The custom publishing business is booming, growing faster than any other form of print media right now;doubling to a $48 billion market since 1999. Associations often aren’t inherent publishers, so it is no surprise many are inclined to utilize the resources that custom publishing firms offer.

According to a 2005 study conducted by the Custom Publishing Council, 50 percent of those surveyed said they had looked at an association publication in the previous 12 months. There are over 86,000 trade or professional associations in the U.S., many of which seek the guidance from custom publishers.

Custom services range from standard printing to complete control of production, ad sales and Web maintenance. In general, flat fees are charged for production services, while ad sales fees are based on commission. In this report, we explore some of the motivations behind the various types of custom-association partnerships.

Custom Publishers for Ad Sales
Seeking an outside sales team and utilizing custom print services are ways some association publications are getting their feet wet without jumping right in. Keeping editorial and design in-house allows the experts in the industry to produce the content of the pages while keeping advertisers feeling satisfied and catered to. Bruce Kauffmann, director of communications and editorial director for the American Gas Association, outsources advertising sales duties to custom publisher McNeill Group.

The contract he has with McNeill allows the company to sell advertising as well as attend three trade shows on its own behalf at its own expense, as an opportunity to sell ads and make contacts for American Gas. Kauffmann says he did not even bother to price McNeill on editorial and design services because he was set on keeping the editorial side of the magazine in-house. "They would have loved to do our editorial and production but at the time we were looking only for an ad firm," says Kauffmann. "It’s worked out fairly well because they are better at getting some of the uncollectibles than we are."

AGA was hesitant about turning to a custom publisher for editorial and production out of fear the magazine would not get the attention it deserves. At the time it brought in McNeill, AGA’s editor was leaving the magazine, and considered outsourcing to various magazine groups that could provide the full service package but opted against it. "It’s not that McNeill wouldn’t be able to service us well editorially," says Kauffmann. "We are kind of a mid-level client so there’s always the fear that if we have an account executive working for us and doing a very good job, that person will eventually move up in the company to a bigger account. So it made more sense to us to keep the editor in-house rather than be one of many clients."

Editorial & Design
Instead of trying to figure out the ins and outs of magazine publishing, some associations rely on custom publishers to do all of the heavy lifting for them. Results appear to be positive, as more and more associations are seeking custom publishers to keep their publications in the running against industry competitors when it comes to edit and design.

According to Natasha Spring, vice president of publishing and research for the International Association of Business Communications, and executive editor of Communication World,outsourcing editorial and art is extremely cost effective. Spring has relied on Grayton Integrating Publishing for over two years, which handles only edit and design. She works with a separate ad firm for sales. "There were some financial issues so we reconfigured the magazine and sent it to custom publishing," she says.

"The real advantage is that you are getting incredible value for much less. We couldn’t possibly afford to have their staff on our staff so instead we have a slice of their time and that slice adds so much value." According to Spring, Communication World’s readers are happier with what Grayton has done with the magazine. Readership survey satisfaction is up 5 percent since Grayton came on board. "There is a different motivating factor when you’re dealing with outsourced people," says Spring. "They are hungry for work and really apply themselves while some in-house staffers have a kind of complacency; they are going to get paid no matter what they do."

The American Watercraft Association’s Ride
PWC Magazine takes a similar approach, outsourcing to Hammock Publishing. At first, AWA had some issues adjusting to the change to a custom publisher, but felt it was necessary to try something new. "Custom publishers thinking about working with an association need to keep an open mind," says executive director Chris Manthos. "There are so many behind the scenes issues, it’s impossible for an ‘outsider’ to fully grasp them. Let your partner association lead during the dance." In late 2003, the association inherited a publication called JetSports which was in desperate need of a makeover.

After working with Hammock, Ride was born. Revenues have since decreased according Manthos, due to higher production costs, but the increased credibility and higher profile of the re-engineered publication, is worth it."A custom publisher was a tremendous step forward for the AWA. The invoice can be intimidating at times, but I can’t see it any other way," he says. "We see the for-profits trying to look more like Ride." Manthos plans on renewing the contract with Hammock for another two years.

