Summer 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA3

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Effective Handbook Production and Distribution

The lesson to be that promotion ad distribution of educational materials are of prime importance to the success of such projects. Outstanding educational materials are of little value unless they reach the intended clientele. Delivery systems for interdepartmental educational materials and projects can be successful only when their promotion and distribution are planned for, supported, and managed from the higher levels of administration. While the creators of handbooks are responsible for content and presentation quality, they shouldn't be responsible for the organized promotion and distribution.

J. E. Beuerlein
Department of Agronomy
Ohio State Univeristy-Columbus

Z. R. Helsel
Rutgers Cooperative Extension
Rutgers University-New Brunswick

J. M. Woodruff
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Georgia-Tifton

The rapid development of agricultural technology since 1960 has led many state Extension Services and others to develop subject-matter handbooks organizing vast amounts of subject specific information for teaching and reference. The value of educational material is realized only when it has reached the intended clientele, been studied, and the knowledge applied. The development and production of educational material is Phase I of the three-phase educational process. Distribution, Phase II, may sometimes be inadequate because of inefficient distribution systems, lack of promotion, or both. Except for the quality of effort expressed in Phases I and II, an Extension Service unit has little control of Phase III-clientele application of transferred knowledge.

Between 1967 and 1988, seven soybean handbooks of varying size, content, presentation quality, and subject matter were produced. A brief description of their makeup and sale price is presented in Table 1. This article will present lessons learned from successful handbook production and review two less successful distribution efforts. It will also offer guidelines on presentation quality and production sequence to maximize resource use.

Presentation Quality vs. Cost

The production costs for handbooks are a function of many factors, including the number of pages, tables, illustrations, and paper quality-which is a function of intended durability and whether black and white or color photos and illustrations are used. For all but three of the handbooks described in Table 1, authors received no direct payment because they were salaried university employees. Often the cost of artwork, editing, and layout may also be borne by public institutions because personnel are salaried.

There is considerable confounding of production costs for handbooks. For example, a decision to use four-color illustrations necessitates the use of higher quality, more expensive paper. Grouping all the color into one section rather than scattering it throughout a publication produces some savings in both printing and paper cost. Two qualities of paper can then be used in the publication.

Table 2 shows a comparison of estimated production costs for four versions of a hypothetical 100-page publication. For 5,000 copies of a 100-page publication with no photos, illustrations, or color, it would cost about $1.84 per copy for typesetting, layout, printing, and binding. Including 25 tables printed in a second color increases the per copy cost by 33%, although adding 25 black and while photos increases the cost only another six cents a copy. When 50 four-color pictures are distributed throughout the publication, the production cost increases 333% from the base of $1.84 to over $5.12 per copy. Color may be necessary to show color-related quantitative characteristics, and in such cases the cost for color is unavoidable. Although the cost of color is great, the appeal of color in today's marketplace is often considered necessary for professional appearance.

Phase I-Production

Producing a large (100+ page) publication may require as little as eight months or as much as three years depending on how well activities are planned to eliminate bottlenecks and duplicated efforts. The following sequence of events typifies efficient handbook production:

  • Conceive need for a publication by ultimate users.
  • Develop proposal and seek initial publication cost quote.
  • Arrange financial support.
  • Develop or appoint a review committee (no more than three people).
  • Identify potential authors based on expertise and ability to be team players.
  • Develop an outline of chapters and contents.
  • Provide an annotated outline for authors so they can reference other chapters or illustrations as needed, thus eliminating duplication.
  • Recognize participants' contributions to their superiors.
  • Include all participants, that is, authors, contributors, editor, artist, layout specialist, typesetters, and printers in the development of a realistic time schedule.
  • Appoint one person with interest in timely production of a quality product to coordinate efforts and maintain the production schedule.
  • Distribute the time schedule to all participants and prepare "as-needed" status reports to keep interest focused and encourage schedule adherence.
  • Keep each participant advised of approaching deadlines and alert editor, typesetters, artist, layout specialist of their approaching contribution so they can start work as soon as materials reach them.
  • Acquire first drafts including tables and illustrations.
  • Have review committee evaluate first drafts for overlap and missing information.
  • Finalize illustrations and submit for color separation.
  • Edit first draft for general style and content.
  • Complete second draft.
  • Final edit and submit for typesetting.
  • Edit galley proofs.
  • Produce layout or pasteups.
  • Have author and review committee check page proofs.
  • Have author and review committee evaluate blue or brown copy.
  • Have final signoff by authors and reviewing committee.
  • Alert distribution channel of pending publication.
  • Print the publication.

Phase II-Distribution

While the creation of educational materials is normally well -done by educators, they sometimes consider the development phase of an educational project as the completed project. This is analogous to building a factory, but failing to equip it. Phase II, distribution to clientele, can be poorly or well-done. Following are examples of both.

