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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘Newspaper Printing’ Category

Catalog Printing: Newspapers Are a Different Breed

Thursday, October 15th, 2020

A few weeks ago I started a new print brokering project: an offset-printed adult-education print catalog for a local nonprofit. It’s a catalog of classes for people interested in various subjects for their own sake, just for the love of learning. Having been out of college for 40 years, I liked the idea.

The Backstory

Based on the page count (64 pages of an 8.5” x 11” saddle-stitched booklet, with 70# gloss text for the cover and 50# white offset for the text, with black-only interior printing and a 4/4 cover–color on both the inside and outside covers) and the press run (1,100; 1,200; or 1,340 copies), it seemed that offset printing was the way to go.

That is, without sending the job out for bid yet, at the time I assumed the overall printed page count (64 pages x 1,340 copies) would exceed the ideal, economical level for digital custom printing (although I was willing to have the printers tell me otherwise).

So I bid out the print book and waited. Pricing, exclusive of mailshop and postage, ranged from about $1,400 to $3,400, exclusive of my commission. Fortunately, I had had a long relationship with the low-bidding vendor. Also, he had equipment providing multiple ways to run the job (digital, offset, and even newspaper printing).

Meeting the Client’s Board of Directors on Zoom

The next step was to meet with my client’s organization’s eight-member board of directors on Zoom. (With the Zoom gallery view and each member in a different window, it did feel a little bit like the opening sequence of the 1960’s show, The Brady Bunch.)

We discussed options. I explained the printing processes and noted that I could probably come in at about 30 to 50 percent less than their current unit cost ($2.70-$2.90 per catalog, exclusive of mailshop and postage costs). That said, the group was also interested in increasing the press run (a lot) without increasing the overall expense for commercial printing (by very much).

So we discussed newsprint alternatives. My client suggested a tabloid newspaper and showed me a sample from another adult education (post graduate) group.

Newspaper Options

One of the board members (one of the nine windows on Zoom, fortunately displayed on a 72” TV) held up a sample tabloid. I knew it had been printed on a newspaper press because the paper was so thin. (My client noted this as well.) So I also asked him the following questions:

  1. Was the paper somewhat dingy (less than bright white)? He said yes.
  2. Were the pages in the front half of the book all slightly shorter or longer than those in the back (a press “lip,” or “lap”)? He said yes.
  3. Was the edge of the paper jagged (even, but with a bit of a saw-tooth edge)? He said yes.
  4. Was it stitched or just nested (one four-page tabloid signature nested inside the next but without any staples)? He said it was not stitched.

So I told him it had definitely been produced on a newspaper press. I also suggested that we approach the low-bid printer from the first option and ask for a second option of 5,000 copies, 8.5” x 11” page size, with color on the outer four pages. My client also noted that the paper was coated. (I said it was actually supercalendered, or rolled to a hard surface between stacks of metal rollers after being made into paper. It was thin, and it could take 4-color commercial printing work, just like the inserts in the Sunday paper.)

What The Printer Said

First of all, the printer couldn’t do the job on that particular paper. His newspaper press only printed on newsprint, not supercalendered paper. However, the press could print color on selected pages, although it would be more expensive to print color on both sides of the 4-page cover.

He could also produce the job without saddle stitching it, and as long as it was tabbed (wafer seal tabs to keep the catalog from opening up on the automated US Postal Service machinery, it could be mailed “as is”).

However, the page size wouldn’t work on this printer’s press. The tabloid would have to be based on a 9.5” x 11” printed page size (as opposed to my client’s current 8.5” x 11” page size).

I told the printer that it would still be worth my client’s taking a look at the pricing and the specific parameters for the job. Fortunately this printer also produces another newspaper course listing exactly like this for a local college. The very same product. At that point I not only knew they could do the job, but I also knew I could have the printer send a relevant printed sample to my client.

Implications of the Printer’s Newspaper Press Requirements

My 20-minute phone call to the printer yielded a wealth of information.

