The Fully-Rounded Printer
Digital workflow? Check. Co-mailing and co-palletization? Check. List management? Check. Web site design, video hosting and podcasts?
Not so fast.
Printers have tweaked their business models to make print publishing more efficient and accurate, but as publishers continue to shift their focus online, a high tech print publishing solution sometimes isn’t enough. Some printers are finding new opportunities by offering digital and online services, including digital magazines, that come close to representing a full-fledged interactive strategy.
As the business of putting ink-on-paper becomes more of a commodity and publishers emphasize price over service, offering Web services gives printers the potential to differentiate themselves from their competitors. "Printers have realized that they are in a unique position because they control a lot of the editorial content from the get-go," says printing consultant Steve Frye. "They can repurpose those page files for other media. Printers realize they have this pre-media area where they can get new customers or at least keep their existing customers around. If the printer is holding these page files they can repurpose for different media, there’s a different profit center and a way to keep their customers. They still make their money with ink-on-paper, but they can’t make that money if they don’t have customers."
While this may be of limited appeal to larger publishers that have the resources and the know-how to handle online initiatives in-house, many smaller and mid-sized publishers may opt to have both their print and emerging online businesses run through their printer. "You have the big boys at the top, such as Time, Conde Nast, and Hachette," says Brown Printing pre-media specialist Steve Zdanowicz. "But as you come down that pyramid there is this whole slew of publishers with a single title or maybe a couple of titles, that haven’t got the resources to commit to straight digital editions. That’s where we fill the gap. You’re not getting any more money for your printing. This market has become about being the lowest-cost provider and offering additional services to your client."
But printers that simply tack on basic Web services and hope to compete with dedicated Web vendors won’t be successful. Offering a digital facsimile isn’t enough. Can their product be indexed by search engines? Are there ways to copy links from good articles? Are they offering additional ways for publishers to monetize these digital products? If not, publishers will take their business elsewhere.
Building The Tech Arsenal
The goal is to aid publishers in serving content across different types of media. Quebecor World is currently evaluating technology that enables publishers to produce content for multiple platforms;including ink-on-paper, online and mobile delivery;from the same file.
Cadmus has a unit called Content Services that serves as an outsourced publisher production services provider, handling everything from production to actual copy editing. Increasingly, that unit is handling Web work for publishers. "For a long time we’ve been a provider of editorial and content services for medical and technical journals," says senior vice president John Grinnell. "Now we’re seeing a strong outsourcing trend among b-to-b and textbook publishers. Publishers are facing the need to make online and print production a parallel process."
Brown calls its services a "digital platform." "We’re focusing on what our publishers need for their digital strategy," says Zdanowicz. "We’re not just creating a digital edition or e-book but the overall strategy itself. Using the brand as the core and off of that brand have print, digital editions, Web blogs, RSS, news feeds, podcast downloads, e-newsletters, audio, video. All these elements are about expanding the brand and creating a comprehensive strategy."
To that end, Brown has partnered with iMuris, an e-media vendor developed out of the publishing industry that at one time doubled as a magazine publisher with Golf Connoisseur. "We talk to the client to get a sense of their goals," says Zdanowicz. "Where is the focus on the digital edition? Do they want to start off with a facsimile, then hyperlink the advertisers and then add some multimedia and audio? Are they looking at designing specifically for the Web?"
Publishers might also be able to take a lesson from other printer clients, such as catalogers. "We’re coming across customers starting to use them in a different manner," says Zdanowicz. "Multi-title publishers today are looking at creating a community and getting customers to share content on their Web sites or within the digital editions. You can share content throughout a blogging network, a news aggregator or a Web site by including a hyperlink to an article in the digital edition."
Part of the appeal for publishers is the ability of digital to track results and do it relatively cheaply compared to print media. The cost of doing a 50,000 direct mail piece through U.S. Mail would be roughly $30,000, according to Zdanowicz. "We can do this with an e-mail blast and a digital edition, with back-end reporting, for $6,000 to $8,000," he adds.
While clients are split between b-to-b and special interest, Zdanowicz says b-to-b publishers are able to cost-justify digital a little more than the consumer side. The American Pharmacists Association tapped Brown primarily for its print products but is increasingly turning to the printer for its online services, including digital editions and Web hosting. "We like the capabilities they have with their e-book," says association publisher Frank Bennicasa. "It’s got the look and feel of a paper magazine but the functionality of anything you’d want in a Web page. There’s a comfort level for people who like looking at print."
There’s also a comfort level for the production staff in seeing the same files used for both print and online. The association’s flagship publication;Pharmacy Today;has an e-book version with all past issues going back to September of last year at Pharmacytoday.org. Visitors can pull up a splash page and anyone going through the e-magazine can link directly through an advertiser’s ad. Other clickthroughs will take people through a continuing education section. "As soon as they finish processing our files for print, Brown sends them off to iMuris, which begins processing them for posting as an e-book," says Bill Succolosky, director of creative services with the association. "At the same time, we can send them a spreadsheet with the advertiser links we want. iMuris prepares the files and lets us know when we can take look at a first draft. We check the links and when print version hits the mail, we give them go ahead to post the digital version."
Brown is helping the association branch out beyond the digital edition. For a recent association conference in Atlanta, all speakers were videotaped and that video was then sent to Brown to process. An e-mail blast went out to the association membership that podcasts were ready for download. "This brings us into the 21st Century," says Bennicasa.
Branding is driving publisher demand for more interactive services, according to Bruce Jensen, vice president of U.S. and Quebec sales at Transcontinental Printing. "We’re getting more people asking for PDF to Web conversions to make their content very portable to the Web," he says. "More people are asking us for Web design that brands their publication from print through the Web. It’s more of a branding item than ever before."
Freeport Press runs pages supplied by its publishers through its digital division called ePro. "The publisher doesn’t have to do anything unique with the files;the software will create a searchable database from all text embedded in a PDF. Once it has the database it looks for any URLs or e-mail addresses and automatically links them within the document," says president David Pilcher.
Pilcher says that so far, 10 percent to 15 percent of Freeport’s print publishing clients are using ePro. "It’s a mix of consumer and b-to-b publishers, as well as direct marketers," says Pilcher. "The biggest challenge is trying to get them to understand the value of the marketing side of it."
Price and Distribution
For a straightforward digital edition of roughly 100 pages, with minimal linking and not much multimedia, the cost is around $1,000 per issue, according to Brown’s Zdanowicz. "Where you start to push the pricing up is in distribution," he adds. "E-mail delivery pushes it up;depending on who the vendor is they could charge up to 5 or 10 cents; for something like e-newsletter deliveries and podcasts notifications, especially when you start talking about 200,000, 300,000 users, it could go from $1,000 to $10,000 or $15,000 per issue." Brown offers iMuris as a package deal so that blog, RSS, news aggregator, podcast and newsletter modules are included.
While Freeport’s Pilcher refuses to discuss specific pricing information for ePro, he said it probably only adds about 5 percent to the publisher’s total printing bill. "We talk about print and digital being ﾑtwice the bang for the buck,’" he adds.