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The State of the Printed Magazine Supply Chain in a “Digital World”



By Bert N. Langford
09/01/2010

The prediction of the demise of the printed magazine  is extremely premature. Why? Because the printed magazine supply chain has evolved through innovations and collaboration throughout the supply chain. However, there remain a couple huge issues that can make all of the progress achieved a moot point.

The Magazine Publisher

The magazine map can form the hub of in-house planning and execution for each magazine issue,  exchanging data in real-time with other in-house systems as well as with the printer.

Helping also is the ability to track materials status while developing the map, even  optimizing manufacturing and distribution costs (including geo/demo) as you map the magazine to provide “what if” options, like the cost of adding four pages.

The map thereby forms the most complete database of information about the magazine issue. This has become increasingly relevant to all sectors of the magazine supply chain, particularly with your printer, as you will see below.

How Three Very Different Publishers Approach Production

Wholesale technological improvement by publishers in this digital age has favored creativity while reducing publisher and printer turnaround time and expenses.

For String Letter Publishing, an enthusiast publisher targeting aficionados of stringed instruments, a report is generated from its ad management system and imported into JournalDesigner (the magazine map from dataplan GmbH) to create specific ad spaces and editorial layouts. Efficient signature sizes and bind-in insert card placement is determined entirely in JournalDesigner.  The map is created by dragging and dropping the editorial sections and ad blocks onto the main JournalDesigner workspace, and a PDF of the map is sent to the printer, Fry Communications.

Most of String’s photography is done in house and the publisher uses Adobe InDesign and InCopy for page layout. Two rounds of laser proofs are circulated within the office, PDFs (in PDF/X-1a standard format) are exported from InDesign using a printer-supplied Prinergy setting and uploaded to the printer’s InSite.

Once the pages are uploaded all staffers are able to log-on to the printer’s ASP-Hosted InSite and use the Smart Review component for a final look at editorial content, ads, live area, trim, bleed, trapping, make any annotations and approve or reject pages. Corrections are made and pages are resent until all are satisfied. The final OK is given for the printer to print, and within a few days copies arrive at the publisher’s office.

On average it takes three weeks for String to have an issue ready for the printer and another week for the printer to produce the magazine for shipping or mailing, according to production manager Hugh O’Connor.

Affinity Group, a publisher for the recreational vehicle market, has relied on automated workflows for years, from the use of Managing Editor’s ALS for paginating to QPS and a PDF workflow that is status-based and scripted to create and flight check PDF files from the Quark XPress layouts. “Those software efficiencies have allowed for perhaps a 40 percent reduction in pre-press labor costs over the past few years,” says vice president of production Bob Dawson.

Hearst Magazines has an entirely different situation due to the size of  its page volume. “We produce all of our pre-press and imaging production in-house in a centralized location enabling us to maximize the best talent and take full advantage of our existing technology,” says director of pre-media imaging Ken Pecca. 

Hearst handles all of its own imaging work and page production through the Kodak InSite system, which it uses to collaborate on things like strategically sourcing simple imaging work (silos, simple background extensions and masking), design collaboration with off-site creative directors, request correction, and requesting reviews and approvals.

“All this kicks off our automation with our partners at any location including delivery of final print-ready pages to our print partners,” says Pecca. “InSite really has empowered us to communicate globally and collaborate on things from initial virtual proofing and image mark-up to creative design and out-the-door with final page production.”

How Printer and Paper Suppliers Are Impacting the Supply Chain

Printer and paper suppliers are hugely impacting the supply chain—for better (value-added programs) or worse (escalating paper pricing).

“Printers are no longer just concerned about ink-on-paper, but also offer a number of new value-added programs to their customers,” according to Alan Snyder, general manager of Trifecta Interactive Productions.

Such programs can be intended for helping the publisher with the printed magazine or supporting other platforms. For example, there are a number of emerging technologies to leverage the printed piece to bridge over to mobile, and online. Some quick examples include 2-D barcodes, texting and augmented reality. By bringing bonus content (videos, Web sites, coupons, messages and so on) to print readers, it enhances their experience, generates leads and allows for a much broader upsell to the printed ad.

Press manufacturing technology has progressed significantly, including a big effort by all manufacturers in the past five years to reduce make-ready waste. Full autoplate, electronic line shafts, CIP3 software, CLCC with gray balance and inking and de-inking software based on coverage have all helped to get the press up to color and in register more quickly. 

Binders run faster today, with the strongest trend towards co-mailing while binding in order to enable several postal work-sharing program savings. Unfortunately, the escalating price of paper continues unabated, due to  consolidation of paper companies and the shutdown of paper mills.

Besides reducing basis weight, the publisher can positively influence the cost of paper by targeting the lowest paper spoilage factors amongst all printing bids during print negotiations. They even can incorporate provisions in which consistently lower annual consumption becomes the new contract allowances for the next annual review.

At the same time, have the printer offer follow-on (or “repeat”) make-ready pricing (and paper contract allowances) to certainly no more than what you pay in regional plate changes. In job planning, you can then accomplish both forms of savings by planning the same press form setup (including imposition and press unit color requirements) on as many forms as possible so that only plates are changed between like press forms.

