Packages are no holiday

THE PRACTICE of "packaging" - outsourcing up to but not usually including actual printing has been rife in book publishing for years. Jenny Vaughan describes the effects on authors, illustrators and editors.

The processes involved have changed with the technology, but the principle remains the same. A book is produced by a "packager" who takes over the production process for a book or series of books to be sold under the publisher's imprint. Rights may be retained by the publisher or the packager. They almost always demand that authors sign away rights to royalties. The packager makes a small profit and may occasionally collect royalties.

Although it's done mainly to save publishers' overheads, the addition of an extra layer means less money available to the workforce. Freelance writers and designers frequently receive less from packagers - even the best ones - than directly from the publishers. The problem is compounded when - and this really happens - packagers themselves outsource to other packagers.

Packagers can be strong-armed by publishers into agreeing extremely tight schedules - which cause more problems for authors and editors when both publisher and packager want to oversee every stage of production.

Interminable checking and re-checking by several people can put freelance writers and illustrators under extra pressure. Endless sets of proofs provide endless opportunities for further comments - and more mistakes.

The downsides for freelances are obvious. And editorial staff, instead of getting the chance to become "involved" in book production, are reduced to overseeing many titles, none of which can command anything like their full attention. Their jobs become pressured and administrative rather than creative.

Packaging in books, however frustrating, is here to stay. I suspect modern technology will tempt other parts of the media too. We had, I suppose, all better get used to it.

What can we, as freelances, do? Whenever we can, we should push to get paid what our work is worth, or at least not let rates fall too far.

More entrepreneurially-minded freelances could seize the opportunities packaging offers and team up with others with the right experience and talents to become packagers themselves - whether in book publishing or in other areas of the media. I hope the union will be able to offer advice and training to assist those taking this path - if you let us know the demand is there.

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