By: Michael Schuldt
Sometimes you think you have, as they say, all the bases covered only to find that, alas, you don’t. Take, for instance, the 2000 presidential election in the United States. We thought we were prepared for all contingencies. But then, who could have guessed that the resolution of the race would come down to a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States?
Presidential elections in the United States occur toward the later part of the publishing cycle for the print version of The World Book Encyclopedia. To ensure that the latest election results appear in the new edition of World Book, the editors have traditionally prepared winner and loser versions of the biographies of the main presidential candidates. The winner versions are longer and receive the full World Book Presidential Treatment. The loser versions are significantly shorter.
By the time Election Day, November 7, arrived, we had winner and loser versions of articles on Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore ready to go. Now all we had to do was wait. We anticipated that we wouldn’t have to wait too long. Of course, the results would be apparent on the day after the election, and the set could be sent to the presses. No problem, right?
November 8 came and went without a clear winner. The race was hanging by a chad. In fact, it would take five weeks before the outcome of the election was no longer in doubt. The victor was George W. Bush.
We couldn’t wait that long, however. We needed to go to press. We had to deliver sets of the encyclopedia by the beginning of December to meet sales commitments. We had to ship, but we had a responsibility to our customers to deliver election results. What could we do?
Discuss. Debate. Agonize. Wring hands. Arrive at a solution.
Here’s what we did. We met our obligations. We shipped on schedule. The early sets included the longer biographies of the two candidates along with statements in both articles that the election was too close to call by the time we went to press. After the official election results were in, we shipped an additional volume to the customers who had received the earlier sets. The extra Election volume had the longer version of the biography of President Bush—with the official election results—as well as a number of pieces, including one that detailed the saga of the election itself.
Ever since then, we have not looked at elections in quite the same way. Election years have become Ages of Anxiety.
One last thing. According to World Book lore, in the days of hot metal type, once the word had been given as to which version of the presidential candidate articles should be used, someone at the press where World Book was being printed would actually take a sledgehammer to the plates for the versions that were to be discarded to guarantee that the wrong version would not be printed. That person would literally “break the mold.”