• 01 Nov 2008 /  Rants

    Working for Peanuts

    The Global Recession

    They say that Canada isn’t in a recession, but recently the company I work for did something I never thought it would ever do. I’ve been working for the same Canadian Educational Book Design company now for about 10 years and recently, as a direct result of the USA’s financial crisis, my company laid off almost 20 employees and cut the remaining staff’s remuneration by 10%.

    Everyone was in shock.

    Yes, we knew that the economy was bad and we knew that we didn’t have as much work running through the company as we usually do for this time of year. We’re not a new company, we’ve won all sorts of awards for Textbook Design, we may even be the most prestigious Textbook Design company in North America, certainly Canada. Yet here we are struggling to make ends meet. Sure we’ve had slow spots before, but nobody ever got fired or laid off. We all got together and reduced the number of hours we spent on the clock or took holidays when things we slow, but this time it was bad. Really bad. For the first time in the company’s 26 year history, the boss was actually forced to reduce the numbers of staff and it hurt.

    The “New” Economy

    Here’s the problem in a nutshell, as it were; “Offshore pricing.”

    Places like China and especially India have huge numbers of people who will do hours of mindless and repetitive labour for peanuts. Someone figured out that if you put enough of these people in front of a computer and let them hammer at it long enough, eventually they could get things done. And the best part is that you can pay them about $3 per day and they’ll be happy to take it. There are “comp houses” in India that will run a couple hundred people in three shifts for six days a week and pay them next to nothing. Turn over is huge, but they don’t care because there will always be someone else willing to take their place. We’ve all seen the results of low ball pricing recently, with toys covered with lead-based paint and melamine in food, but it’s all about the bottom line isn’t it? Who cares who gets hurt?

    So what’s happening now is that all of the major US publishers are being run by the bean counters. These people have no concept of book design, content, production, or anything else related to creating a usable textbook, all they do is count beans. The fewer the number of beans it takes to get the job done, the better. They don’t care about how many man-hours a book takes to complete the job, or the extra processes that were involved because the editors rewrote four chapters, or the fact that a lot of work goes into preparing the electronic files so that they can be reused or re-purposed, all they care about is the bottom line. So when once a book design company would get $50-60 a page for a book, now they get $15-25 a page. And don’t try to negotiate these prices because if you do, then the bean counters will blacklist your company and you will not get work from them again.

    On the other side of the fence we have the authors, editors, and all of the other people who write these books and they’re expecting the Book Design companies, like the one I work for, to do the same quality job that we’ve always done. What they don’t realize is that for the money that we’re getting per page now we can hardly meet our day-to-day expenses never mind make a profit. You get what you pay for.

    And the bean counters don’t talk to the editorial side.

    Burning Bridges

    Recently a bean counter told us, “Don’t even THINK about asking for more money.” It’s almost like spitting in our faces—Take it or leave it! These people have no concept of reality. In some cases we are actually subsidizing the creation of the book because we are losing money on every page that we create! But we have to take every job that we’re offered because we have to keep the people that we have left working. So how can anyone stay in business when they end up paying out more than they’re taking in you might ask… Well, that brings us to the problem we’re having right now.

    These idiotic bean counters are burning bridges at an alarming rate. As more companies go into receivership, the number of people that they can screw goes down, however the companies in India are still there with their hands out saying, “Oh, we’ll do it for $3 a page. No problem.” But, when you pay $3 per page, you get $3 worth of quality and it shows in the end product. Think of that the next time you shell out $100 for a textbook for your child and you find glaring errors all the way through it, and then thank the bean counters for a job well done.

    What’s Coming?

    The US Presidential election is coming soon. With it comes promises of more spending for education, which means more textbooks. Also, 2011 is an “adoption year,” which means that all sorts of States will be updating their textbooks to new State Standards. This means a lot of work for a lot of people and when all of that work hits, the bean counters will be falling all over themselves trying to find someone to do that work for them. That’s when all the crap that they’ve dished out now, when times are lean, comes back to roost for them. They may have saved themselves a dollar today, but they’ll find that they’ll have to spend five dollars tomorrow just to catch up and that’s when the North American Book Design companies will have the last laugh.

    We just have to survive until then…

    (Image from the stock.xchng)

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