Special Report The 3Ps: Printing, Production and Paper
Dollars & Sense: Catalog Co-mailings
For catalogers, the past decade has been explosive with innovation. For example, desktop publishing led to computer-to-plate manufacturing and digital prepress. Files replaced film, and the process of print production became more streamlined and efficient. So much so, in fact, that catalogers now must look to operations outside the prepress and pressroom realms for cost savings, to what some consider a hard-numbers-based necessary evil: postage.
“As postal costs continue to be an ever-increasing part of a cataloger’s total budget — and in order to stay competitive — they have to seek out new efficiencies in the process,” advises Tom Benedict, senior vice president of sales and marketing for catalog printer Banta Corp. “With co-mailings, catalogers can reduce their total postage expenditures.”
How Does It Work?
Eric Schmidt, print sales executive at catalog printer Quebecor World, explains, “Co-mailing uses demographic-binding technology to significantly reduce postage costs by marrying multiple catalog titles on a binding line — and ultimately within carrier route presorted mail bundles.”
Co-mailing allows more catalogs to be mailed from a single ZIP string, he continues. “This results in more catalogs that qualify for the enhanced carrier route postal rate — 6.7 cents per catalog less than the next postal automation three- and five-digital presort level,” he notes.
Mark Schneider, manager of technical services at Quad/Graphics, says to think of co-mailings this way: “You’ve designed a catalog that’s going to have two covers — one that speaks to your house list and another to prospects. It may be a total run of 1 million or 500,000 each. You’d naturally think of this job as two separate mail streams, and the cost per piece for postage is about 25 cents.” Schneider continues, “If you ask, ‘Why don’t we co-mail these together, print them and demographically or selectively bind the covers and prepare distribution for them as we would a single list?’ the cost per piece for postage might be 23 cents. … You’re creating more efficient packages, pallets or containers for the USPS to handle.”
Your Co-mailing Potential
To say that “co-mailing requires cooperation” would be an understatement. Not only do you have to work closely with your printer, but the partnership may extend to include other parties, such as two or three other, non-competitive catalogers as well as list-management teams.
To determine whether a printer’s platform (or co-mailing abilities) is efficient or inefficient comes down to some parameters, says Schneider. When printers co-mail, they have to bring together the right types of clients, but even then, there may be technical challenges.
He explains: “Say you have two customers who want to co-mail. One has a catalog that’s complicated — maybe a lot of versions or unique bind-ins. It’s a heavily personalized type of piece in and of itself. That job alone is going to take up a lot of pockets on the binder. And if the printer doesn’t have a line with a lot of pockets, it’ll be very limited to what it can offer the other piece that’s being co-mailed. The more pockets the printer has, the more opportunities [for co-mailings].”
Catalogers and their printers also must look at the physical makeup of the catalogs they’re considering for co-mail. Says Schneider, “We start looking through our pool of clients and separate them by catalog trim size. And then we can organize them by those that share the same manufacturing or distribution cycles.
“For example,” he continues, “we might search for clients who have an in-home date of March 4th and share an 8-by-10.5-inch trim size. … As a printer, you have to be well-equipped internally to manage all of this information, synthesize it and put together proposals for customers that make the most sense.”
Another key variable, says Schneider, is to share a common list. This obviously is simpler when the co-mailing project is from a single client. It’s easy to get a single distribution file. “But when you have two clients engaging in a co-mail partnership, there may be some trepidation,” Schneider says. “They’re concerned their lists will somehow be fair game for the other participant.”
He notes that such fears are easily quashed when the printer explains the technical presorting process and reassures catalogers that the security of their information won’t be compromised.
“The ideal catalog co-mail candidates are mid-sized, monthly catalogs that are disciplined — yet initially flexible — with their design and annual schedules,” suggests Quebecor World’s Schmidt. “Catalogs with tremendous circulation — with mailings in excess of 3.5 million pieces — are already receiving high carrier route presort qualification, so co-mailing with another cataloger may not prove to be as advantageous.
“And marrying a small-circulation cataloger with a significant-circulation cataloger offers unbalanced benefits,” he continues. In this scenario, the smaller cataloger gets more carrier-route “lift,” and thus, more relative postal savings benefit than the larger mailer.
