Print, Production, & Paper

Given that it has been three years since we last surveyed readers about all things print and production, it’s no surprise that there’s been a surge in the use of digital technology. Multichannel Merchant’s exclusive 2007 Benchmark Survey on Print, Production, & Paper finds that catalogers have further embraced digital workflows, digital photography, and digital proofing.

For example, 38% of this year’s respondents say they use a digital content management system, up from 17% in the 2004 survey. And 59% report that they use digital photography, up from 43% in 2004.

Nearly 70% of survey respondents produce print catalogs. Among those respondents, 55% say they design their own catalogs. That’s a considerable drop from the 75% who did their own designing in 2004. Along the same lines, 20% of the respondents with print catalogs this year say they use either an agency, freelancers, or a design consultant; compared to 13% in 2004.

Forty-five percent of the respondents with catalogs say they use consultants, agencies, or freelancers for photography or illustration; 26% use outside help for design; and another 26% turn to vendors for layout and paste-up. Twenty percent have a third party do prepress approval, and 16% use outsiders for copywriting.

What software do catalogers use to design their books? Products from Adobe Systems dominate the survey results. More than half (55%) of the respondents say they use Photoshop, while 49% say they use Illustrator. Adobe’s InDesign has pulled slightly ahead of QuarkXPress, at least among our survey respondents: 43% say they use InDesign, and 40% use QuarkXPress.


When it comes to shopping for paper, the plurality of respondents (45%) say they buy paper from printers. Thirty-four percent report that they buy their paper from a paper merchant or broker, and 10% say they buy from a paper mill.

What kinds of paper do mailers use for their primary catalogs? Coated freesheet is the most popular, used by 26% of respondents. A close second is coated groundwood; 24% of respondents use this grade for their primary catalogs.

And it seems more mailers are going green, as use of recycled paper has picked up. In 2004, 45% of survey respondents reported using recycled paper; this year, 64% say they use recycled paper for some jobs.

More than half (53%) of the respondents say they have not changed the quality of paper stock in the past 12 months. Only one in five catalogers (19%) have upgraded internal and/or cover pages, while 15% have downgraded. Nearly 60% indicate they have no plans to change the quality of their paper stock in the next 12 months.


One area that seems to be leveling off is catalog trim size. Nearly identical to the 2004 survey, this year 84% of respondents say they made no change in trim size during the previous 12 months; 10% decreased trim size, and 3% increased trim size.

Nearly 75% of respondents say their primary catalog size is about 8-3/8″ × 10-7/8″. Five percent use digest size, down from 9% in 2004, while the use of slim-jims is up to 8% after 1% said they used this size book in 2004.

Tom Hayes, vice president of business development for Chicago-based printer R.R. Donnelley, says there has been “a lot of interest” in slim-jim catalogs due to the postal rate hike in May. Postal savings can be substantial when using slim-jim books, Hayes says. How substantial? About $0.10 per book.

Books are getting a bit fatter: 45% of respondents say they increased the number of pages in their primary catalog in the past 12 months, with 35% planning higher page counts in the next 12 months. Why are mailers beefing up their books? More than half (56%) of our survey respondents cite expanded product lines as the main reason for increasing the number of pages.


Offset printing is the most popular method used in printing primary catalogs; 46% of survey respondents print their books via offset. Just 5% print catalogs via gravure, while 10% say they use both offset and gravure. A surprising 35% of respondents said that they do not know how their catalogs are printed.

Twenty percent of respondents say they spend an average of less than $1 per copy to print and bind catalogs, excluding creative and postage costs.

Nearly 40% of our respondents say they comail — the process of merging catalogs that have already been bound into one mail stream. This figure is likely to increase, as many mailers have reported success with comailing to defray postal costs.

But just 25% say they are cobinding, which occurs during the bindery process as the books are being bound so that catalogs sharing the same trim size can be commingled into the same mail stream.

Catalogers continue to use their printers for more than just printing services. Almost half (47%) of the respondents say they received postal consulting assistance from their primary printers, and 45% look to their printer for paper consulting/buying assistance. Given the magnitude of the recent postal rate hike, the printer postal experts must have been busy.


On Aug. 9, Penton Media e-mailed invitations to participate in an online survey to 7,169 subscribers of Multichannel Merchant magazine selected on an nth-name basis. Specifically targeted were subscribers indicating job function as president/owner, vice president, or production/design management. The invitation contained an embedded URL linking the respondent to the research Website where the Multichannel Merchant Benchmark Survey on Print and Production was located. Respondents were offered a chance to be entered in a drawing for one of four $50 gift certificates to Follow-up e-mails to non-respondents were transmitted on Aug. 14 and Aug. 21. Of the 6,578 deliverable surveys, 144 usable surveys were completed, for an effective response rate of 2.2%.

Added services printers provide
Postal consultant 47%
Paper consultant/buyer 45%
Digital file storage/archive 15%
Database expertise 11%
Environmental adviser 6%
Other 3%
Internet services 1%
Do not know 29%

Computer hardware used to design catalogs

Mac only: 51%

Mix of Mac and PC: 29%

PC only: 13%

Do not know: 7%

Paper stock used inside primary catalog
Coated freesheet 26%
Coated groundwood 24%
Supercalendered 7%
Uncoated groundwood 3%
Other 2%
Do not know 42%
Totals do not equal 100% due to multiple answers
Paper weight used inside primary catalog
Less than 30 lb. 1%
30 lb.-39 lb. 18%
40 lb.-49 lb. 8%
50 lb.-69 lb. 9%
70 lb. or more 10%
Do not know 54%
Do you do at-the-printer prepress proofing?
Yes, for all catalogs and mailers 37%
Yes, for major catalogs and mailers 21%
No 32%
Do not know 10%

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