  1. First of all, if nothing else, we now have a low bid (compared to about six others) from a trusted vendor. We have a baseline that’s 30 to 50 percent lower than what my client is now paying.
  2. If my client wants to increase the press run from 1,340 to 5,000 copies, chances are that this particular printer will be very competitive based on his other pricing, his pricing history over the years, and the fact that he has digital, offset, and newspaper custom printing capabilities that are all (probably) commensurately priced.
  3. That said, we know that there will be compromises. If the client accepts these, the overall price may not be that much higher than the overall price for the offset-printed job at 1,340 copies (how much, I don’t yet know). But the unit cost will drop significantly, because the make-ready costs will be distributed over 5,000 copies rather than 1,340 copies.
  4. These are the compromises: The tabloid would have a 9.5” x 11” page size instead of an 8.5” x 11” page size. Color could only be placed in specific locations, maybe not even on the interior covers (based on price), as has been the case until now. And we would have to use newsprint paper rather than the supercalendered, hard-surfaced paper my client had hoped for. So the key is compromise, and the big question is whether the cost savings will eclipse the limitations. If not, I can always approach other newspaper printers. After all, different newspaper presses print color on different pages, press signature configurations differ, and page sizes are different, depending on the specific newspaper press.
  5. If this works, my client will have oodles of newspapers he can drop off in stacks (of, say, 50 copies) everywhere: grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. There will be an abundance. This is a catalog of classes, so the information it contains is more important than whether the overall look is crisp and sexy. It’s a short-lived, purely functional product. If it generates 10, 20, 100 more paid members of my client’s organization and sells some classes to more people, it will have been worth it. And who knows, my client might even opt for a hybrid approach. He might print some copies for current members in the initial, slick version of the catalog, and then an additional 5,000 on the newspaper press for marketing purposes.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts if you’re in a similar position, looking at newspaper printing as an option for one of your jobs:

  1. Research newspaper printers online. There will only be a limited number, since newspapers are becoming increasingly rare.
  2. Check out newspapers on the PIE website. You may find newspaper printers you hadn’t thought of. Of course, always get samples and references. Vet them like you would any other commercial printing vendor.
  3. Ask the newspaper printers about paper options, color placement, and page-size options. These don’t have to be problematic. You just have to know.
  4. If you want a nice bright newspaper stock (an oxymoron), consider 50# Hi-Brite. When you realize that most newspaper stock is 30# to 35#, you understand that 50# Hi-Brite is thick. And when you consider that newspaper stock is approximately 75 bright (as opposed to 92 to 98 for a quality offset sheet), even Hi-Brite paper is still not a brilliant white.
  5. Consider the purpose of the printed product. If it’s a throw-away piece, or if the main purpose is to provide information (not glitz), newspaper printing can give you a lot of bang for the buck.

3 Qualities of a Good Printing Service Company

Saturday, September 5th, 2020

Everybody requires a printing service at some point in their business. Whether you are a small business owner or own a big business, you cannot escape the printing requirements. You may need a printing service company at several events like corporate events, award shows, office party etc. A print represents your company and its vision and mission and must be done from the right source only. Whether you want a merchandise print, newsletter printing or a vinyl banner, a good printing service should be contacted for all the requirements. There are heaps of printing companies out there who would promise to give you the best quality service but not all deliver their promises. You must find the best printing service company by doing your own bit of research. First, make a detailed list of your requirements and your delivery date. Then, browse the printing companies online and have a word with the manager. You must understand the type of machines they use and get to know a little more about their company. There are certain qualities that only a good printing company possess.

  1. Should be Experienced

A printing company should have enough experience in the industry. The experience should not only be in terms of years but also having the right kind of knowledge. For example, they should not be surprised when you ask them for newsletter printing, brochure printing or some other type. They should have apt experience in dealing with all kinds of requirements and should provide a good quality print. You must ask for samples of their previous work and get an idea about the kind of printing they do. If they have worked for clients earlier, try to get in touch with them to get further information.

  1. Should give a Good Customer Service

When it comes to a printing service, just giving good quality prints is not enough. The printing company should also give you a good customer service so that you come back the next time as well. For example, they should be prompt with their service and not make any delays. They should respond to your emails, calls and messages on time. The printing company’s executives should be approachable and friendly. They must treat you with respect and follow the guidelines and timelines given to you. They should be open to last-minute changes and be flexible with your requirement. This will make a good impression of the printing company, and you would want to come back each time to them.

  1. Should have the Latest Technology

Sometimes, approaching an experienced printing company doesn’t mean they have the best piece of equipment. They could be old school, but only because they have been in the market for so long, they are taking advantage of their power. Maybe a new entrant in the market uses the latest technology and has adequate knowledge to help you with your requirements. Therefore, you must search properly before actually assigning the job to someone. Ask relevant questions, and make sure it fits your requirements.

Printing Periodicals and Textbooks on Inkjet Presses

Monday, April 13th, 2015

I read an intriguing article in Print Week India last night (an online printing-trade publication) by Rahul Kumar entitled “Digital Inkjet Printing in Newspapers Must Cross the Hurdle of Feasibility” (dated 2/6/15).

The thesis of the article is that unit costs of digitally printed newspapers in India must drop before the technology can compete with web-offset lithography.

