Production Page: Printers Don’t Just Print Anymore

The days of a printer simply running and binding a catalog are long over. According to the 2002 Catalog Age Benchmark Report on Print, Production, and Paper (October issue), 64% of catalogers use their printer as a paper consultant, 68% buy their paper from their printer, and 61% use their printer as a postal consultant. Beyond that, 38% take advantage of their printer’s digital file storage and archive systems, and 26% look to their printer as a database expert.

Production technologies such as computer-to-plate (CTP), digital photography, and remote proofing have enabled printers to become full-service prepress vendors and logistic experts. And most printers, big and small, have added other functions such as list hygiene, catalog delivery tracking, and paper management to their roster of services. Some of these services are value-added — the printers provide them to customers as part of their contract — while others are applications that catalogers can purchase on a pick-and-choose basis.

For catalogers trying to do more with less — and what cataloger isn’t these days? — the upshot is that printers can provide expertise that mailers couldn’t otherwise afford. And with numerous catalogers consolidating titles, cutting circulation, and even closing, printers are eager to do what it takes to hold on to clients.

“What can we do for you?”

Indeed, it is “it is incumbent on printers to build a partnership with catalogers. It is up to us to make sure we understand our customers’ needs, the business issues they face and develop solutions according to their needs, not ours,” says Steve Zuccarini, president of catalog and retail solutions for Chicago-based printer R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co.

In other words, printers need to develop their services around the needs of their clients. For that reason, many printers have spun off specialty divisions dedicated to prepress, such as Quebecor World’s Que-Net Media, Donnelley’s Premedia, and Banta Corp.’s B-Media. This allows the printers more control over the production process and enables them to form closer partnerships with their catalog clients — and to reap additional revenue while maintaining a competitive edge.

The widespread embrace of CTP technology in particular has allowed printers to take an active role in prepress functions such as producing color separations and placing high-resolution images on page, says Mark Mackaman, vice president of operations for Redmond, WA-based gifts catalog Computer Gear. And by using one supplier for multiple services, he adds, you can often negotiate lower contract rates. It’s akin to negotiating volume discounts for merchandise.

Not that most catalogers opt to use their printer for every available service. But Tim McAdow, regional vice president of sales, southern region, for Menasha, WI-based Banta, likens the range of available printer services to a cafeteria buffet. “There is more to choose from, and you can select as much as you need and create more opportunity for cost savings.”

At Computer Gear, for instance, “we need postal expertise in particular,” says Mackaman. The company’s printer, Salt Lake City, UT-based Hudson Printing, advises them on how to get deeper postal discounts. And because the less than $5 million cataloger is always seeking ways to be more efficient on press, “I look at creative ideas when I solicit bids from printers as a deciding factor,” Mackaman says.

Small mailers aren’t the only ones feeding from the print services buffet, however. Downers Grove, IL-based Spiegel, the $1.5 billion multititle cataloger, prints with many different companies, including Quebecor World and R.R. Donnelley. Spiegel looks to R.R. Donnelley for digital content management expertise and systems that would be too expensive to maintain inhouse, says Randy Heiple, vice president of advertising production.

“And because our printer understands postal and freight distribution, we can rely on that expertise instead of spending money to hire someone to fill that role within the company,” Heiple adds. For larger catalogers with complex mail plans and multiple titles and versions, “partnerships with printers are very important,” he says.

Helping your printer help you

Most printers will offer to look at a cataloger’s objectives and strategies to better understand how to help the company meet its goals. But not all marketers are inclined to share that information.

“We will share only information that we think our printer can use to help us save money, such as information about page building, press time, and paper management,” says Heiple. Spiegel won’t share merchandising initiatives and most marketing strategies with its printer, however.

But other mailers have found that sharing key business information with their printer can pay off. Mary Logeland, co-owner of Minneapolis-based Rainy Lake Puzzles, let her printer know which of the products were the top sellers. Acting as a value-added production consultant, the printer, Minneapolis-based General Litho Services (GLS), had the cataloger arrange its perennial best-sellers on the same signature. The less than $1 million Rainy Lake Puzzles was able to save on color separations the following year by using the same signature in its new edition. GLS also helped Rainy Lake Puzzles design a catalog with a trim size and weight that comes in under the U.S. Postal Service’s standard piece rate.

In addition, Logeland says, the printer advised her to avoid having certain shades of red or green appear near the postal bar codes because these colors make it impossible for the scanners to read the bar code. GLS even caught a change in the postal permit before it went to press; had the erroneous permit been printed, Rainy Lake Puzzles’ catalog would technically have been unmailable.

Howdy, partner

When Rainy Lake Puzzles’ printer caught the permit error and advised the cataloger not to use certain colors, it wasn’t providing additional services per se; rather, it was behaving the way one partner should toward another. In that way, as much as by offering “extras” such as database advice, your printer can help you produce your catalog more efficiently.

A printer that is working as your partner should educate you about hidden expenses, says Tony Cox, of Richardson, TX-based Catalog Solutions, a consultancy for small food catalogers. For instance, when configuring multiple versions of your catalog, your printer should help you minimize plate changes — even though additional plate changes means additional revenue for the printer.

Cox also recalls an arrangement that his company worked out with Waterloo, WI-based printer Perry Judd’s on behalf of several of its clients. The firm arranged for the catalogers to use the same type of paper, creating a single, larger paper order that Perry Judd’s placed directly with the paper mill. The printer then passed on the 8% cost savings to the catalogers.

A partnership is a two-way street, however. Don’t just try to squeeze the supplier for as much as you can; any vendor is willing to be only so accommodating, and creating an antagonistic relationship won’t help your business in the long run.

It’s important to remember that in an effective partnership, when one party prospers, so does the other. In fact, in the true spirit of partnership, Heiple says that Spiegel splits any savings that its many printers help it achieve. This creates good will as well as motivates the printers to help Spiegel save money.

Value-Added Services Gain Momentum

Percentage of catalogers that use their printers for value-added services
1999 2002
Database expert 8% 26%
File storage/archiving 23% 38%
Environmental adviser 3% 8%
Internet services 7% 11%
Source: Catalog Age Benchmark Reports
To purchase the full Benchmark Report on Production, Print, and Paper, a Catalog Age exclusive, visit The Marketer’s Research Store at

Understanding a Print Bid

Printing is a key component of a cataloger’s variable costs, but prices can vary dramatically. The chart below from Shawnee Mission, KS-based catalog consulting firm J. Schmid & Associates shows how different print bids can be. The hypothetical cataloger is planning to mail 3 million copies of an 8-3/8″ × 10-7/8″ catalog and has solicited these three print bids. According to the consultancy’s president Jack Schmid, it’s not always easy to compare all the detailed costs in a head-to-head manner because of the differences in quotes. Ultimately, the cost per catalog is important — and the reputation of the printer.

Paper $215,000 $215,000 $212,000
Plates and ink $50,500 $42,500
Manufacturing $92,000 $74,500 $128,000
Bind in $10,000 $5,000
Receive skids $600
Plates $8,000 $6,000 $4,000
Additional paper $550 $600 $400
Ink-jet make ready $1,900 $2,500 $2,800
Ink-jet running $27,650 $35,000 $33,000
Bar coding $4,150
Mail list preparation $400
Mail list conversion $6,500 $15,000 $16,000
Bindery stop $300
Bindery pocket change $200
Skid packing $8,300
Miscellaneous $3,000 $3,000 $3,000
TOTAL CATALOG $428,050 $394,500 $404,800
COST PER CATALOG $0.143 $0.132 $0.135
Source: J. Schmid & Associates

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