When Fates Align
Building a successful co-mailing partnership may seem like a complicated endeavor, with a lot of information to juggle. And it is. All ducks must line up. But when they do, great fiscal feats become possible.
For example, this year at Quebecor World’s Olive Branch facility, four catalogers are partnering in a co-mail strategy and will share more than $1.3 million in gross postage savings, says Schmidt. “They’re typically saving between $30 to $62 per thousand catalogs mailed,” he notes. The four customers to which Schmidt refers are geographically scattered, with three based in different U.S. states, and the fourth in the United Kingdom. “The common bonds,” he says, “are their Quebecor World print sales representatives, the printing plant, Quebecor World’s Mail List Technology Group — which performs the co-mail list presort and bindery tape formatting — and Quebecor World’s Logistics Group, which handles the deep delivery into the postal system.”
In addition, the four catalogers share trim sizes, schedules, ink-jet address location designs and in-home dates, Schmidt says.
TechnoScout, based in Colonial Heights, VA, is one of the four catalogers participating in the co-mailing program that Quebecor World conceived. Chris Fawcett, Techno-Scout’s vice president of catalog and Internet, considers co-mailing to be a great new opportunity for mid-sized catalogers mailing between 500,000 and 1.5 million pieces. And he says the postage savings are “addictive.”
“Eric Schmidt at Quebecor World brought the idea to us,” Fawcett recalls, “and we jumped on it — anything to save some postage,” he declares.
TechnoScout has been co-mailing since 2002, and Fawcett reports, “My in-the-mail cost has gone from $490 per thousand to $440.” That savings has enabled the company to increase its circulation by 20 percent.
Andy Roussel, director of solution development at R.R. Donnelley Print Solutions, reports, “Co-mailing can reduce postage by $40, $50 per mailing — or much more — depending on how much the merged mailstreams improve the postal sortation discount. A growing number of consolidators in the industry create scale advantage by merging acquired titles in a single stream. A consideration is to avoid dropping multiple titles to the same addresses on the same day. The savings can be considerable where overlap is less of a concern.”
Joel Weber, vice president of sales at Quebecor World Mail List Technologies, notes: “In the future, the USPS will continue to reward catalogers who exercise work-sharing processes like co-mail.”
A Cataloger’s Guide to Paper Procurement
Responsibilities for specifying and procuring paper often fall on many people, from a production manager to the CFO.
Even if those individuals are outsourcing procurement to a third party or printer, the best way to ensure the process and product live up to expectations is to become as knowledgeable as possible about both process and product by developing a basic understanding of aesthetics and economics.
“Because paper is a commodity, procuring it often comes down to playing a complicated numbers game,” says Terry Monahan, a sales rep for New York City-based Bulkley Dunton Publishing Group, a division of xpedx, a paper distributor.
“But it’s more than about just numbers,” Monahan continues. An educated cataloger is in the best position to make fiscally sensible decisions about paper — typically, the largest line item in catalog print production, she notes.
At this point in catalog history, when time is one of the most sacred resources and continuing education is a luxury, it’s not always easy for catalogers to justify learning all there is know about the paper market. Fortunately, Monahan says, you don’t need to become an overnight expert, but do keep these principles in mind:
Know the tradeoffs. Before you choose a sheet, discern what’s most important to you, says Monahan. “Is it the image and keeping with your brand? Is it the cost of the paper?”
Also keep in mind quantity, delivery timing and how often the mill manufacturers the sheet, she adds. “All of these considerations must be weighed and balanced before choosing the paper for your catalog.”
• Be sure it will work. Ask your printer if it has the expertise and equipment to work with your selected stock. “Mill tech reps can be a great resource,” she continues. “They can work in conjunction with your printer to determine if the stock will run on press effectively, efficiently and affordably.”
• Test and re-test. Work with your supplier to test different paper stocks and basis weights. “Many mills are adding brightness to sheets and changing the shades of whiteness,” Monahan explains. “Know the difference between the two. And when testing, look at not only the brightness/whiteness, but also the opacity and how the overall design reproduces on it.”
Also, ask for runability reports, web-break counts per hour and overall ink hold-out.
• Map out a plan of attack. Meet with your merchant or printer to map out a paper-buying strategy based on your circulation plan and press dates. An annual plan is best.