The concept is straight out of Business 101: new technologies either prosper of fail based on the balance of their costs and benefits. But what intrigues me are the following implications for the digital printing of periodicals:

  1. Newspaper and magazine printing may be in decline but only when viewed through the lens of US business. In other countries—most notably China, India, and Saudia Arabia—newspaper and magazine printing is on the rise. (It is growing in the double digits in India.) This is in spite of worldwide access to online publications.
  2. There is an increasing worldwide need for economically feasible digital printing of such products as transpromotional materials, textbooks, and newspapers, with shorter and shorter press runs and tighter schedules. Both versioning and personalization are also in demand. Since the world is splintering into multiple, smaller populations distinguished by unique language and culture, this change lends itself to shorter, targeted press runs of newspapers and other periodicals.
  3. The need for faster and faster production of small, segmented newspapers and magazines has led equipment manufacturers to expand the accepted paper size, running speed, and paper-handling capabilities of both laser and inkjet printing equipment.
  4. Among these developing technologies, inkjet presses for printing textbooks (such as the Kodak Prosper S press and the HP T230 Color Inkjet Web Press) and newspapers (such as the Xerox Impika and Fujifilm J Press 540 W) are gaining traction.
  5. The technology is available to duplex print (print on both sides of a sheet simultaneously). In addition, new inks are being developed that will work with multiple existing paper stocks (without the need for a pre-coating step); and print resolution and halftone screening technologies are improving, affording smoother halftones and graduated screens as well as crisp type even at small point sizes. Digital presses can now maintain the quality of high density ink coverage at very high press speeds. (In essence, digital custom printing is quickly approaching the quality of offset lithography.)
  6. Print Week India also notes the development of nanoparticle inks that yield exceptionally high color fidelity and saturation using thinner ink films than offset lithography.

Offset vs. Digitally Printed Periodicals in India

The new technology described above is, interestingly enough, less compelling in India since there is easy access to low-cost offset custom printing equipment and operators. It simply costs less to use the older technology in some countries. However, I believe the sea change in content consumption will change this, sooner rather than later, due to the following:

  1. Content is being targeted to specific regions, in India and elsewhere. Print volume is rising, but so is the need for versioning. In the United States this would be analagous to the smaller newspapers that focus on hyper-local, neighborhood content.
  2. Due to the growth of more, but smaller, press runs, there is an increased need for decentralized production and distribution. That is, instead of printing multiple thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) of copies of the same newspaper in a single location, the trend will be to print multiple versioned editions in diverse locations closer to the readership. In this case the range of the distribution will be smaller. Therefore, inkjet custom printing will help reduce delivery costs.
  3. Hyper-targeted production and distribution will make the digital publications more relevant to the readers. This will in turn drive advertising revenues higher, since inkjet printed, localized newspapers can deliver a more certain audience to the advertisers (and therefore newspapers will be able to charge higher advertising rates). Inkjet-printed copies of newspapers can then drive traffic to the Internet, TV, or online gaming to nurture relationships with readers, providing even more opportunities for advertising.
  4. Totally unrelated to newspapers–but perhaps of high importance to printers committing to digital inkjet technology–is the flexibility of the digital inkjet process, which can be used not only for newspaper printing but also for transpromo work, print books, or even commercial printing jobs.

Implications for the World Printing Trade

As the unit cost for digital inkjet printing drops and the quality improves, it will be possible to use the technology to turn a profit while improving production values and delivering a higher return on advertising dollars.

But in India, it’s not prime time yet. According to Kumar’s article, “Digital Inkjet Printing in Newspapers Must Cross the Hurdle of Feasibility,” “the cost per copy is still on the higher side compared to offset.”

For all the reasons Kumar notes in his Print Week India article, I think the transition to digital inkjet for print books, transpromo, and newspapers might actually occur here in the United States first.

Commercial Printing: The Skinny on Newspaper Inserts

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

This time of year, wherever you look, you’ll see newspaper inserts promoting everything from sporting equipment to jewelry in a frenzy to sell, sell, sell before the holidays. I’ve always enjoyed paging through these circulars, whether or not I end up buying anything.

As I received a new stack of inserts in my mailbox recently, I thought about how these newspaper products are produced. I wasn’t absolutely sure, so I did a little research. Here are my findings.

Printing Inserts on Thin Paper

First of all, you’ll probably notice that the inserts are printed on incredibly thin paper. In addition, they are usually printed in full color.

If you look at the online advertiser rate card for USA Today, for instance, you’ll note that their minimum acceptable paper thickness for advertising inserts is 30# newsprint within a minimum 8-page signature. This sets the lower page-weight limit, and I have seen 35# and 45# as well for thicker inserts.

Paper of this basis weight is much too thin to travel through a sheetfed offset press without being creased, mashed up or folded. Therefore, an advertising circular of this kind must be printed on a web-fed offset press.

