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Archive for the ‘Magazine Printing’ Category

Commercial Printing: Inserting Gatefolds into Magazines

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

A print brokering client of mine is producing a magazine. Actually, it is a graphic novel that initially was to be a perfect bound product, but my client has been increasingly interested in saddle stitching the book.

To give a brief overview of the specs, it is 8.5” x 10.875”. It was initially 150 pages (which I increased to 160 pages to equal five 32-page signatures—i.e., a more efficient custom printing sequence with fewer, but longer, press signatures).

Due to my client’s interest in saddle stitching the product (for the overall “magazine” look), the white gloss paper stock had to be 50# text (or thinner) for the printer to be able to saddle stitch the magazine. (Normally a 160-page book would be too long to saddle stitch if the paper were 60# gloss text or thicker.) Therefore, the job had to be produced on a web-offset press to accommodate the thinner press stock.

My client had initially requested a 9” x 12” page size. While this is not out of the question, it will be significantly more expensive to produce than an 8.5” x 10.875” format (fewer pages in each press signature and therefore more press runs needed to produce a 160 page book). The 8.5” x 10.875” format is ideal for a full-size heatset web press.

Why Is All of This Preliminary Information Relevant?

This preliminary information is relevant for the following reason. Initially, I had approached a large commercial printer with numerous printing plants across the country for a bid on the job and for advice on its design and production. Due to the initial plan’s having been to perfect bind the book, my customer service representative at this large commercial printing firm had approached his company’s book division for a quote.

This was fine, at first. But as my client shifted to wanting a saddle-stitched product and added three gatefolds to the design, the books division “no bid” the job. This division said the page count of the print book could not exceed 120 pages to be saddle stitched, and the book could not have a gatefold in the center spread.

Why the Books Division Set These Limitations

The printer’s books division said that gatefolds in the center of saddle-stitched books tend to fall out (come unhinged from the saddle stitches). Also, the books division said that even with 50# gloss text stock, a saddle-stitched book longer than 120 pages would be hard to bind and might come apart or lose some of its center-most pages.

I knew of all these pitfalls, but I had also grown up reading Playboy magazine, and had seen 150-page or longer magazines with gatefolds in their center spreads.

Moving from the Books Division to the Magazine Division

The CSR I work with at this large printer noted my client’s desire for a saddle-stitched product, and he too had seen longer saddle-stitched magazines with centerfolds. So he offered to discuss the print job with the magazine division of his firm.

Now this in no way implies that the books division lacks competence in binding. Rather, it implies that the magazines division has bindery equipment more suited to the task. It also shows the benefits of working with a commercial printing supplier with multiple plants and a huge amount of varied equipment.

Gatefold Options—Perfect Binding and Saddle Stitching

At this point my client potentially has two options for binding the print book: saddle stitching and perfect binding.

If the book is perfect bound, the five 32-page signatures will be stacked (one on top of the other) before binding. If it the book is saddle stitched, the signatures will be nested (each signature placed in the center of the preceding signature and then stitched in the center).

The gatefold in the center spread of the saddle-stitched option would be bound by the staples. The other two gatefolds would be bound between signatures. Therefore, for a six panel gatefold (three on each side of the sheet), two pages will either stick out (and need to be folded in) in front of the center spread (with the remaining panel–two pages, back and front–in the back of the book), or this will be reversed, and the single page will be in the front of the book and the remaining pages will come after the center spread.

If my client opts for a perfect bound book, the gatefolds will simply be bound between signatures. This is because there is no center of a print book in a perfect bound product in the same way that there is a center spread in a saddle-stitched book with nested signatures.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

The best thing you can learn is to develop long-term professional relationships with your vendors. Then you can draw upon their extensive experience and knowledge.

In addition, keep an open mind. There’s usually more than one way to achieve a desired result in custom printing.

Finally, show the printer samples of the effect you’re after. Nothing communicates your goals like a sample printed product.

Custom Printing: How to Approach a New Magazine

Monday, August 18th, 2014

I have a new print brokering client who wants to produce a magazine. The product will be 9” x 12” in format with a press run of 5,000 copies and a page count of 150 pages. She came to me for suggestions and assistance.

Preliminary Specs for the Job

A number of years ago, I had coordinated all printing activities for a magazine detailing the workings of Congress, so I felt qualified to make suggestions on paper stock in my initial phone meeting with my client. The magazine had been produced on a web-offset press on 60# text stock for the interior pages and 100# text stock for the exterior eight pages. So this is where I started with my client.

My client seemed open to the paper specs, although she requested an off-white stock to make the magazine look dated. She wanted it to have an older “feel.” The first custom printing vendor, a sheetfed printer, suggested 60# Utopia off-white coated stock for the text, so that is what I will have him price. Since these are only initial specifications, we will have time to change direction if need be.

