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Preparing for a concert, play, opera, ballet, or festival involves lots of tasks. They pile up alarmingly fast as the opening date approaches. Publishing your own program books on top of this is one of the biggest time-sucks for your staff.

Most of the performing arts groups I speak to that are currently self-publishing tell me they do all the work internally because they think outsourcing their program book publishing would cost too much. However, cost has to be measured in time and people as well as in money. There comes a point where having a professional publisher publish your program books makes more sense.

Publishing the program book with the organization’s resources drains time and money that could be better used for more important things like making sure every performance is a sell-out, and handling major donors. Not to mention, it can burn out your key people. Think about some of the burdens which the job imposes.

1. Lost Time In Layout & Design

A performing arts organization can usually find someone with some experience in layout and design to publish their program books. However, a well-designed program book consists of a lot of little pieces. And putting them all together so they don’t look awkward is an expertise in and of itself.

Doing it properly can’t be rushed, especially if the person doing it doesn’t have professional experience. However, the deadline can’t change. So the internal staff laying out and designing your program book do not have time for other vital tasks.

2. Lost Time Designing Your Cover

In spite of the old saying, a lot of people do judge a book by its cover, especially when it’s your organization’s program book. A well-designed program book is a representation of the quality of performances that you offer. Creating a program book that will create a positive impression on your patrons is an especially time-consuming job.

Utilizing a professional program book publisher saves time and effort which the staff can better use elsewhere. They can be confident the program book’s cover and overall design will appeal to patrons.

3. Lost Time Selling The Advertising

Many performing arts organizations rely heavily on program book advertising to defray their costs. And I have yet to come across a performing arts organization that is good at selling their own ads. They know how to reach members of their community, but beyond that it gets difficult. As a result, the program book will have less advertising revenue than it could have, imposing a significant opportunity cost to the organization.

A professional program book publisher which has the necessary expertise and contacts can bring in more ad revenue.

4. Lost Time Figuring Out Your Print Runs

When a performing arts organization self-publishes their own program books, they are responsible for figuring out their most economical print run. Knowing the ins and outs of a cost-effective print run can take months, even years in understanding all the intricacies of each printer your organization uses. On top of this, if the program book comes back from the printer and there’s a major mistake, there are two choices–either the error stands, or the organization has to pay for another print run. It wasn’t the printer’s mistake, after all. If the second run is a rush job, it will cost even more.

With a professional performing arts program book publisher, they have the knowledge and experience in dealing with commercial printers in order to get the most economical print run, and in turn getting the best price.

5. Burning Your People Out

Publishing a program book is a time-consuming job. It has a strict deadline, and everyone will know if the product is botched. There are too many examples within the program book industry of errors, mistakes, omissions of large donors, etc. to list here, but unfortunately, patrons remember this. And guess who gets the brunt of these errors? Your staff! Burnout of good people is a problem every performing arts organization has to face. Reducing the overall level of stress makes it less likely that they’ll walk away.

Whoever you may have in charge of publishing your program books is certainly a committed member of the staff. However, such staff could be doing many other useful things for your performing arts organization. The time saved can go toward much more important things when freeing up these staff members.

Stop Losing Time – Make The Transition

Many performing arts organizations start out so small that they may have no choice but to do everything themselves. And as the organization gets better known and more professional, they may keep publishing their own books just because they always have done it this way. They don’t notice how much it costs them in time and money. But when an organization reaches a certain point, publishing its own program books no longer makes economic sense. Having the job done professionally saves time, money, and stress. It also results in a much better product. Good selling!

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