That is, the tension of the roll of printing paper traveling through either a dedicated newspaper press or a commercial web press allows much thinner printing paper to keep its dimensional stability throughout the press run.

Heatset vs Coldset Web Offset Printing

If you look closely at a newspaper advertising circular, you’ll see that it is usually either full-color printed on newsprint or full-color printed on a gloss stock.

In the former case, the insert printer can produce the job on a cold-set (or non-heatset) press. Ink printed on such a press dries through the evaporation of its solvent and through the absorption of the ink into the paper fibers. This takes time.

In the case of full-color (4-color process) on a coated sheet, the only option is a heatset press. Such equipment includes an oven following the inking units. The heat of the oven instantly flashes off the solvent in the ink, leaving the ink pigment sitting up on top of the paper. After exposure to the high heat of the oven, the paper passes through chill rollers, which bring the paper temperature down again. By this time, the ink is completely dry.

How About Sheetfed Offset Printing?

I once worked with a commercial printing supplier that did not have a dedicated newspaper press. Instead, this vendor had a Didde cold-set web press that could run 50# uncoated Hi-Brite. The resulting offset cold-web product looked superior to newsprint, was thicker than other newspaper stocks, and had a brightness of about 80 (out of 100). Essentially, its brightness came close to that of an offset press sheet. But again, the Hi-Brite stock was too thin to print on anything but a web press.

Newsprint, Groundwood, and Supercalendered Stock

Many advertising circulars are produced on newsprint. Newsprint is a thin press sheet made by mechanically grinding wood into pulp. It has a lot of impurities, so the paper does not last long. It yellows and becomes brittle. It is, however, a good, cheap paper stock for an advertising insert that will be viewed once or twice and then discarded.

Groundwood is a larger category of paper that includes newsprint. Its name implies that the wood is mechanically ground into the pulp from which the paper is made. If you’re not using groundwood stock for an advertising insert, your alternative is a “freesheet.” A freesheet is free of the impurities of groundwood because it has been chemically pulped rather than mechanically pulped. Chief among the impurities removed in this process is lignin. Such paper is more durable (it has longer paper fibers), brighter, and longer lasting than groundwood.

Your other option is what appears to be a coated sheet, but which in reality has just been passed through sets of metal rollers to achieve a hard paper surface. This is called supercalendered paper. You can buy SCA or SCB paper (the “A” or “B” refer to levels of brightness).

Both of these papers would be good choices for an advertising insert with a more glossy look than newsprint. Of course you would still need to run the paper through a heatset web press to ensure that the web offset inks dried on the surface of the paper rather than seeping into the paper fibers, but a lot less ink would be absorbed into the paper fibers than if you had chosen a newsprint stock.

Because of this superior ink holdout (the ink’s sittting on top of a much harder surface press sheet), the colors would be crisper (and less muddy), and the shadow and highlight detail would be much better than if you had chosen newsprint.

Thickness of Supercalendered Custom Printing Paper

Supercalendered paper sold by one company I found online comes in paper weights from 28# to 45# with a brightness of 65 to 76. Again, this is not very bright (i.e., dingy compared to a white sheet in a print book), but the effect you’re trying to achieve in an advertising circular is totally different.

Why so thin? For one thing, weight makes a big difference when you’re mailing or delivering newspapers with advertising circulars. (Picture a newspaper that’s half again as thick as the one you receive.) For a printed product with such a short shelf life, thin paper works just fine.

Gloss Coated Options for Newspaper Inserts

Your advertising insert doesn’t have to be this thin. It just is a good way to save money. You always have the option of specifying a 50# or 60# gloss coated sheet for even better image reproduction. However, if the paper is too thin for sheetfed work, you will still need a heatset web offset press for your printed product.

Custom Printing: Newspapers Are Still Kicking–Locally

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

I recently saw a number of stacks of newspapers at the gym I frequent. Being a commercial printing broker, as well as an overall student of custom printing, I grabbed a few samples thinking I would approach their production managers. Perhaps I could get a few new clients.

I thought about all the downsizings and closings of newspapers, but then I thought about all the real estate, neighborhood, leisure, and other focused newspapers I see in my travels. Here at the gym I had found a whole passel of new ones. I guess newsprint isn’t dead. Maybe it has just migrated from daily broadsheets and weekly tabloids to hyper-local newspapers.

Some Background Information on Newspaper Printing

For those of you new to designing and printing newspapers, here’s a brief primer. In many ways, newspaper printing is unlike any other commercial printing.

The Newspaper Press

Most printing presses I’ve seen used for newspaper printing are dedicated newspaper presses. Some are huge, and inking units are stacked vertically rather than horizontally as in most presses. Others look more like standard sheetfed presses, with one ink unit after another in a horizontal row.

