The Pros and Cons of Polybags
By Eric Butterman
Your best advertiser wants to get some blow-out exposure in a key issue of the magazine. What do you do? Use a polybag.
The polybag is one of the magazine industry’s most effective marketing devices, an easy-to-use, relatively inexpensive device to deliver all kinds of materials to readers. But does too much reliance on polybags prove too much of a hassle for those same readers to bother opening? And where is the line? Many newsstand-oriented publishers won’t use polybags.
Susan Bogel, design director for Atlanta Magazine , finds polybags harmful. But when the magazine does use a polybag, she says the best way to overcome the effect on the cover is to use brighter colors. Even with this approach, polybags generally diminish sales. “We did a dining cover, which normally sells very well,” says editor-in-chief Rebecca Burns. “Because it was polybagged, it had a 41 percent sell-thru, when it would normally be a 50-55 percent. We’ve found similar changes for our other issues.”
New magazines need to be especially careful with polybags. “We have decided at this point not to polybag on the stands,” says Jamie Hooper, publisher of one-year-old entertainment title Giant . “We don’t have the newsstand numbers pressure right now and, honestly, polybags seem unbelievably expensive. When you’re a new magazine like us, it’s really important to have people look through it and you can’t if it’s in a polybag. When you’re more established you can polybag because people already know you.”
However, gaming titles, which rely heavily on polybags for promotion, feel just the opposite. Dan Morris, associate publisher for Brisbane, California-based PC Gamer , says polybags give his magazine good traction at the newsstand because he has his creative team treat them just like they would a cover. “We don’t consider it enough to just throw a silver foil on an issue and expect to get a bump on newsstand,” says Morris. “We get aggressive with our presentation of the polybag.” In fact, the only negative, he adds, is the need to do different design jobs for bookstores and supermarkets that don’t allow polybags. But with a polybag rate of $15,000 for a full run of the magazine, “the incoming revenue far outweighs the cost.”
Steve Sahloff, bindery supervisor at Publishers Press , says there are hundreds of variables that go into the cost of polybags, though the main factors are publication size, number of pieces inside the bag and whether the pieces are machinable or have to be inserted by hand. “Obviously,” he adds, “there’s a significant volume discount because the start-up costs are the same for a 10,000 copy run as for 500,000.” Tracey Moran, marketing manager for Lane Press, estimates machine and material cost at 30-50 percent over normal finishing costs per binding and mailing.
On the b-to-b side, Don Pearson, publisher of 75,000-circ. Government Technology , sees a strong return on his magazine’s $3,000 polybag costs per issue. “We have quarterly products that are too large to fit in the pages of the magazine, and polybags have been the main way to include them,” says Pearson.
There are also postal cost benefits for polybags, because you can enjoy “ride-along” rates as opposed to third-class, Bill Reis, group publisher for CMP Media , points out.
Emelda Barea, vice president of circulation and distribution for Jobson Publishing , agrees that postage is a huge advantage. “When a piece of mail qualifies as a supplement,” Barea says, “the only postage incurred is the incremental postage dealing with weight.” For example, if the distribution is 25,000, the added ratio is 55 percent, but the weight of the particular supplement is only .07 pounds;for that particular supplement, the publisher only pays $400 because it is only charged for weight. For pieces that don’t qualify, “you can either do it as a standard class or even a ride-along pretty cheap at .124 cents per piece as long as it doesn’t exceed three ounces,” says Barea. Morris doesn’t see his magazine dropping polybags. “Three to four outstanding polybags a year goes a lot further than just throwing something together practically every issue,” he says. “Why ruin a good thing?”