"Ironically, some former advertisers active with the legacy publication pulled out, but on the converse, we’re far more attractive to non-endemic advertisers interested in our members’ high level of dedicated recreational dollars," he says.

The Complete Custom Package
Some associations rely on their custom publishers to handle the entire production, from concept to print. The Magazine Group (TMG) works with over 50 associations in custom publishing, including the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NARIET), which has been a client for five years, subcontracting the production, layout, ad sales and Web creation for Real Estate Portfolio.

Matthew Bechard, senior director of communications for NARIET, says the association still maintains control over the magazine, both from an editorial and design standpoint. "One would assume working with a vendor they would be even more delineated, but there is a great sense of teamwork and sharing of ideas across all responsibilities," says Bechard. NARIET pays a flat fee for the services while TMG’s sales team receives a commission for ad sales.

According to Bechard, ad pages and revenue have dramatically increased over the last several years. Real Estate Portfolio’s joint effort with TMG awarded it a gold award at the 2005 SNAP Awards. "When we first started working with TMG the magazine was a very dry publication. TMG helped us launch a successful redesign and transform the magazine into the award-winning publication it is today," says Bechard.

Custom Publishing in New Media
A new trend in the digital age is to seek custom publishers to build online platforms to accompany print. Producing online resources is a new and challenging effort for even seasoned publishers, so an association working with custom publishers for Web site creation and maintenance, e-magazine and e-newsletter projects is the next step in custom publishing outsourcing.

John Maisel, publisher of Electrical Contractor, the magazine of the National Electrical Contractor Association, says he is seriously considering working with a custom publisher, and plans on starting something up in the next 12 months. Although he’s not ruling out doing something with print, he is focused on building up his e-media platform as part of the magazine’s Web site, set to debut in July.

The NECA has done extensive circulation studies and audits which have found that its readers are interested in a number of issues that Maisel feels the print magazine cannot tackle alone. "I see custom publishing offering us the opportunity to address these varying vertical channels within our audience seeing electronic much more than print," says Maisel. "It will give us the opportunity to reach way beyond and in greater depth in some of these areas. We will also be able to offer advertisers and potential advertisers very specific sponsorship opportunities to target their audiences."

Maisel is looking to custom publishers for e-media production because he says it will be much more cost effective. "Generally, most associations don’t have the luxury to staff something like that," he says. "It would be cost prohibitive to staff a series of ventures like covering a number of different vertical market areas. Most publications aren’t going to make an investment like that." When it comes to advertising sales, Maisel says he hasn’t looked that far ahead yet, but if he were to make his decision now, he would keep his current sales staff on board, saying the commission would probably be similar if he outsourced to the custom publisher.

However, when it comes to ventures like a potential online version of the magazine, he feels custom publishing is the way to go for associations. "I say take advantage of the people that are already there with expertise in the publishing area and let them do what they do best. I’d as soon work with someone who’s been around the track."

Looking into Custom Publishing
It is possible to view associations working with custom publishers as the blind leading the blind;an association with little to no publishing experience working with a custom publisher, who could be regarded as a hired gun who lacks market intelligence. Some may question the commitment of staff; wary of the attention their publication would receive being one of many clients for custom publishing houses, while others embrace custom publishers’ consulting nature.

"I would caution anyone starting down the process of hiring a custom publisher to really analyze their needs and expectations before hiring anyone," says Jocelyn Pysarchuk, senior director of communications and marketing for the International Interior Design Association and senior editor at Perspective magazine. "Talk to other clients to get a sense of how the company truly works. Talk to your own stakeholders and use the process as an opportunity to audit your publication’s position."

Pysarchuk says custom publishing is the more efficient way of producing a relatively small magazine like Perspective, which has a circulation of 13,500. Since collaborating with Imagination Publishing, which redesigned the magazine upon signing the contract with IIDA in 2003, Perspective has won 15 design awards and has experienced 20percent growth in the past year. "For many associations, working with a custom publisher can be a great way to maximize resources by minimizing the time of in-house staff, providing a turn-key product that rivals any internal association publication," says Pysarchuk.