These are web presses (roll-fed rather than sheetfed). If you watch the press operate, you’ll see a ribbon of paper (the width varies depending on the roll) streaming through the various press units, with each printing a separate color (black, cyan, magenta, and yellow). Unlike the larger web-offset magazine presses and book presses, newspaper presses are cold-set (or non-heatset) presses. These presses have no oven to flash off the solvent from the ink to make it sit up on top of a coated printing sheet as it cures. Therefore, the ink dries by absorption into the paper rather than oxidation.

Since the newspaper press is a non-heatset press, and since the ink seeps into the paper fibers of the custom printing stock and expands (dot gain) more than on other sheets, newspapers can use only the coarsest of halftone line screens (85 lpi to 100 lpi, for instance). Because the images are coarse, and because the ink spreads into the paper, newspapers have a gritty look to them. Many people like this. It lends a sense of immediacy and intimacy to the newspaper. You know you’re reading it for the content.

Newspaper Sheet Sizes

Newspapers come in various sizes, including:

  1. the broadsheet (one newspaper printer I found online notes the size of its broadsheet as 22 3/4” high by 11” to 17 1/2” wide, black or 4-color),
  2. the tabloid (the same printer notes the size as 11 3/8” wide by 11” to 17 1/2” high),
  3. and the magazine (the same printer notes 8 1/4” x 10 1/2”) stitched and trimmed, with a self-cover or a separate, heavier cover.

There are other formats, but if you buy custom printing for a newspaper, you’ll find that different printers have different presses and paper stocks and hence have different page-size constraints. It’s always best to ask about this. Some even offer the Berliner (18 1/2” x 12 2/5”), a more European format.

Newspaper Printing Stocks

Newspaper stock is cheap, thin, and full of impurities. This is usually not a problem since the useful life of a newspaper is very short. The reason this paper is volatile (subject to yellowing and becoming brittle) is that the mechanical (rather than chemical) pulping process used in its manufacture leaves an acidic sheet full of wood impurities such as lignin.

The newspaper printer’s website from which I copied the size limitations noted above lists three paper stocks for its products: 30# newsprint, 35# groundwood, and 50# offset. The newsprint and groundwood are the impure sheets noted above. However, the 50# offset is not. I would expect a much longer shelf life for this newspaper. Moreover, I would also expect a much brighter press sheet than the newsprint and groundwood, which start out with a yellowish tinge even before they have aged.

That said, since the offset sheet is only 50# text weight, I would still assume that this particular custom printing vendor runs this paper on a web press. It’s a little thin for a sheetfed press, although some printers do print 50# offset on sheetfed equipment.

Newspaper Inks

Newspaper printers offer either black-only or 4-color process ink. Moreover, depending on the configuration of their presses, newspaper printers may or may not be able to use 4-color throughout. So it’s always best to ask where you can put the 4-color pages in your particular newspaper. Don’t assume color will be available on all pages. Even if it is, you might be wise to discuss the costs of using more or less color.

Is Newspaper Printing Still Relevant?

As long as there are neighborhoods and clubs offering free newspapers and news magazines supported exclusively by advertising, mobile smartphones and tablets won’t be the only way to get news. And in selected industrial parks, dedicated newspaper printers will still continue to operate.

Newspaper Printing: Four Newspaper Success Stories

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

I have some good news about the newspaper printing business.

According to “Four Revenue Success Stories,” written by Mark Jurkowitz and Amy Mitchell (2/13/2013,, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has published a report documenting “a year-long effort to identify newspaper successes in the search for new business models.”

The report follows a trend in increasing revenues over the last few years for the Naples Daily News (FL), the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (CA), the Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), and the Columbia Daily Herald (TN). The report seeks to explain the increase in revenue and discover the leadership traits leading to rising revenue in a declining newspaper printing market.

The four newspapers went about their restructuring and new growth in different ways, ranging from overhauls of the sales force and its operating goals (Naples Daily News), to creating ancillary businesses such as a digital agency providing online marketing services (Santa Rosa Press Democrat), to expanding digital capabilities and narrowing the editorial focus of the newspaper (Deseret News), to creating a mix of print and digital initiatives (Columbia Daily Herald).

As other newspapers analyzed by the Pew Research Center were losing money, or were unable to stem the loss of print advertising dollars with increasing digital advertising money, these four newspapers were unusual in their rising revenue. So they came under close scrutiny in an effort to identify the elements of their newspaper printing success.

What the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism Discovered

The case studies in the Pew survey illuminate “the degree to which [these newspapers’] innovations had developed into essential components of their organization and culture, because their innovations showed tangible and positive revenue results and because their stories offered lessons worth sharing—ranging from leadership to market customization.” The case studies analyzed the newspapers’ markets, the nature of their innovations, their challenges, the quantitative measure of their success, and their knowledge gained.

