The Production Page: Pinching Your Production Pennies

Printing and postage account for a mean 47.4% of catalogers’ marketing expenses, according to Catalog Age’s Benchmark Report on Critical Issues and Trends (December 2001 issue). Creative and production costs make up another 27.3% of that budget. So obviously, containing these costs is key to burnishing your bottom line. With that in mind, Catalog Age surveyed several catalogers and consultants for ideas.

  • Reduce your trim size. Experts cite this suggestion time and again. Not only is it an obvious option, but it may reduce your postage expenses as well as paper costs. If your catalog weighs slightly more than 3.3 oz., whittling away at the trim size could bring you down enough to qualify for the reduced 3.3-oz. piece rate for postage. But be careful “not to cut just to cut,” cautions Janie Downey of Publish Experts, a Cumberland, ME-based catalog production consultancy. Your catalog needs to be hovering near the pound/piece rate distinction point for retrimming to make a significant difference in postage.

  • Test lower paper weights. Here’s another no-brainer. But again, take care. If you produce an annual catalog that you want customers to keep on their shelves and reorder from throughout the year, you need to use a paper stock hardy enough to stand up to repeated riffling. What’s more, if you sell high-end items, using paper that’s too thin could reduce customers’ perceived value of your products.

    Also, remember that lowering the paper weight or grade may reduce the quality of image reproduction and increase bleed-through of the images on the back side of the page. So before making a switch, you’d be wise to test the lower stock to see if it significantly reduces response.

  • Reconsider all your paper choices, not just your text paper. Newark Electronics’ 1,700-page catalog weighs more than 6 lbs. John Borta, vice president of marketing operations for the Chicago-based marketer of industrial electronic supplies, says that decreasing the weight to less than 6 lbs. would drop it into a lower postage category. But in addition to evaluating whether switching to a lower grade of text paper would hurt response, the company is reconsidering the paper stock of the four tabs that divide the catalog for easier navigation.

    Along similar lines, Winston-Salem, NC-based Sara Lee Direct, whose catalogs include hosiery book One Hanes Place, recently started using matte paper on its order forms. The market for matte stock is weak right now, says director of marketing services Tony Wall, so Sara Lee pounced on the bargain pricing.

  • Switch to self-covers. Changing paper on press adds to your printing costs. So using the same paper for the cover and the text pages will save you press time and money, says David Hewitt, president of Hanover, NH-based printer Dartmouth Printing.

  • Lock in paper prices now while the market is soft. With paper prices being relatively low, now is a great time to lock in a price on a contract with a printer or a paper broker. “This works especially well for a company without its own paper buyer,” Downey says, “because the cataloger gets the great price, and it doesn’t have to worry about buying paper for a while.”

  • Say no to dummy type. Send in the completed page to your prepress house rather than one with dummy type to be filled in by copywriters. This eliminates an entire page makeup and approval process, says Ron Hines, general manager of technology center solutions for Schaumburg, IL-based Que-Net Media.

  • Consider going digital. Downey says that digital photography gets a bum rap from some catalogers. “The quality can be great, and you eliminate the cost of scanning,” she says. You can also easily repurpose digital photos for the Internet. There is at least one catch, though: Make sure your photographer or color separator is an expert at converting the RGB (red/green/blue) digital images into CMYK (cyan/magenta/yellow/black) so that the color is not compromised.

  • Use pick-up photography and PBOs. Marshfield, WI-based food cataloger Figi’s frequently uses pick-up art from its suppliers. To get the most from the pick-up photos, it employs partial blockouts, or PBOs, says senior manager of catalog production Margie Austin. This entails using PhotoShop to isolate the product image from the photo background; you can then place the product against a different backdrop to create a new look, without the cost of an additional photo shoot.

  • Cross-train your production and Internet staffers. No company can afford to have employees sitting idle during downtime. So training production staff to perform Web functions and vice versa can keep workers busy during lulls while also enabling you to cut back on hiring temporary workers during busy times. Cross-training offers more-subtle benefits as well; Sara Lee’s Wall says it helps to “stop boredom, increase the versatility of employees, and bolster employees’ confidence about their job security.”

  • Consider APR. Automatic picture replacement, or APR, technology allows catalogers to use low-resolution images when creating pages inhouse and then have the prepress provider replace them with the final high-resolution images. This software, which is typically owned by the prepress provider, saves the cataloger the time and expense of scanning to high res for page placement, says Hines.

  • Print in bulk. Whenever possible, print several catalog editions at the same time, Downey suggests. The printer’s storage fees will be offset by the reduction in press setup fees and the elimination of multiple trips to the printer for press checks.

  • Think about press capacity before reducing page count. So you want to cut paper and postage costs by eliminating 6 pages from your catalog. Great — unless your catalog is printed in 32-page forms. Dartmouth Printing’s Hewitt explains that if you are on an eight-unit press that runs 32 pages and you stray from printing pages in multiples of 32, you lose certain press efficiencies, which could cost you as much money as the paper and postage expenses that you might be saving. In other words, keep the number of pages in a typical form in mind when adjusting your catalog’s page count.

  • Avoid plate changes. Any changes made once the catalog is at the printer, especially those made once the plates have been struck, increase your bill. So build in enough time for proofing inhouse before you deliver the file to the printer.

  • Know how to negotiate. All printers are willing to negotiate, Hewitt says, but the customer needs also to bring something to the table. For instance, offer to remove time-consuming stylized fonts and bit-maps from your files in exchange for lower prices on a job.

Another area of negotiation involves excess press time. As the recession causes marketers to print less, most printers have excess downtime. Tim Gable, print production manager at multitle cataloger 1-800-Flowers’ Children’s Group, notes that if you’re willing to adjust your printing schedule to accommodate that of the printer, you can ask for better pricing — even if you are already under contract.

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