Tips for Testing: What Paper is Right for Your Catalog?

When the going gets tough, catalogers often look at changing their paper to cut costs. According to the recent MCM Outlook 2010 survey on Catalogs, 39.2% of respondents said they had decreased their paper stock/weight in the past 12 months.

Indeed, moving to a lighter weight of paper can save money, says Dan Walsh, vice president of catalog/publication papers at distributor Bradner Smith & Co. Using fewer tons of paper will generally lower your costs.

Reducing catalog paper weight could also potentially lower your postage costs, Walsh adds, depending on the class in which you mail. “A reduced basis weight may enable you to add more pages to your catalog without a big upswing in cost,” he says.

Then again, depending upon the market demand, heavy papers may be cheaper by the per hundred weight, says Gina Valentino, president of catalog consultancy Hemisphere Marketing. So you have to evaluate the price difference among the different weights of paper.

You must also beware the downsides when contemplating going lighter, Walsh says. For instance, “there will likely be more show-through from the other side of the page, possibly making the appearance of your product less attractive to your customer.”

For that reason, you may want to test heavier paper to see if it lifts your book’s response rates, says Lisa Warburton, catalog/production manager for The Lenox Group, manufacturer/marketer of tabletop items and collectibles. Perhaps your page count has been reduced and you want more “presence” in the customers’ hands, a better feel, she notes.

As rough as last year was economically for many catalogers, 13.6% of Outlook 2010 survey respondents said they had increased paper stock/weight in the past 12 months.

“Increasing paper weight is not necessarily a bad thing,” Warburton says. “It may cost a little more money, but as long as you are just maximizing postage (and not going into the piece/pound rate), the incremental costs should not be that significant.”


  • Look on the brightness side.

    As mentioned earlier, opacity, or show-through, is a factor with lower grade papers, so you want to test not only weight but also brightness. Less bright paper can work just fine, says Valentino, particularly for any cataloger that uses high ink coverage on paper.

    Apparel catalogers can use slightly “dingier” paper for fall mailings when colors are darker, Valentino says. And it’s generally a good option for business-to-business catalogers.

    Walsh agrees: “Consider what you’re trying to sell,” he says. Going with lighter paper in an office supply catalog “is a lot easier to get away with than in a catalog selling high-end watches.”

  • Consider bulking it up.

    There are a few unique paper grades out there that give the feel of a heavier sheet, but are actually a lighter stock. These grades are referred to as “bulking grades,” Walsh says, because they exhibit more “bulk” or thickness than other comparable sheets of the same weight. You may actually be able to go down to, say, a 36-lb. and still have it feel like a 40-lb. stock, he says.

    “That’s because your customer perceives the thickness as weight, but in actuality it’s a lighter sheet,” Walsh says. A few mills produce this specialty type of paper, including Catalyst Paper and Verso.

  • Sample the goods.

    Find catalogs with paper that you like and show them to your printer or paper broker for their perspective, says Valentino. “They can send you samples of similar paper and/or run test pages of your catalog on the sample paper.”

    What’s more, get your supplier to make dummies for you for each scenario you’re considering, Warburton says. “Will you decrease body weight, but increase cover weight? Remember that the final product will always feel stiffer once the ink is on the sheet.”

  • Segment your test subjects.

    Make sure you test different segments of your file, including prospects, Valentino says. Develop proper A/B segments and have exposure to each version of the test.

    Ideally, she adds, test the customers over a season or period of time, not just one drop.

    Before you test, think about what you’re testing and what your goal is, Warburton says. “Are you reducing paper weight to reduce costs? If so, what will be the effect?”

    Make sure your marketing team is willing to run an A/B test to see if there’s an impact on response. Without the response results, Warburton says, “you may be saving your company money in the short term, but costing it money — and customers — in the long run.”

  • Work closely with your printer and paper supplier.

    Always talk to your printer about the manufacturing process and learn about the parameters of printing your catalog, Valentino says. This will help you determine which opportunities are best for your situation.

    Remember that your paper suppliers are the experts and can recommend a change in weight to suit your goals, maybe moving from a 40-lb. stock to a 38-lb., or from a 45-lb. to a 40-lb., Warburton says.

    Some changes may require a different manufacturer, Warburton says. If that’s the case, “do you also need to change your cover stock? Will the color be the same for cover vs. body if you buy from two manufacturers?”

  • Get on press.

    If you can, watch the paper run through the entire process from print to bindery, and ask questions, Warburton says.

    What to look for? In reviewing how well the piece prints, check the surface — is it any different? Are there any show-through issues? Was there a Web break? Did it run through the bindery equipment okay? Was there any jamming? Or were there any issues with ink-jetting the address, such as smearing?

  • Make sure everyone is involved.

    Make sure everybody — from your marketing team to the pressmen running the job to the people on the bindery line — knows you are testing and that you want their feedback.

    Then get back with your marketing team to review the response results, Warburton says. “You may find that response was suppressed, but the savings far outweighs the cost.”

  • Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

    If your paper supplier wants you to try something new, it may be willing to split the roll cost with you — especially if it’s a new manufacturer, Warburton says. “It never hurts to ask.”


ENVIRONMENTALLY SPEAKING, lighter paper tends to be a good thing because you’re using less of it. “If you required 500,000 lbs. of 40-lb. stock to produce your catalog, you’ll need only 450,000 lbs. if you move to a 36-lb.,” says Dan Walsh, vice president of catalog/publication papers at distributor Bradner Smith & Co.

That equates to fewer trees cut down, less energy to harvest them, a reduction in manufacturing chemicals, less water and fewer emissions going into the atmosphere, he says. “Not only that, but because you’ve eliminated a full truck’s worth of paper, that’s also less fuel and associated emissions to get the paper from the mill to your printer.”

It can also be good for business. But if you are using, or want to use, any of the eco-friendly papers (and endorsements), make sure the paper you want to test is eligible, says Gina Valentino, president of catalog consultancy Hemisphere Marketing. Your printer or paper broker will help you navigate the specific regulations. — JT

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