According to “Four Revenue Success Stories,” here are some of the lessons learned:

  1. “Manage the digital and the legacy business separately.” The newspaper printing component will shrink as the digital component grows. But both are important. Keeping them separate is wise. The separate digital entities can benefit from the brand equity of the newspaper as a trusted source of information. This also allows for a culture of innovation in digital product development.
  2. “Keep developing niche editorial products.” Narrow the editorial focus, and provide unique editorial content based on the knowledge of the staff and the interests of the readership. Don’t focus on general interest news. Focus on what you know best.
  3. “Decentralize decision-making power.” Give ad directors and account executives greater contract-making authority. Manage fearlessly, and be willing to take risks. “Clarity of vision” among managers is essential, as is “strong, aggressive leadership.” Not taking risks is a death sentence. Leaders need to embrace risk-taking.
  4. All staff and leadership need to commit to improving editorial quality, even with diminishing resources. They need to “dig deeper…[with] more ambitions, enterprise reporting…improve the news product…and view quality as essential.”
  5. “Don’t give up on print.” The article goes on to say that “in communities where conditions are favorable, a substantial bet on print can still pay off.” News organizations should be all about “reinvent[ing] print,” focusing their efforts on the not too distant future in which each copy may be individually produced based on the newspaper reader’s interests and needs.

What Newspaper Printing Management Can Learn

Be bold, be focused. Do what you do better than anyone else. And diversify. It’s not about digital or print; it’s about how best to mix the two.

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.

Newspapers, Newsprint, Tabloid Publications: New Signs of Life

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

There may be new signs of life in newspaper printing. I just read an article in the 1/28 International Business Times written by Christopher Zara and entitled “Newspaper Launches Innovative New Print Format: Will Bucking the Digital Trend Pay Off?”

According to Benjamin Marrison, editor of the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s third-largest newspaper has initiated “three-around printing.” The technology allows the newspaper press cylinders to print three, rather than two, broadsheet pages per revolution. The pages are still broadsheet pages, but they are about a third shorter than they were previously.

The recent trend for newspaper publishers has been to reduce page size, whether in broadsheet publications or in tabloids. Along with this move, many newspapers have shortened their products and reduced content, in some cases ending publication of entire stand-alone sections–or even becoming Internet-only publications.

In contrast, the Columbus Dispatch will be custom printing a smaller format but at the same time will be increasing the page count. For example, the newspaper will be reintroducing its stand-alone business section.

The overall result will be a more compact, sectioned broadsheet publication that takes less time to produce due to the “three-around printing” technology. According to Marrison, the Columbus Dispatch will be “more akin to a magazine than a daily metro newspaper.”

Not an Impulsive Change

In an age in which the media tout the death of commercial printing, this is a curious move, reminiscent of Warren Buffett’s 2012 purchase of numerous print newspapers. If corporations and wealthy individuals eschew losing money, why is a business-savvy organization like the Columbus Dispatch investing money in retrofitting existing custom printing equipment to handle “three-around printing”?

The Columbus Dispatch did significant research to ensure that readers would welcome the change in format. Sample groups reflected “overwhelmingly positive” regard for the changes and embraced the new format.

The Implications for Newspapers

Here’s a quote from an article in the June 2012 issue of entitled, “Warren Buffett to Buy Small Texas Daily, Will Own 88 Newspapers”:

“Berkshire Hathaway agreed to buy most of Media General’s print newspapers last month, and Buffett has talked about buying more. With the addition of The Eagle, Buffett now owns or has agreed to acquire at least 88 weekly and daily newspapers in Iowa, Nebraska, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, New York, and Texas. In a letter to editors and publishers of Media General’s papers last month, Buffett said future newspaper purchases would take place in ‘towns and cities with a strong sense of community.’”

From my reading of the International Business Times and articles, I get a strong sense that certain kinds of newspapers will continue holding their own. In fact I think these points warrant consideration:

  1. Prominent individuals and organizations have been buying, changing, or expanding their tabloids and broadsheets. In my own experience in the DC metropolitan area and the Maryland and Delaware Eastern Shore, I have seen numerous smaller tabloid newspapers focusing on real estate and the arts, or addressing concerns of the African American and Latino markets. (I think the key here is the narrow focus on specialty subject matter and ethnic communities.)
  2. Warren Buffett uses the word “community” in his defense of buying numerous print newspapers. His comment matches my own anecdotal experience. The larger newspapers seem to be having trouble, but the smaller, local tabloids and broadsheets seem to be in demand.
  3. Manufacturing efficiencies are crucial. The Columbus Dispatch has found a way to produce its newspaper faster for less money. This is essential when competing with digital-only media.
  4. Money is going into developing large inkjet web presses for custom printing variable-data and versioned newspapers quickly, inexpensively, and with high production quality.
  5. For many people, for whatever reason (logical or not), there is a craving for the physical experience of reading a newspaper printed in ink. For them, digital-only just doesn’t do the trick.