A Web-Offset Option for the Magazine

I thought further, and since my client wanted a more “pulpy” look, in which the color was less important than the imagery, I thought about making the paper thinner and of a lower quality, perhaps a 45# commodity grade. So I sent the same specs to a web-offset printer, noting my client’s goals, and asked for his suggestions.

I knew the 45# paper would provide the “feel” of a lower-quality publication, but I also knew that a sheetfed press could not handle a 45# text sheet. Hence I brought the web-offset printer into the discussion. (For such a thin press sheet, you need the high tension of the printing stock running through a heatset press as a single ribbon of paper.)

Granted, the web-offset printer will need to use less ink than the sheetfed printer (open up the image separations) since the magazine will be image-heavy, and since too much ink (particularly on a lower grade press sheet in 4-color process ink, considering the higher pressure of a web press) would just create a thick, soupy mess. But I’ll let the printer address this himself when he responds to my specifications.

Where to Put the Inserts

My client wants several inserts included in the magazine. She had asked about saddle stitching the product, but I steered her away from this option. Although I have seen saddle stitched magazines that exceed 100 pages in length, they really don’t lie flat, and sometimes the center pages fall out. (And this will be a 150-page printed product.)

Also, a problem called “shingling” occurs in commercial printing in which pages closer to the center of the magazine are trimmed closer and closer to the live image area. Sometimes the trimming can cut into images or folios.

So I specified perfect binding, and my client agreed.

To go back to the inserts, this choice to perfect bind the magazine gave my client multiple positions in which to bind the inserts (a gatefold and two single-page products). In a perfect-bound magazine, she will be able to insert them between any of the signatures.

Now since 150 pages will not be divisible by 16 or 8 pages, I will suggest that she make the magazine 152 pages (nine 16-page signatures plus an 8-page signature) or ideally even 160 pages (five 32-page signatures). The bigger the signatures, the fewer the press runs and the more cost effective the job.

That said, she’ll be able to add the three inserts between these signatures.

Finally, she wants gold ink in addition to the four-color process inks on one page spread. I know this will add to the cost. Maybe there is a way to get the gold on one side of a press sheet (cheaper than two). I’ll discuss this with my client.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to ponder:

  1. Start early. Design your magazine using a page production application like InDesign, but also design it as a physical product using a specification sheet, considering the physical necessities of offset custom printing.
  2. Think about whether you will want a web-offset product or a sheetfed offset product. The web is for longer runs (your commercial printing vendor will help you determine optimal page counts, page sizes, and press runs for this equipment). In contrast, sheetfed offset usually costs more, and provides a slightly better product (color fidelity and such, although web-offset now comes very close).
  3. Think about placement of any supplied items, such as gatefolds and perfume inserts. Small cards can be “blown in,” or placed randomly, but they may fall out, particularly if they weigh much at all. Other items will usually need to be placed between signatures. Or you can sometimes “tip” them onto another sheet with “fugitive glue.” However, this would still be between signatures.
  4. When in doubt, ask your commercial printing supplier. He is there to make your life easier. Also, always ask for a blank paper dummy to see how the final printed product will feel in your hands.

Commercial Printing: Five-Day USPS Delivery–Ouch

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

I have concerns and questions about the effects of the upcoming change in postal service deliveries. On August 5, 2013, mail delivery will be cut from six days a week to five.

I understand the congressional mandate to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees (although I also believe this requirement does not pertain to any other government, or quasi-government, organization).

I also understand the need for the Post Office to be solvent (although I personally would pay more for services). But overall, this reduction in delivery days scares me. Here are a few reasons why.

Magazine Printing Schedules May Be Compromised

I spent over a decade consulting for an organization that publishes news magazines. Over this time, I became acutely aware of how magazine content stays in flux as long as possible to keep the news current (and keep the print advertisements coming in). But, for many periodicals, once the editorial and ad deadlines have closed, the magazine printing schedule runs like clockwork to ensure magazine delivery on Friday or Saturday, when the subscribers will have time to comfortably read and digest the material. Pushing delivery to Monday may change how the news content is taken in. Instead of being embraced as a recap of the prior week’s news, a magazine that arrives on Monday may be greeted by readers who have already moved on to the new week.

So the magazine printing businesses will need to close their issues earlier to complete production and get the magazines into the mail earlier (compromising coverage of the news), or they will need to deliver the periodicals on Monday or Tuesday.

Granted, a lot of magazines will move from Post Office delivery to private delivery firms. This will keep delivery schedules intact, but it may also raise costs, which could damage the viability of the periodicals.

Omitting weekend delivery of magazines may also affect shopping trips by readers interested in print advertising in these very magazines, and this may cause further erosion of print magazine advertising and a move toward Internet ads.

Will Magazines Be Processed Over the Weekend?

Here’s another concern. Will magazines entered into the mail stream over the weekend even be processed over the weekend, or will they be processed on Monday? Or, will there be slippage of extra processing work into Monday, as there often is over a holiday weekend? These are relevant questions that the USPS has not yet answered.

Will This Encourage More Magazines to Produce Online Issues Only?

