Production Page: Trimming for Efficiency

Thinking about changing your trim size? Though some catalogers opt to try a bigger format as a way of upgrading their brand image, most contemplating a change want to reduce the size of their catalog to save on paper and postage, according to Catalog Age’s Benchmark Report on Production, Print, and Paper (see chart below).

Sometimes changing a catalog’s trim size is relatively simple. Other times, however, a seemingly minor reduction in size can affect your entire production cycle and budget in ways that you might not have considered.

Decreasing the trim size of its catalogs went smoothly for Lincolnshire, IL-based Quill. Six years ago, the office supplies cataloger reduced its trim size from 8-3/4″ × 10-7/8″ to 8″ × 10-1/2″. Though the changes were aimed at achieving greater postage efficiencies and offsetting rising paper costs, Quill’s production department had to meet the challenge of conforming to the new design without reducing the number of products or cutting the copy.

Fortunately, says Quill’s print services manager, Vern Bush, “it was a proportional 3% reduction.” In other words, the length of the page was reduced by the same percentage as the width of the page.

“We decided to build the pages at 100% and output them to our printer at 97%,” Bush explains. “For us, it wasn’t really noticeable, but the proportions don’t usually work out like that.”

Bush and the catalog production team converted the page templates to the new size as pages were created, until they were all standardized. If Quill had had to “essentially reinvent the wheel” by reworking each page of the catalog to accommodate a disproportional reduction, it likely would have incurred production overtime costs and other added expenses. And it is quite possible that those extra expenses would have offset the savings in postage and amount of paper used.

‘Tightening the gutters’

Groton, MA-based New England Business Service (NEBS) had a similar experience when it reduced the width of its books from 8-3/8″ to 8″ in July 2002. To adjust to the shorter face trim, says director of marketing Rick Fitzgerald, the business stationery and forms mailer pulled everything in from both the left and the right, “essentially, tightening the gutters.”

The production team tweaked the catalog pages as it updated the product prices at the beginning of NEBS’s fiscal year. “Ninety-five percent of our product pages were able to be reduced without compromising density,” Fitzgerald says, because the reduction was so slight.

NEBS had minimal one-time production costs related to the project, Fitzgerald says, but the 5% postage and paper savings more than compensated for them.

“Nobody likes cutting trim size, because the space reduction tends to hit photography” and reduce the size of photos, says Jean O. Giesmann, vice president of creative services for multititle mailer Plow & Hearth, a Madison, VA-based division of In 2000, Giesmann embarked on a project to standardize trim sizes of the many Plow & Hearth catalogs, including Problem Solvers, which sells home products such as cleaners and storage bins, and decorative accents book Country Home. On the Country Home title, “we went from an 8-3/8″ × 10-1/2″ catalog printed offset to an 8″ × 9-3/4″ book printed rotogravure,” says Giesmann.

The 15% decrease in space meant a 12% decrease in product density — from an average of 4.5 items per page to 4. It also meant that Plow & Hearth had to winnow down copy and some photos. The production and creative teams worked closely with the company’s merchants to complete the project. “We kept the basic design layout, or it would have been a nightmare,” Giesmann says.

Since Plow & Hearth did not plan to decrease the number of products offered in the catalog, it made up for the reduction in square inches per page by increasing its page counts from 60 to 68 pages — or adding 12% more pages.

Even with increasing the page count, “we saw an increase in profitability because we went to a more press-efficient roto gravure format,” Giesmann says. And because all of the catalogs were now the same size, Plow & Hearth could print them together and comail them for greater postal discounts.

“Often it is the equipment that dictates the trim size, so you should look at your printer’s presses and the size of paper rolls to determine the ideal size,” Giesmann suggests.

Its printer’s press equipment was a motivating factor in the decision to reduce trim size at Colchester, CT-based S&S Worldwide, says Mike Fosso, creative director of print and electronic media for the multititle mailer of educational and recreational products. Fosso wanted to comail the seven titles his company produces in groups of two to four. At the same time, he wanted to change to a short-cutoff press, because they are more abundant at printers; therefore, press time on them is easier to schedule. But short-cutoff presses cannot print books with a height of more than 10-1/2″.

The result: S&S reduced its books’ trim size from 8-3/8″ × 10-7/8″ to 8″ × 10-1/2″. Fosso and his team had to change the master templates and re-create each page, which increased the production time cycle for that edition by 40%. “But we definitely saw savings in postage and paper,” Fosso says, shaving 8% off the company’s budget.

Going up

While S&S opted for a short-cutoff press because of the availability of the machines, Lenox Collections decided to go the other way. The Langhorne, PA-based gifts and collectibles catalog opted for a long-cutoff press, which accommodates trim sizes of up to 10-7/8″.

Since most printers and mailers use short-cutoff presses, says associate production manager Lisa Warburton, Lenox figured it would be easier to schedule time on long-cutoff machines. For its Summer Treasury title of collectibles, the company increased its trim size from 7″ × 10-1/2″ to 10-3/8″ × 10-7/8″.

While the overall cost went up by 26%, Warburton says, the production cost per square inch went down nearly 19%. The catalog remained at 24 pages, with the larger trim size allowing Lenox to add more products and enlarge some photos. “Our production cycles are pretty spread out,” she says, “so we had time to rebuild the pages.”

If you use a lot of pickup pages from edition to edition, changing trim size may mean sending more pages back to your color separator, since you will be using different templates with photos and copy that are different sizes, says Janie Downey, president of production consulting firm Publish Experts in Cumberland, ME. You should try to make the switch before the beginning of a new season, when the use of pickup pages will be minimal, she says.

More Catalogers Opting to Reduce Trim Size

Change is good, especially when it comes to catalog trim size. According to the Catalog Age Benchmark Report on Production, Print, and Paper (October 2002 issue) the percentage of catalogers that changed their book’s trim size increased from 17% in 2000 to 24% last year.

It’s no surprise that most of those making changes reduced rather than increased their trim size, as catalogers are always keen to streamline and create greater efficiency — particularly when the economy heads south. The percentage of catalogers that increased their trim size fell from 9% in 2000 to 4% in 2002, while the percentage of those reducing increased from 8% to 20%.

When you combine the dismal economic outlook with higher postal rates and paper prices, it’s a wonder that the percentage of those trimming their trim size hasn’t crept up even further. And if business for many doesn’t turn around soon, we may be seeing more of the incredible shrinking catalog.

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