Single copies of the first Missouri soybean handbook were distributed free to all Missouri soybean growers who wanted it. News releases and radio tapes were prepared to promote the availability of the handbook and to remind potential users it was free if they'd participated in the soybean checkoff program. Before general distribution, all Missouri county agricultural Extension agents were given the opportunity to order copies for local distribution. This effort helped establish them as a source of an excellent soybean publication. The publication was advertised to growers as an enticement to attend local and regional producer meetings. Within three months of release, unsolicited requests totaling 4,000 copies arrived from agri-organizations and a second printing was made and distributed. All but 300 copies were distributed within two years of release.

Five years after release, the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council approved a grant to publish 27,000 copies of a revision. The second edition was fairly easy to update and produce because only two chapters required significant changes. A few new photos were available and a new cover was chosen to differentiate the first and second publication. Distribution of the second edition was similar to the first except that bulk orders from outside organizations were solicited before printing. Production and distribution of the Missouri Soybean handbooks were efficient and well-done.

In contrast, the Ohio and Georgia handbooks are examples of excellent publications successfully produced in Phase I, but inadequately or inappropriately promoted and distributed. A price was assigned to each handbook (Table 1) to recover some of the development and production cost. Salable copies were provided to county Extension offices accompanied by a news release. Two years after the production of the Ohio handbook, 25% of the original 8,000 remain unsold. Three years after release of the Georgia handbook, 40% of the original 5,000 copies remain unsold.

Table 1. Production date, size, and quality of bound soybean handbooks produced from 1967-1988.
ProducerDatePagesChaptersTables Color
No. of
Anchem, Inc. 1967 66 11 12 18 53 2 n.a. yes free
University of Missouri 1982 86 18 43* 132 4 16 24,000 no free
University of Georgia 1986 94 15 26 91 2 19 5,000 no $10.00
Ohio State University 1987 128 20 73 143 0 33** 8,000 yes $8.00
University of Missouri## 1987 86 18 45* 136 6 15 29,000 no free
Scott & Aldrich# 1970 191 9 36 77 88 34 n.a. no $18.95
Scott & Aldrich## 1983 230 11 48 93 58 67 n.a. no $24.95
*Shaded background.
**Over half in color.
#Agronomists at the University of Illinois (book was Modern
Soybean Production).
##A second edition.

Farmers and agricultural business leaders in both states were complimentary of the quality and utility of those handbooks. Why were these valuable resources not readily accepted and purchased? Producers and authors of those handbooks felt the deterrent to sale was multifaceted. On release, county Extension offices in both states were provided with a limited supply of books and the staff was expected to promote and market the product. In Georgia, a promotional leaflet was prepared and sent to county agents for circulation to promote the handbook. About half of the Georgia handbook sales were due to the promotional leaflet.

Typically, county staff aren't trained for marketing activities, nor do they have time for these activities if they fulfill their primary and preferred function of clientele education and service. Underlying these problems is a negative attitude toward "for-sale" publications by clientele and some county Extension staff and the associated need to collect funds from clients who are taxed to support Extension staffing and programming. These conditions and attitudes discourage the promotion and marketing of educational material. Additionally, no rewards existed to do so in either state, and negative comments about salable publications were expressed by customers. Therefore, Phase II was incomplete for the Ohio and Georgia handbooks, which predisposed those educational projects to Phase III failure. When Phase II fails, the overall objective of an educational publication is lost even though thousands of hours and dollars have been spent in development and production.

Conclusions and Questions

The lesson to be learned from these experiences is that promotion and distribution of educational materials are of prime importance to the success of such projects. Outstanding educational materials are of little value unless they reach the intended clientele. Important questions for the Ohio and Georgia Extension administrative teams include:

  1. How many farmers in Ohio and Georgia missed the one to two weeks of news releases and promotional leaflet distribution and are yet unaware of these handbooks?

  2. Would farmers in Ohio and Georgia purchase those publications if they were advertised and promoted?

  3. Would distribution by county staff in Ohio and Georgia have been enhanced if monetary or professional reward for promotion and sale had been offered?

The answers to these questions and the fate of similar publications in other states are in the hands of the state Extension administrators who are ultimately responsible for the success of all educational projects regardless of media. Delivery systems for interdepartmental educational materials and projects can be successful only when their promotion and distribution are planned for, supported, and managed from the higher levels of administration. While the creators of handbooks are responsible for content and presentation quality, they shouldn't be responsible for the organized promotion and distribution.

Table 2. Estimated cost of 5,000 copies of a 100-page publication
with different presentation qualities.
Version Specifications Total Cost* Per copy Cost*
A Black ink on 60 lb. white paper. Cover is coated on one side. 9,100 $1.84
B "A" plus one color ink throughout and 25 tables (copy on a disk) 12,300 2.46
C "B" plus 25 halftones from 5" x 7" black and white originals to be printed at 3.25" x 4" randomly throughout publication 12,600 2.52
D Four-color throughout; 60 lb. white paper; coated text; cover coated 2 sides; 25 tables (copy on a disk); 25 color separations from 35mm slides printed at 3.25" x 4" randomly throughout publication 25,600 5.12
*Does not include distribution or author cost.