More Than 'Ink on Paper'
By Alicia Orr Suman
Getting a catalog produced used to require a complex network of vendors and service suppliers and a dedicated staff person with a detailed schedule to coordinate them all.
Today, many large catalog printers say they can take that burden off your hands. They now offer a variety of non-printing services—from digital photography and prepress to list selection and mailing. Some even will handle fulfillment for you.
You may pay slightly more for some of the specialized services, but it may be worth a few extra dollars for the convenience that one-stop shopping provides. Perhaps a more important aspect to look at is expertise: Determine if your printer can provide the same level of service and experience in non-printing services as it does in printing your catalog. Only then can you decide if it makes sense to buy through your printer.
What Are Your Options?
Quad Graphics is one of several large catalog printers that has expanded its service offerings over the past decade. "We've become a communications company, not just an ink on paper company," says Scott Stadler, manager in catalog sales. Quad now offers prepress, digital photography, list services, postal and parcel transportation, in addition to traditional printing.
Stadler recalls that when the company began to expand its service offerings several years ago it was in non-traditional web printing. "We began to notice a lot of blow-ins, bind-ins and complicated inserts being bound into the catalogs and publications we were printing," he says. "We decided, with the prompting of customers that, instead of waiting for those inserts to come from other printers, we should do them ourselves." The company installed sheetfed and web presses with in-line finishing capabilities to produce bind-ins, blow-ins and more complicated direct mail products to meet the demands of its customers.
When expanding its service offerings, R.R. Donnelley & Sons looked at what it could do to help customers reduce costs and waste and improve cycle times. "What services could we offer beyond the printing and binding? We looked upstream and downstream to determine where the needs were," says Steven E. Zuccarini, president, Catalog and Retail Solutions. "Our goal was to help our customers capture the entire production supply chain." The company has met the demand for increased services through a combination of inhouse facilities and strategic alliances.
Prepress and Photography
The biggest area for printers' recent expansion efforts has been prepress. R.R. Donnelley's non-printing investment has focused largely on prepress capabilities. It established a separate business unit, Premedia Technologies, which offers conventional and digital photography, scanning, file conversion, color correction, digital asset management, and creative and workflow consulting. Others such as Quad and Banta also offer myriad prepress and digital content management services.
Phil Minix, managing director of catalogs for Reiman Publications and a former catalog consultant, recommends catalogers take a close look at their printers' prepress operations before turning over those responsibilities. "Working with multiple parties provides the best results. You may get fine quality working through your printer's services. I've worked with digital photographers who know how to work the equipment fine." But, he continues, "So much of photography is solving problems with lighting, etc. Same in the prepress area. I want the color work to be done in a framework of what can be achieved on press. I don't want it to be done in the framework of what is easiest on press, cheapest or fastest to produce. I want to get stunning color and then challenge the printer to match it."
For some catalogers, giving the printer a crack at providing these services is a good idea, Minix admits. "I would think for a smaller company, it would be more cost-effective. The other services that printers are offering to lure customers, like digital asset management, can make sense for many companies."
Database and Printing Technologies
If you want to take advantage of selective binding or demographic printing of your catalog, it may make sense to work with your printer on some list and database-oriented projects. For instance, R.R. Donnelley has a partnership with Experian through which it can offer clients database and list information. Banta also offers demographic binding. This type of capability was one reason cataloger Mid America Direct recently switched printers. President Mike Yager explains, "We have data on our buyers broken down so we can take advantage of demographic binding of different pages in our catalogs to certain segments of our file."
Mid America Direct, which mails automotive aftermarket parts and accessories catalogs to auto enthusiasts, recently switched to Quad Graphics, says Yager, "Not because we were dissatisfied with our printer but because Quad came to us with a variety of services that we could take advantage of."
Quad's Stadler expands on the partnership, adding, "They had been sending one large catalog to all Corvette owners. But there were segments of certain products in which only specific buyers were interested. So they were able to identify those segments, and we could do demographic binding to target specific product mixes to certain customers."
Paper is such a large part of a catalog's expense that Minix suggests letting your printer procure the paper. "Paper is a commodity, not an art or specialty. The only caveat to that would be very large catalogers that can probably get pretty big savings due to volume."
One benefit to using your printer to buy your paper, says Minix: "If you're using the printer to buy paper, it'll often use a house paper that it stocks for other jobs. If so, you might be able to buy some quantity of this paper to achieve your increase. If you need to decrease quantity, you may be able to do so without having to pay storage costs on the unused paper."
Zuccarini describes R.R. Donnelley's role in the procurement process as "paper management." He explains, "The least amount of paper a cataloger can have on hand the better. This is called just-in-time inventory management."
There are advantages to doing it yourself, Minix notes. "You may see a slightly lower price than what your printer will quote. And a good broker can help you take advantage of falling paper prices by passing on the lower price before delivery." Also, if you work through a broker or buy your own paper, you can stock up when paper prices are low. But if your printer does the buying, it reaps those savings and may not pass them along to you, says Minix.
The problem with doing it yourself, Minix continues, is that when you get involved with supply components, you run the risk of mishap in the transaction. "This is the No. 1 reason I recommend not buying the paper separately," he says.
Other potential problems include: the wrong paper getting delivered, late delivery, wrong quantity or bad quality. And if the press has to be taken down because of a paper problem, the onus is on you to fix it, and you could rack up charges for down press time.
Many printers also provide postal and mailing services. Letting your printer handle mailing issues can give you access to postal discounts you may not have qualified for on your own.
Banta provides all necessary postal documentation, BMC sequencing and mail sortation. Its D.I.R.E.C.T. business offers computerized mail-pool distribution, allowing smaller mailers' runs to be joined with large runs to achieve the same postal discounts. R.R. Donnelley also helps with postal work. Zuccarini says, "On the print logistics side, we're helping clients maximize efficiency through zone skipping."
When it comes to merge/purge for mailing, all printers don't have the same data and list capabilities, warns Susan McIntyre, president of catalog consultants McIntyre Direct. She recalls, "We worked with a printer who forced all the data processing through its in-house vendor. Its printing was great, but the DP department provided some of the worst service and made the most mistakes of any one we had ever dealt with."
In all fairness, McIntyre adds, "Printers like Arandell, Quad and R.R. Donnelley that have excellent mailing programs often can save substantial postage by handling all the postal portion of the data processing in house. We do use those postal services. But thus far, I've preferred to keep the normal merge/purge work outside."
Some printers take supply chain management all the way to back-end fulfillment. R.R. Donnelley, for example, acquired fulfillment house CTC last year. "We've gotten involved in some package delivery for catalogers that don't have as time-sensitive a delivery requirement," says Zuccarini.
Ask your printer rep what recommendations he or she has for making your mailings more effective. The printer may have an idea that can save you money in the long run on printing, paper or postage.