I think these facts, figures, anecdotes, and insights point to a vibrant future for at least some kinds of newspaper printing.

Newspaper Printing: Don’t Believe All the Hype You Read

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Numerous metropolitan newspapers have cut back from printing daily issues to printing three or more issues a week while shifting resources toward their digital operations. This is a fact, and it is the trend due to a year-over-year drop in print advertising and readership. The Times-Picayune published in New Orleans, Louisiana, exemplifies this.

However, this isn’t the whole story. Based on articles I’ve read and on my own experience, another trend is becoming evident: There is movement toward printing more newspaper titles covering smaller beats, with more targeted readership and shorter press runs.

A Closer View of the State of Newspaper Printing

I recently came across an online article in Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab by Ken Doctor, entitled “The Newsonomics of Near-Term Numerology.”

The article acknowledges the drop in print advertising (according to Borrell Associates), although the drop has been more gradual in recent years:

  • 18 percent decline in 2008
  • 28 percent decline in 2009
  • 8 percent decline in 2010
  • 9 percent decline in 2011

At the same time the Nieman Journalism Lab article notes that smaller newspapers are trending upward. These include daily papers and weekly papers with circulations of approximately 10,000 copies. According to Gordon Borrell, “There are a lot of 10,000-circulation dailies out there, and about 5x to 7x as many weeklies out there.”

The Nieman Journalism Lab article notes that weekly newspapers have been finding a steady stream of advertisers due to the sizable and stable readership. To augment revenue, some of these daily and weekly newspapers have broadened their services to include social media, SEO, website development, and other Internet-based offerings.

So it’s primarily the large metropolitan newspapers that are being hammered by the reduced advertising revenue and the readers’ migration to online news.

“The Newsonomics of Near-Term Numerology” posits that ad revenue may have flattened out for newspapers in the same way it flattened out for radio. Doctor notes that after the advent of television, radio ad revenue dropped precipitously in the 1950s but has “remained a consistent 7 percent share of advertising ever since.” Perhaps this will be the fate of newspapers.

It is interesting to see the stock share prices year over year for five major print news organizations that Doctor includes in his article:

  • Gannett: 64 percent increase in share value
  • New York Times Co.: 49 percent increase in share value
  • Lee: 107 percent increase in share value
  • McClatchy: 63 percent increase in share value
  • Scripps: 60 percent increase in share value

It is Doctor’s view that newspaper companies still left standing have learned to “manage decline and still show a modest profit.” And at the same time these organizations are growing their online digital operations and instituting paywalls to mitigate the effect of reduced advertising revenue.

A Confirming Source for Gannett’s Profits

In my reading this morning I came upon another article, specifically about Gannett’s rising profits (“Gannett Profits Rise for Third Quarter of 2012,” presented in the October 16 Huff Post media section).

Here are some facts about Gannett that piqued my interest:

  • The stock has appreciated about 26 percent in the past three months (according to Evercore analyst Doug Arthur).
  • Gannett has been reducing its reliance on print advertising as a source of funding and has been depending more on revenue from broadcast TV.
  • The latest company report reflects slowing revenue declines at Gannett newspapers.

And here are two related quotes:

“Even the pace of advertising declines at its newspapers has begun to slow. Advertising revenue fell 6.6 percent, compared with an 8 percent decline in the second quarter.”

“As a result of the digital pay model rolled out to 71 markets, circulation revenue rose 10 percent at its U.S. local newspapers.”

So the gist of the article is that:

  1. Gannett is solvent.
  2. It is diversifying its revenue-generating activities.
  3. Its stock is appreciating.
  4. And print advertising at Gannett is not dead.

An Anecdotal Report on Newspaper Printing from the Printing Industry Exchange

The owner of the Printing Industry Exchange also offered some interesting anecdotal information. He has seen increased online activity (live jobs entered into the Printing Industry Exchange hopper for newspaper printers that are members of PIE to bid on). However, these jobs have had shorter press runs.

My Own Anecdotal Evidence on the State of Newspaper Printing

I travel to Ocean City a lot, and I keep my eyes open specifically for broadsheet and tabloid newspapers in the towns along the way. Over the last few years, I have seen an increase in titles relating to Eastern Shore beach activities, real estate, conventions, and the arts. Most of these publications seem to peak during the heaviest beach months of the summer, but they still seem viable year-round.

Back here in the DC Metropolitan area, I have also seen a number of Hispanic publications in various areas I frequent.

