofs and upon approval uploaded the Quark XPress files onto their FTP server,” added Singh, whose team also had to develop the DTDs with input from the client. “Getting the DTD basics right was crucial. The various cooking, preparation and serving styles created plenty of variables, which have to be addressed during DTD development. For our client, the DTD and XML files would enable them to channel their publications to other platforms and uses.”

Meanwhile, some 2,000 kilometers to the south, Chennai-based vendors such as diacriTech, Vikatan and Lapiz Digital are seeing more trade projects than ever. Electronic proofing and XML workflow, they agreed, have helped push the offshoring proposition. Lapiz Digital, for instance, started doing paperbacks in 2003 and now completes up to 50 titles per month. “Trade paperbacks usually require template development besides composition,” noted CEO Indira Rajan. Her team normally uses DocBook DTD and, if necessary, tweaks the structure to fit a specific publication. “A typical project of 275 pages requires the first proofs to be ready three days after receipt. Once the editorial corrections come in, we have one day to produce the second proofs. At the final stage, print-ready PDFs, XML and application files together with Adobe eBook Reader pages are submitted within the next working day.”

Interestingly, Lapiz Digital's team had been doing e-book conversion—mostly of novels—long before it embarked on composition work for American and British trade publishers. “Defining the e-book conversion workflow was a major challenge for us seven years ago,” said Rajan. “Nowadays, we use the OEB [Open eBook] format to generate files for Mobipocket, Gemstar, Palm, MSR and other e-book readers. We have a highly automated and robust workflow that is constantly updated with new formats such as ePub and Kindle.”

So, cookbooks or novels, India is definitely cooking up a storm in the trade segment.

This is part of a regular series highlighting content/publishing services provided by companies in India.