Consider your inventory needs. Work with the mill or paper supplier to determine if its LDC dates are as close to your press dates as possible. This will help you fine-tune circulation counts and accommodate last-minute page additions, if they’re needed. (Ed. note: LDC means last date of change. After you order paper, you have until a specific date, the LDC date, to make final adjustments to the tonnage. The LDC date is set by the mill just before it makes the paper.)
• Be a smart negotiator. “Look at long-term pricing, which will help you maintain a consistent budget,” Monahan continues. “Put caps in place, and look for opportunities in volume discounts and rebates.”
• Become a precise record-keeper. Maintain records of pounds shipped, received and damaged, which may be considered for credits back. Your merchant can help. He or she will manage your consumption and inventory reporting, a significant time-saver for you. Use your consumption reports to ensure the most efficient press configurations, cut-offs and runability.
• Partner with people in the know. “Align yourself with a paper merchant even if you’re buying paper through your printer,” says Monahan. “Working with a merchant or broker will ensure that you have a greater amount of flexibility in choosing from available sheets and shopping for competitive pricing.”
Terry Monahan can be contacted at (978) 988-8546 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Trend Alert: A fast chat with catalog veteran Janie Downey of PublishExperts
Janie Downey spent 19 years in various roles within the catalog industry before founding PublishExperts, a Cumberland, ME-based consultancy geared to helping catalogers negotiate long-term print and paper contracts, as well as specify and employ production and prepress technologies. On behalf of Catalog Success, Gretchen Kirby asked Downey for her insights on industry trends and the state of catalog production.
Catalog Success: What do you think has been the most significant print-production innovation during the past three or so years?
Downey: Digital asset management, which came into its own about three years ago. Solutions came on the market because we were all trying to juggle a zillion files. We needed solutions that helped us manage content.
And if you look at the catalog companies that have successfully employed these solutions, they’ve proven to be more efficient and can calculate fewer errors in the workflow.
CS: What areas of print catalog production do you think require more attention and introspection?
Downey: This may surprise you, considering my previous answer, but I’d have to say digital asset management. Even though there are several really good solutions out there, and they’re mature, I believe they’re still not as robust as we need them to be. Most of them are far more complex than they need to be; and most of them provide a pretty good method of managing images and graphics. But we still need a total solution that takes text and other catalog data into consideration.
Most of the early solutions were created for service bureaus and prepress suppliers, so it made sense that they were graphic-oriented, rather than copy-oriented. Plus, many of the technologies out there are very difficult to justify. They’re expensive, both to license and implement.
What I’d like to see is someone from the catalog side of the business develop a tool that’s ideal for us.
CS: How profoundly has digital photography impacted the industry?
Downey: There are two parts to this issue: digital photography in the studio and for on-location shots. For studio photography, digital has become the norm, primarily because it’s a controlled environment and they’re shooting stills. But when it comes to outdoor or location shots requiring a lot of movement, shooting digitally is very, very difficult.
CS: What about soft proofing? Do you see a trend of catalog creators and their printers using soft proofs in lieu of hard proofs, and at what stage of the workflow?
Downey: I don’t see a trend unfolding here yet. I have one client who is very progressive and looking hard at [soft proofing]. But they were in a good position to do it. They were used to doing a lot of online imposition proofing with the printer, anyway.
The key to soft proofing will be a cataloger’s ability to control the situation by calibrating the equipment and software, and ensuring that the viewing conditions are optimal and consistent.
CS: To catalogers, how important are press approvals today, as compared to five or 10 years ago?
Downey: There’s a little less need for it, I’d say. Of course, in the gravure world, you never really needed to be there. But offset’s different. I’m a huge proponent of going on press, simply because of the relationship you build with the printer. That face-to-face time is invaluable; it communicates to your printer that you truly care about your product. Sometimes as much as two years can go into making a catalog. Why would you just step out of the picture at press time? If you’re not on press, you’re out of the loop — it’s as simple as that. ... At the very least, you should schedule a quality meeting with your printer every three months or so.
Janie Downey can be contacted at (207) 233-3339 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This 3Ps Special Report was written by Gretchen Peck, a freelance writer and consultant specializing in the graphic arts and print industries. She welcomes feedback at email@example.com.