My inference from the newspapers I see in my travels are that they are more focused on particular topics or targeted toward specific ethnic groups. They are often tabloid publications and small digests rather than broadsheet newspapers, and it seems that they have shorter press runs.

Newspaper Printing: New Orleans Times-Picayune to Print Fewer Days a Week

Friday, June 15th, 2012

I am a fan of print in general (and, more specifically, newspaper printing). I must acknowledge my bias. So I pay particular attention to news articles about the death of print.

As many of you may know, the New Orleans Times-Picayune will now publish their print edition only three days a week. This is necessary to save money according to Advance Publications, Inc., the newspaper printer/publisher.

On this topic, I recently read an article called “What Happens When a Newspaper Is Just Another Digital Voice?” and I wanted to share with you some of the concerns and implications raised. For those who wish to read the article and comments, I encourage you to go to the following Gigaom website:

The Thesis of the Article

“What Happens When a Newspaper Is Just Another Digital Voice?” questions whether a newspaper has a duty to be a consistent voice, analyzing and critiquing the power structure within a community (i.e., a watchdog). Furthermore, when newspaper publishers cease to produce a daily print version, and instead move their news to the Internet, can they still provide a powerful, credible voice, or is their “brand” diluted by this shift?

The article and the comments that follow encourage the reader to think about these questions and their implications without providing definitive answers. This is far too complex an issue for a simple answer. However, I think the article does raise some cogent questions about the future of newspaper printing.

Here are some of the questions posed. Most of them address the purpose of a newspaper, as well as its power, reach, voice, and credibility:

  1. Does a newspaper serve a public purpose? Does it have a responsibility to provide credible information and analysis of community life and organizations? That is, is a newspaper responsible for being a watchdog that protects the interests of the community?
  2. If a newspaper has this responsibility, can it be as effective within a digital-only platform as it is through a physical printed product? Does it still have the same effectiveness, or is it less accessible and therefore less effective (keeping in mind that not everyone has Internet access, but, on the other hand, not everyone subscribes to a community newspaper)?
  3. Does the daily nature of a newspaper (in contrast to the reduced frequency of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and other, similar newspapers) provide the consistency that sustains its critical voice? Does a reduced frequency mean the editors and writers aren’t paying attention all the time? Or that the newspaper printers and publishers aren’t as committed to being a reliable source of information?
  4. Is cost cutting a reflection of a diminished intent? Is the purpose to inform the community, make money, or do both? If advertising revenue declines (as it has in newspaper display and–particularly–classified advertising), and if there is less money to pay investigative reporters, will this loss of editorial expertise and analysis diminish the quality of both the print version of the newspaper and its digital version?
  5. Since print is a tactile medium (with a physical presence), does a print newspaper have more credibility than a digital version (which has no physical presence)? Does a print newspaper stand out within a sea of digital news sources?

The Final Outcome?

According to “What Happens When a Newspaper Is Just Another Digital Voice?” declining print advertising leads to less money in hand to pay for print publishing and less money to pay for quality reportage and editorial services. This leads to the diminishing quality and therefore the diminishing authority of a newspaper, in print or online. People look to the newspaper as less and less of an authority.

The article proposes that “once your newspaper has been stripped of the magic of print—the same magic that makes you far more appealing to advertisers than the amount of time spent with your medium would seem to indicate—you become just another digital voice among thousands or even millions of other voices.”

Here’s My Opinion

Is this really true? Or can a newspaper put enough resources into making both the digital and print versions of the newspapers credible authorities? A lot of this comes down to money or, rather, finding ways to make money within a new business model.

I do believe that a printed newspaper is more consistent than a digital version. A physical copy of a newspaper is the same for each reader. Everyone gets the same news, whether they like it or not. I think this creates a consensual reality, a body of facts and opinions to agree with or challenge.

In contrast, if you can pick and choose what news you will get, creating your own digital news feed using a news aggregator, then you, I, and everyone else will get slightly (or completely) different news. And then the whole body of facts and opinions will start to get muddy. (This is already happening with promotional pieces couched as hard news, advertorials, and such.)

Also, a printed copy is more permanent. It cannot be altered once it has been distributed, whereas a newspaper that exists on the Web can be changed or rewritten entirely.

In addition (and the article actually does not address this topic), some people think that democratized reporting is enough. That is, if everyone has access to the Internet and can blog about areas of interest, criticizing and correcting each other to improve their accuracy, isn’t this enough? Do we really need the editors and other experts to curate information, valuing some sources more highly than others?

If newspapers cannot afford to pay reporters and editors, and all news becomes crowdsourced (sent to news aggregators as blogs and tweets), there will be no experts to provide commentary.

Whether you agree with the pundits or not, at least they challenge you to think.


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