In many cases print magazines have embraced digital technology to remain solvent. Having both print copies and digital distribution has made sense. But with a shift from six-day to five-day delivery, the digital edition of a magazine may be available a number of days before the print version lands on your door stoop. Will this further erode the distribution of print magazines? Will advertisers opt for the quickest distribution route and pull ads from print issues to place them in online news venues?

How Will This Affect Direct Mail Advertising?

Moving from six-day delivery to five-day delivery is a 16 percent decline. That’s simple math. However, the big question is whether this decline will affect direct mail package production and delivery. Will more businesses advertise online? Will direct mail packages disappear?

I’m actually quite hopeful in this area. Everything I’ve read recently has emphasized the effectiveness of printed marketing collateral. People seem to like its tangible nature. They often have so much junk mail in their email boxes that a few dramatic direct mail pieces can interest them far more than all of their email newsletters and ads.

But I’m not absolutely certain. This remains to be seen.

What About First Class Mail?

People seldom write letters by hand. In fact, if you want to show respect and appreciation after a job interview, send a hand-written thank-you note. So few people do this that it will set you apart from your competition. It shows class.

Will five-day delivery affect First Class Mail delivery? And if so, how?

Private Delivery Services

I had lunch today with the VP of a local, private delivery services, a friend of many years (we’ll call him George). We discussed this issue. Although his organization stands to benefit from the shift away from six-day delivery to five-day delivery, George made a good point. Private delivery firms such as his keep their prices low by delivering only to certain ZIP Codes. George delivers multiple bundled copies of a number of magazines, tabloids, and broadsheets to downtown locations (i.e., saturation-level), and then delivers fewer individual copies (one at a time), to selected suburban subscribers within a limited distance from the center of town. “We’re not the Post Office,” George said. “They can’t even do it for what they charge.” He made a good point.

The Rise of FedEx and UPS

FedEx and UPS are great. But I’m always surprised at how expensive they are. USPS prices almost always seem to be more reasonable. Will privatizing delivery services cause prices to rise further? Will this increased cost of doing business be the death knell for magazines and newspapers? Will it be so cheap to have only an online news presence that printed copies cease altogether?

The Business Case for Five-Day Delivery

The Post Office has been losing money for a long time. I can understand the push toward reduction of services or even privatization. I can even understand the push toward letting more efficient companies step in and fill the void. That’s the basis of capitalism. However, I’m just concerned about the magazines and newspapers.

Custom Printing Is Still Alive According to Online Sources

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

I came upon a few articles recently that show various venues in which the printed word still flourishes.

Direct Mail Packages Just Work

The first article is a snippet from a commercial printing supplier’s website. I work with this vendor as a broker. Let’s call them “Printer A” so as not to give them an unfair advantage. To quote from their website, “This political season, [Printer A] printed and mailed over 24.5 million pieces in a three-month period.” To continue, this printer has noted increased spending on direct mail packages. Printer A attributes this resurgence to businesses’ attempting to attract new customers by using “mail that gets noticed.”

What This Means

Direct mail marketing still works, even in the age of email and tablet computers. Printer A was slammed and had to provide longer than usual schedules for some work prior to the election due to the vast number of print jobs in progress. Companies and political parties don’t spend money on advertising that is ineffectual. A coordinated, multichannel initiative directed toward individual prospects using variable data culled from demographic research makes direct mail a formidable tool.

Colourtone Aries Says Printing Is “Tangible”

BizCommunity.com Daily Industry News, dated November 12, 2012, includes a statement issued by Colourtone Aries that custom printing is still “a critical element in the marketing mix” due to its tangible nature. The BizCommunity article, entitled “Printing Will Not Die, Says Colourtone Aries,” notes that direct mail, point of sale pieces, brochures, and packaging are still dynamic marketing tools.

To quote from the article, Colourtone Aries believes strongly that “a brand’s interaction with the consumer is, and will always remain, tangible, either in the initial contact or when receiving a product. Printed communication, marketing and packaging, which adds to the consumer’s brand experience…is an integral part of the success of branding.”

What This Means

The key words here are “tangible” and “the success of branding.” The Internet is evanescent. It’s one useful marketing channel, but Colourtone Aries sees the “tangible” qualities of print as a necessary part of a brand’s connecting with a consumer on a personal level, forging a lasting bond and inspiring customer loyalty. Commercial printing is powerful and relevant.

Tablets May Actually Increase the Reading of Printed Periodicals

Media Bistro included the following article by Ryan Lytle in its November 15, 2012, newsfeed: “Tablets May Fuel Print Magazine Market, Report Says.”

This online article references a report by the United Kingdom’s Professional Publisher’s Association (PPA), which notes that tablet users read and respond to digital magazines. Furthermore, the PPA report notes “a positive correlation between print and tablet readership.”

PPA notes that while 80 percent of those surveyed had read a printed magazine within the past year, 96 percent of tablet owners had read a printed magazine within the last year.