Printer Consolidation Driving Pricing Up

The consolidation of printers also poses the same risk of increasing manufacturing prices for the magazine industry. “With the lion’s share of print contracts now in the hands of only two suppliers and with print plant closures just announced, I would expect upward pressure in the market for print buyers over the next few years,” says Dawson.

The solution to this is to shop around for printers. In addition to the two behemoths—Quad/Graphics and R.R. Donnelley—there are several great full-service printers like Fry Communications, Ovid Bell Press, Cummings, Brown Printing, Publishers Press, Cenveo and the Sheridan Group, that offer many of the same value-added services and perhaps more competitive pricing.

And, you need to accurately  monetize benefits and expenses (including value-added programs) into your pricing comparison to ensure your entire company financially benefits—whether in cost savings or new revenue opportunities (such as geo/demo target marketing).

Newsstand Magazine Distribution Is a “Mix Bag”

Yes, you want a cover that grabs the consumer’s attention at the newsstand. Spot UV, foil, embossing, specialty folds and 3-D covers can all maximize newsstand sell-through and thereby provide leads for additional subscription sales.

Unfortunately, much of the same 21-day cycle process (shipping from the printer to on-sale at the newsstand) that has endured since the 1950s has NOT improved in spite of the prevailing concern that print magazines need to be more current when reaching magazine racks.

The hold-up is that the contraction in the number of wholesalers has meant having to cover more retailers over a wider area for those remaining wholesalers.

In helping to better automate the process, production association IDEAlliance (proponent of the PDF/X-1a standard), is also developing advanced shipping notice for creating efficiencies in shipping for the wholesaler-distributor-logistics supply chain.

“The IDEAlliance Shipping and Logistics Working Group has just completed the first draft of its Advance Shipment Notice Functional Specification,” says David Steinhardt, president and CEO of IDEAlliance. ”The ASN provides individual trailer inventory of inbound shipments to improve efficiency in the shipping and delivery processes, by providing information to the destination’s receiving operations in advance of delivery so that the delivery can be processed efficiently. Trailer and magazine data will be provided within the ASN, with pallet data optional.”
 
Subscriptions and the USPS

Unfortunately, the United States Postal Service has a full monopoly and is operated as a quasi-governmental agency hobbled with a mandate forced on the USPS by Congress: the USPS has to (at the least) break even.

Normally, making a profit is accomplished by one or a combination of two options: reduce expenses and/or raise revenues. Unfortunately for the USPS—outside of work-sharing programs—it can only raise revenues, and exorbitantly so, as in the recent USPS exigent request to raise rates for magazines by 8 percent! This—if continued unabated—could easily close the doors for many printed magazines where a digital alternative is not as effective.

Why can’t the USPS reduce its expenses sufficiently to avoid raising rates so much? Union obligations and particularly their retirement benefits. In my opinion, the solution is three-fold: Publishers have aligned themselves with other mailers (overall about 1,000 mailers and associations including the Magazine Publishers Association of America) to form the Affordable Mail Alliance to fight the latest proposed postal rates.

The second, as far as I know, is NOT being addressed by mailers: Side-step the USPS to influence Congress to bring USPS’ charter more in line with what for-profit businesses have to live with. Most importantly, union labor contracts have to be more in line with the marketplace. As customers of the USPS, publishers and other mailers need a larger voice speaking to Congress for eliminating the underlying causes.

Scott Lorenz, director of logistics at Hearst Magazines,  relates the progress of three work-sharing programs recently instituted by the USPS:

• Efficiencies in the supply chain as a result of IMB – Intelligent Mail Barcode.
“Many publishers adopted IMB because most co-mail pools require the new workflow that includes IMB technology,” says Lorenz. “Next year, the plan is to eliminate the postnet barcode, so if that happens, IMB will become the primary technology in this arena.”

• Flats Sequence System (FSS) and efficiencies/cost reduction for mail sortation for carriers.
FSS is a giant flats sorting machine that will allow, within the FSS sort zones, flats to be put in delivery order for mail carriers, similar to how letters are sequenced. The idea is to save time by not sorting flats manually in the delivery unit, and spend more time delivering the mail.  Routes can be made larger.  “The challenge to publishers becomes managing both FSS and non-FSS zones in the same mailing,” says Lorenz. “Two presorts and preparations are needed, and so it is a challenge to maintain the lowest combined cost. It also may cause two different critical entry times for the same reason, and this can have an impact on service.”

• Efficiencies built through dataflow by PostalOne and the underlying specifications developed by IDEAlliance—Mail.dat and Mail.XML. “These are the tools of the trade, and I cannot imagine a world without them,” says Lorenz.

In closing, the tremendous progress of the printed magazine supply chain in competing in a “Digital World” can cement the printed magazine’s future in many cases, IF magazine delivery and paper stock issues as covered herein are satisfactorily resolved.

In contrast, there is now even talk of charging for Internet use! One ISP is talking about a surcharge for high volume traffic users.

If this is not stopped, it can open the gates to other Internet usage surcharges, compromising the savings that publishers otherwise would lay out for a digital magazine in lieu of the printed magazine.


Click here for a chart on Planning the Magazine Production Supply Chain



Bert N. Langford has been a recognized publishing and technology expert since 1981, and has authored a book published by FOLIO: called “Working With a Magazine Printer.” Bert can be reached at bertnl43@aol.com.

By Bert N. Langford
09/01/2010







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