Paper: Effectively Managing the Biggest Cost Center
How do you keep costs down with out sacrificing quality?
Paper has been at the heart of the publishing industry since Gutenberg introduced the printing press in 1450. Flash forward 560 years, and the ups and downs of the market still exist, leaving publishers with the task of wrangling costs without sacrificing quality.
â€śThe industry is a mixed bag of stability,â€ť says Phil Schlosser, National Geographic Society Production Services SVP. While Schlosser says the company has seen reductions in the cost of paper, he says these trends are usually short-lived.
â€śWe have long-term contracts and very good relationships with our print vendor, and weâ€™ve agreed upon some controlled price increases,â€ť he says. â€śBut the paper industryâ€™s been pretty volatile over the last couple years and will continue to be so. Consolidation, machines becoming inactive, thatâ€™s going to continue, so it will continue to be up and down across the board.â€ť
The Society uses one paper supplier for both gravure and offset printing, which is one way the group has been able to manage costs.
â€śWe only have one supplier, one make of sheet that we use, which allows us to partner with our paper supplier for strategic buys,â€ť he says. â€śWe can take advantage of their slower times versus their peak times. With strategic buys weâ€™re able to not, in most cases, exceed additional storage of freight prices. Itâ€™s one way weâ€™ve been able to manage the volatility of the paper market. But itâ€™s a constant battle.â€ť
There are three major components the Society looks to when trying to manage costs for their photo-heavy publications: Quality, costs and environmental impact.
â€śThe ugly joke is it seems you can have any two, but itâ€™s difficult to have all three,â€ť he says. â€śBut we do an excellent job of managing the delicate balance between all three. Quality is perceived in a lot of different waysâ€”you can do the easy stuff of cutting pages, reduce the basic weight, change grades of substrates and cut some corners. But we pride ourselves in not having to go that way.â€ť
By using the same sheet for both gravure and offset printing, the company is better able to manage its inventory and roll sizes to keep costs down.
The Society wants to introduce recycled fibers into its printing process, but is looking to keep quality top of mind, which can at times be difficult.
The Recycled Fiber Question
â€śWeâ€™re working with our printer to figure out what the right use of recycled fiber is,â€ť says Hans Wegner, the Societyâ€™s chief sustainability officer. â€śWeâ€™ve asked them to do some testing for us, which entails importing* some recovered fiber into their integrated mill. It will inevitably affect our cost in some way, but the biggest driver will be whether or not it meets our quality standards. Weâ€™re going to have to figure out with our printer what is possible and whether it will have a negative impact on the quality of reproductionâ€”we donâ€™t want to have that suffer.â€ť
Wegner adds that when introducing recycled fibers it also becomes a question of supply.
â€śA lot of the fiber that is recovered in this country is exported to Chinaâ€”something in the neighborhood of 42 percent,â€ť he says. â€śThe American industry is really competing for the rest of that. So price does probably become a factor, but we donâ€™t quite know yet what that will be.â€ť
When the substrate used for printing is changed it also changes how images are prepared, as well as color profilesâ€”something highly important to National Geographic, which is known for rich photography.
â€śThe first goal is to establish if we can do it from a quality standpoint, and if thatâ€™s not an issue weâ€™ll do some test runs,â€ť says Wegner. â€śWeâ€™ll look to find the appropriate level and whether or not the right fiber is available. Recycled fibers constitute a whole spectrum of different products, and we need white, bleached fiber without incurring too much of the task of cleaning it or re-bleaching it.â€ť
*Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article misquoted Hans Wegner. He meant to say National Geographic's printer is importing some recovered fiber into their integrated mill, not exporting.