The Media Bistro article suggests that readers have been using both tablet-based periodicals and printed periodicals. They want both formats, and in some cases the digital versions have even introduced readers to a new magazine or newspaper brand and have motivated these readers to subscribe to the print periodical, which they might not otherwise have done without the initial exposure to the periodical on the Internet.

Marius Cloete of PPA notes that: “Tablet owners are more likely to have read and purchased magazines in the previous 3 months than the national average, dispelling the myth that tablet owners are abandoning print in favor [of] digital.”

What This Means

Tablet owners are more voracious readers than the average person. They have embraced the tablet, but they still like printed periodicals. It’s not a question of choosing one over the other. Rather it is about exploring and celebrating the differences.

Commercial Printing: B&B’s “Look” Hits It Dead Center

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

I visited a retail clothing store with my fiancée today. I went in because she wanted to see the shop, but I quickly got lost in the way the décor of the store, its wall and floor signage, lighting, wall paint colors, merchandise tags, music, and avant garde employee attire all came together to create a coherent, bold atmosphere. (Let’s call the store B&B, to make it somewhat of a hypothetical example of good marketing and design.)

The first thing I saw upon entering the store was the print catalog, right near the door. I paged through it as I walked past the clothing, and then I saw backlit images on the walls of some of the same models I had seen in the catalog. Clearly, I thought, print is not dead if this vibrant clothing store (which had a huge line at the cash registers) was actively using a print catalog, within the store, to sell the store.

Bold Signage and Clothing Tags

As my fiancée shopped, I sought to deconstruct what I was seeing to better understand its effect on me. The informational signage was printed in a bold sans serif type, either black ink or reversed out of heavily saturated primary colors. Type was set in all capital letters, tightly letter-spaced with minimal leading to present a dynamic look. Interestingly enough, there were also block letters cut out of wood to denote the various sections of the store. These three-dimensional sans serif letters reinforced the look of the large format print signage.

Large format print images of models had been produced with inkjet equipment, I assumed. (They appeared to be continuous tone, with no discernible dot pattern.) Images printed on paper were framed. Others were mounted on lightboxes and were backlit with bright lights.

At my feet I saw a large, round, inkjet printed floor banner that echoed the wall signage. It had been attached to the floor with an adhesive.

Attached to the clothes I saw either black hang-tags with the store’s logo embossed and covered with a registered clear foil stamp or tags without embossing but still using either clear foil or a spot gloss UV coating to highlight the logo. Some of the other tags were printed in black ink on thick chipboard, offering a more environmentally friendly look.

Dramatic Lighting and Interior Design

Spot track lighting brought out the vibrant primary colors and the pastels and increased the apparent saturation of the color scheme. Collections of yellow and fuscia clip lights balanced the groupings of colored clothing items and accessories, often arranged by color rather than usage. And simple white (almost childlike) “drawings” adorned the walls. They appeared to be made of clear or colored foils glued to the wall paint. It would not surprise me if they had been cut out of vinyl using an automated plotting printer with a knife controlled by digital information from a design file.

It was clear to me that bright color depends on bright light, and the saturated pinks, purples, and greens in the clothing, lighting fixtures, and signs gave the room intensity and an avant garde feel.

Insistent Music, and “In Your Face” Employee Dress

Instead of the Hip Hop I was used to hearing in the neighborhood, the speakers of the music system pounded out electronic dance music. It seemed to match the intensity and immediacy of both the interior design and the bold imagery in the print catalog, with lifestyle photos interspersed among the photos of models wearing branded clothing. And the mohawks, piercings, and tattoos of the employees along with their varied dress (some with screen printed shirts covered with bright fashion images) suggested the forward-thinking, experimental clientele the store sought to reach.

The Website Reinforced the Experience

When I got home I checked out the website. I assumed it would be good, and I was not disappointed. I saw the same typefaces, colors, and bold looks. And there were some of the same models I had seen in the print catalog and the large format prints in the store.

The Catalog Revisited

After I got home I looked through the catalog again. It seemed to be as much a magazine as a catalog, showcasing articles by stylists and designers as well as lifestyle photos to reinforce brand identity and to ensure reader affiliation with the brand. I have always read that print catalogs lift sales, and I could see why. The catalog presented fashion as “power” or “mojo.” It reflected an understanding of trends and popular culture. And it gave the shopper a free reference point he or she could use to extend the experience of the retail store once having left the premises. The photos exuded attitude, sex appeal, and confidence. The catalog was a marketing piece, but it was clearly also an art book.

Why You Should Care

It is very easy to create an overall impression that a marketing campaign has been created by a committee. It is much harder to present a simple, unified look that appeals to a targeted clientele. The lighting, signage, music, employee dress—and let’s not forget the print catalog—of this retail establishment all work together to reinforce a mood and an approach to clothing that distinguishes this store from other clothing stores in the neighborhood.

This store exemplifies the successful confluence of print, architectural, and interior design.

Annual Reports: Slick Magazines for the Corporate Set

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Wikipedia defines an annual report as “a comprehensive report on a company’s activities throughout the preceding year.” It is “intended to give shareholders and other interested people information about the company’s activities and financial performance.”

Companies (particularly those listed on a stock exchange) prepare these documents according to standard accounting rules in order to comply with regulations of various financial and taxation authorities, but more than anything, they are used to present a credible snapshot of a company’s finances over a short period of time, so investors and other stakeholders can understand and analyze the health and stability of the company.

Therefore, the only real requirement of an annual report is for it to present selected financial information. This would include the following (according to Wikipedia):

  • Accounting policies
  • Balance sheet
  • Cash flow statement
  • Contents: non-audited information
  • Profit and loss account
  • Notes to the financial statements
  • Chairperson’s statements
  • Director’s report
  • Operating and financial review
  • Other features
  • Auditor’s report

More Than Just a Financial Snapshot

Over the years, annual reports have become much more than financial snapshots. Companies have sought to give stakeholders a more complete picture of the operations of their firms, including discussions of their environmental practices, management goals, corporate ethics, etc. All of these have been illustrated with breathtaking photography printed on thick coated press sheets by commercial printing establishments. Annual reports have become high-end magazines for the corporate set.

Custom Printing Considerations

If you are designing an annual report for a client, or for your employer, you may want to consider the following:

  1. Design with distribution in mind. Copies of you annual report will need to fit in standard or custom envelopes and be mailed. To keep prices down, consider various standard envelope sizes (avoid square envelopes, for instance, to avoid postal surcharges) and determine the appropriate enclosure size for the envelope. However, this does not mean that your annual report must be 8.5” x 11”. Sometimes a narrower or wider format will grab the reader’s attention more effectively.
  2. Choose commercial printing paper with photography in mind, and don’t hesitate to use more than one paper stock. For the introductory material replete with dramatic photos, you may want to choose a gloss coated stock to make the photos “pop.” For the text-heavy financial pages, you may want to choose a matte press sheet or a high-end uncoated paper to facilitate reading.
  3. Consider environmental implications. Sustainability is big now. You may choose a recycled, uncoated sheet to reflect your company’s sensitivity to environmental issues. Paper choice can send a message to readers, just as photography and color choice can.
  4. Consider quadtones instead of full-color. If you want to make your annual report look less opulent so as not to give company shareholders the impression that you spent their hard-earned money on custom printing, you can subdue the colors (perhaps use less process color). However, this doesn’t mean that the photos need to suffer. If you print the photos as four-color black/white images, you can increase their depth and expand their tonal range. This will improve detail in the highlights, midtones, and shadows. You can achieve this by using all the process colors to create the impression of black-ink-only photographs.
  5. Maximize the tactile quality of print. With all the hoopla about the death of print, producing an annual report can give you an opportunity to showcase the tactile nature of custom printing, something online media cannot offer. You can create textures by contrasting spot gloss varnishes against spot dull varnishes on images or text. Or you can give a relief texture to an element using thermography. Add a rough feel to a design element with sandpaper UV coating, or smooth out an area with soft-touch coating. Add depth with embossing, or add sparkle with foil stamping. Use your imagination along with the plethora of new paper coatings.
  6. Ask your commercial printing vendor for a paper dummy. If you are using multiple paper stocks in your annual report, consider asking your printer for a paper dummy (cut to the proper size, with the proper page count). This will show you (and your client) just how the final printed annual report will feel in your hands.

Magazine Printing: There’s Still Life in Niche Magazines

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

I just read three interesting articles about the future of magazines: “The Future of Magazines” by Thad McIlroy, as presented on the website The Future of Publishing, “Size and Segmentation of the Magazine-Publishing Market,” by Jay Delahousay, of Demand Media, and “The State of the News Media,” by the Pew Research Center. All three are available on the Internet, and I would encourage you to search for them.

What I find interesting about these articles is that they do not assume the imminent demise of magazine printing.

It All Comes Down to the Advertisers

Although “The Future of Magazines” addresses a number of issues related to the current state of periodicals (general interest, scholarly, business-to-business, etc.), I want to highlight McIlroy’s assertion that:

“Few magazine publishers could survive the loss of ad revenue if they discontinued their print versions. While they are becoming increasingly adept at generating revenue from their web sites, web-only publishing models cannot supplant a print and web model.”

The second article, “Size and Segmentation of the Magazine-Publishing Market,” makes a similar point:

“Consumers still have a more positive attitude toward advertising in magazines over other mediums, including TV and the Internet.”

It is my understanding that print ads still command a higher price from advertisers than do online ads. For now, it seems that if readers are in fact more comfortable with print advertising (or perhaps are so inundated with online advertising that they tune it out), then the ad dollars that pay for magazine printing will continue to flow toward print magazines. If the goal, from the point of view of the advertiser, is to increase exposure to their ads (the number of eyeballs served up for a particular advertisement), it stands to reason that advertisers will continue to buy ads in printed magazines and that magazine publishers will maintain circulation to provide exposure for the advertisers who pay the bills.

More Focused–or “Segmented”–Magazines Do Better Than General Interest Magazines

I base my curiosity about the current state of magazine printing on the conflicting information I have read online and in various trade journals. On the one hand, I hear about the death of custom printing and the migration of news stories toward tablet computers and other e-readers. At the same time, I’m seeing more local, focused magazines and tabloids popping up.

A colleague of mine just started a magazine in Northern Virginia. He focuses on a narrow segment, one small city close to Washington, DC, but he includes diverse articles on the food, arts, activities, and attitudes of the residents of this city. The advertising in my colleague’s magazine focuses tightly on the lifestyle and interests of this one segment: the people of this vibrant city and the goods, services, and activities they buy or pursue.

In a similar vein, on several trips I have taken to Ocean City in the last year I have seen many magazines and tabloids devoted to beach events, cultural activities, restaurants, and real estate.

In the Washington, DC, area, I have also seen numerous magazines focusing on the Hispanic population and the African American population—again, smaller segments than the general interest publications of prior years.

The key word in all of these cases is “focus”: tight segmentation. The niche market for magazine printing seems to still exist and to perhaps even be growing.

They’re Not Gone Yet

Some magazines are actually folding, or their ad revenue and circulation are declining. “The State of the News Media” by the Pew Research Center attests to this fact. However, at least for the moment, it seems that “niche” magazines are doing well:

“Traditional newsmagazines have faced increasing competition from nontraditional niche or elite news magazines. These publications continued to gain ground in 2011. Of the four niche or elite news magazines we track, only The Atlantic suffered a total circulation decrease, with a fall of 2.7%.”

Granted, the Pew article focuses on The Week, The New Yorker, The Economist, and The Atlantic, which are a particular kind of niche magazine, but I think the idea is the same: the narrower the market, the more resilient the magazine.

It Has Been a Better Year for Magazines

“The State of the News Media” by the Pew Research Center goes on to say that:

“New magazine launches were also on the rise. In all, 239 new magazines were launched in 2011.”

“Only 152 magazines folded during the year, a sharp improvement over the 176 that shut down in 2011 and the 596 that died the year before.”

This is a hopeful sign. At least for now, magazine printing and online news distribution seem to be peacefully coexisting.

Custom Printing: More News on the Power of Print

Monday, July 9th, 2012

I subscribe to a monthly magazine called GD USA (Graphic Design USA). An article by Gordon Kaye entitled “Print Is Getting Smarter” in the June 2012 issue of the magazine challenges the notion that commercial printing is dying with their 2012 GD Print Design Survey.

I find this interesting, and you may as well, since the survey supports a number of pro-print assertions with both statistics and commentary from the design community. Who is better than a designer to know what kind of custom printing work is being produced and why?

It’s a long article, so I’d encourage you to search for it on the Internet through the GD USA website, but I want to share with you a few of the survey’s findings under the actual subheadings of the GD USA article.

Finding: “Designers Still Value Print”

Quotations in this section of the survey focus on the unique character of custom printing work as a personal, sensory experience (in contrast to the primarily visual nature of the computer screen). The designers quoted in the survey used such words as “tangible,” “texture,” and “dimensionality” to describe print. One designer even noted that “holding something in your hands can have more impact than just seeing it on a screen.”

Finding: “Print Is Crucial to the Business of Design”

This section of the GD USA survey quantifies the importance of custom printing in the mix of communications channels. The survey notes that 74 percent of the average designer’s time is spent working on print projects and 71 percent of the average designer’s projects include a print element.

Interestingly enough, the accompanying list of the kinds of media the survey respondents have designed in the past year includes print and online in the top two positions (96 percent and 72 percent respectively) and point of purchase/packaging (at 62 percent) as the third medium.

This actually supports my own view, expressed in prior blogs, that boxes and cartons, and at least certain types of signage, will be with us for some time. More importantly, however, it shows that almost every designer who responded to the GD USA survey creates custom printing projects.

Finding: “Brochures and Collateral Are Bread and Butter”

The top ten kinds of commercial printing projects respondents have created in the past year include brochure printing and collateral at the top of the list, then sales promotions and self-promotions, invitations and announcements, direct mail, posters, advertising, identity materials, packaging/point of purchase, annual reports, and finally publications.

From this I can infer the following: While printed periodicals and corporate documents may have become less pervasive, advertising, graphic displays, and the simple but direct vehicle of the brochure still exert a strong print presence. Somebody must read them because marketing firms are paying lots of money for their production and distribution.

Finding: “Print Is Getting Smarter”

The GD USA survey notes that 72 percent of respondents are “designing print projects that have digital or interactive components (QR Codes, etc.) built in” and 70 percent are “designing print projects that are extended or repurposed from online versions.”

Commentary on this aspect of commercial printing work notes the important place of digital printing. The variable nature of digital presses allows publishers and marketers to tailor their printed products to the specific needs and interests of their audience.

Moreover, the ever increasing ability of marketing firms to segment and target their prospective clientele allows them to reduce the number of printed pieces while ensuring that each printed piece conveys important information to an interested reader. And the increased number of ways to respond to a printed direct mail piece (for instance through QR Codes and PURLs) allows interested prospects to immediately connect with the company, research their interests in greater depth, and take the next step in the buying process.

In short, the goal is to use custom printing wisely as one of many coordinated channels for communicating with one’s audience.

Finding: “Everything Old Is New Again”

Here’s a good quote from a GD USA Survey respondent: “It is special receiving a well-designed printed piece in the mail or on my desk. It cuts through the online noise like nothing else.”

I get a whole lot of spam in my email box. Granted, some is useful. Sometimes I relish the information that comes to me through news aggregators, online brochures for computer equipment, and blogs about printing. But I do get a huge number of emails.

I can therefore appreciate the views noted in the survey by designers who see a particularly well-executed print project as rising above the crowd of other marketing messages.

Here’s one final quote: “Print may have a smaller market share, but it will have a larger impact on people’s attention.”

In Conclusion

Print is not going away. However, it is no longer the only communications medium. The goal is still to make one’s message stand out from the noise. Savvy marketers and other communicators are those who can successfully convey their message through an effective mix of the available media to interest and influence their readers.

Check out the rest of the GD USA Annual Print Design Survey. It addresses other issues as well, including views on sustainability, what designers expect from their printers, the role of the paper mills, and online print buying.

Magazine Printing: Options for Paper Management

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

In an earlier PIE Blog posting I mentioned that buying paper on the spot market was an option worth considering for magazine printing publishers.

Shortly thereafter, I read an article in Publishing Executive by Steven W. Frye called “Tips for Picking the Best Paper Source” (http://www.pubexec.com/article/weigh-pros-cons-buying-mill-direct-vs-paper-merchants-brokers-71864/1) I thought you might find the information helpful in purchasing paper for your longer (multiple-page-count, multiple-copy) press runs, so I’m including a synopsis of Mr. Frye’s article.

Here are a selection of paper sources for your magazine printing work, along with a few benefits and pitfalls of each choice. Since there are so many kinds of custom printing paper available (with such variables as opacity, whiteness, brightness, texture, and caliper to consider), it helps to know where to find the experts with the most reliable and up-to-date information on commercial printing paper qualities, paper availability, and pricing trends.

Paper Merchants and Brokers

Both paper merchants and paper brokers represent several paper mills. The main difference between the two is that a paper merchant actually takes delivery and ownership of the paper and then turns around and sells it to customers. In contrast, a broker does not take ownership. He or she just finds the client, determines the client’s needs, finds the paper, negotiates terms, and coordinates delivery.

What this means is that a paper merchant can actually buy paper when prices are low and hold it in inventory, whereas a broker cannot. So you can sometimes get better prices from merchants. Of course, when paper prices drop, the merchant is stuck with excess inventory.

Working with a paper merchant can benefit you in a number of ways. A merchant represents many publishers, so he or she can collect all the paper orders and act as a single, large buyer. He or she will purchase significantly more custom printing paper than an individual publisher, so the volume discounts and payment terms will be much better than an individual small publisher could get directly from the mill.

The Spot Market

I mentioned the spot paper market in an earlier article, noting the potential for buying odd-lot paper at a significant price discount. These papers represent excess inventory or remnants, paper made for other publishers that no longer need it, or lower quality paper that may not be as “runnable” as higher quality stock (not as usable on press without incident). Think of odd lots as comparable to remnants in a fabric store (bits and pieces made but not used). You may find exactly what you need at a deep discount. Or you may not. Given the unpredictability of the spot market, you may want to buy the majority of your stock from your custom printing vendor, the merchant, or the mill, and then get some discounts occasionally through the spot market.

Keep in mind that paper brokers and merchants do not represent the spot market, so you must do a little research on the Internet to find these specialty suppliers.

The Paper Mill

The paper mill makes the paper. They are all about quality and supply, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get a good deal buying from the paper mill. It just means that if you develop a relationship directly with the mill and your paper stock becomes less readily available, you will have an edge in acquiring what you need for your magazine printing work.

However, in contrast to the paper merchant, who represents a number of buyers (and hence becomes one large buyer himself/herself), if you buy from the mill, you are ostensibly just a small buyer, and you don’t get the discounts that come from the economy of scale.

What to Consider

As you can see from the preceding sections, these are the variables you should consider when buying paper:

  1. Accessibility of the paper stock (being absolutely certain the paper will be there when you need it)
  2. Quality of the paper
  3. Price (more expensive at the mill–but you’re certain of getting your stock—and potentially much less expensive on the spot market; however, you can’t always get the quality or the immediate access to a particular paper stock)
  4. Simplicity (it’s easier to have the printer buy the paper, but you may not get as good a deal)
  5. Storage (if you buy the paper–instead of the printer–he may charge you to store it)
  6. Responsibility. If there are problems with the paper, and you supplied it to the printer, you are ultimately responsible for replacing the paper, accepting any printing delays, etc.

More Things to Keep in Mind

  1. The mill provides all buyers with the same price for the same paper (by law). However, if you order a huge amount of paper or pay especially quickly, you can get volume or financial discounts.
  2. Buying paper through a merchant is no more difficult than having your magazine printing vendor order the paper. It is in your paper merchant’s financial interests to make the process simple for you, so all you need to do is specify the format of the job (size, page count, paper stock) and the press run, and the merchant will acquire the paper and deliver it to the printer (or store it, as needed).
  3. Since you are ultimately responsible if you buy your own paper through a merchant or broker, it behooves you to carefully vet the supplier. A merchant’s or broker’s paper buying mistake can cost you a lot of money, whereas a commercial printing supplier’s mistake won’t cost you anything (since he buys the paper).

What Else Can You Get from Your Merchant or Broker in Addition to Paper?

The goal is to get good paper for a good price with no headaches before or during the press run. A merchant or broker can keep you abreast of the paper market trends and prices; manage the purchase, inventory, and storage of paper; resolve disputes (if there are problems with the paper); and coordinate and track paper shipments to minimize inventory and therefore reduce storage costs.

Custom Printing: Drupa Highlights Future of Printing

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Wikipedia defines “bellwether” as “any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings.” In the arena of offset and digital printing, this word fits drupa perfectly.

drupa (spelled with a lowercase “d”) is the quintessential printing trade show. Held for 13 days in Dusseldorf, Germany, this event brings together experts from all aspects of the printing field to share knowledge and discuss trends. In many cases it is the top managers of various firms who attend, and since major commercial printing equipment manufacturers have booths at drupa, many of these managers order their new presses, folding equipment, and such, right at the drupa trade show.

In addition, according to the Packaging Europe website, this year’s drupa reflects an international presence, including more than 190,000 foreign visitors, with the highest number of attendees representing Germany, India, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States, Switzerland, and Italy.

What Does This Say About the Future of Custom Printing?

When you consider the international nature of drupa’s attendees and their “decision-maker” status, plus the list of new equipment on display by such vendors as Goss and HP, plus the high number of actual orders for heavy press equipment placed during the trade show, you can see that divining the trends at drupa can give us a global view of the state of printing.

These are my assessments based on reading I have done about this year’s drupa.

  1. Print is not dead. OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are investing heavily in new commercial printing processes and devices (digital and offset) because they have buyers for their equipment.
  2. Print is pervasive. The international nature of the attendees attests to the international market for custom printing.
  3. Major trends in printing reflected in drupa seminars and exhibits include the following: digital printing, printing of packaging materials, hybrid technologies mixing offset and digital printing, new technologies such as Nanography ™, environmentally sound printing practices, and automation in commercial printing technology.
  4. More workflow-oriented rather than technology-oriented trends include integrated media campaigns; the future of print books, newspaper printing, and magazine printing; dialogue marketing; and packaging.

On a More Global Level, What Does This Mean?

  1. Print must compete with digital-only media. E-books are creating an ever-larger footprint. Many newspapers are merging the staffs for their digital and print editions and reducing the frequency of print editions to a few issues a week.
  2. However, print (both offset and digital) can do things digital-only media cannot. Textured UV coatings (soft-touch and sandpaper) show that digital-only media cannot provide a tactile experience. And this is still important, on some level, for some printed products, to the vast majority of people.
  3. Print buyers are demanding a faster turn-around for more customized work. Equipment that offers both offset and digital capabilities can accommodate short, variable-data work on a tight deadline.
  4. Buyers, in general, will not accept being “talked at” by advertisers. Increasingly, advertisers are developing ways to interact with prospective buyers, through integrated promotional efforts involving digital and offset printing as well as various forms of social media. Studies are beginning to reflect the synergistic nature of cross media initiatives. For instance, combining a direct mail campaign with a QR code and a PURL can yield a much higher response rate than would a print-only or email-only advertising initiative. Clients want vendors to interact with them. Integrated media serves this purpose.
  5. Packaging isn’t going away. When we enter a grocery store or a computer store, the packaging contributes to the saleability of the products. That said, being able to create one box or 1,000 is becoming important, so digital custom printing technology has been making inroads into packaging work.
  6. Digital printing in general seems to be the wave of the future. Many of the high-end sheetfed digital presses are accommodating larger press sheet sizes (and in so doing are competing head-to-head with offset sheetfed presses). In addition, web-fed inkjet presses are coming into use for newspapers and books. The digital equipment is larger, faster, and better, increasingly rivaling or exceeding the quality of offset lithography.

So here we are. It’s an exciting time. The next drupa will be held in Germany in June 2016. Who knows what will be on display (maybe even some of the new 3D printers).

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