The New Print Gimmick: New Inks, Stocks and Printing Technologies Are Helping Magazines Soar at the Newsstand and Stay Relevant in a Digital World

By Ambroz, Jillian S. | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, March 2010 | Go to article overview

The New Print Gimmick: New Inks, Stocks and Printing Technologies Are Helping Magazines Soar at the Newsstand and Stay Relevant in a Digital World


Ambroz, Jillian S., Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


DAVID GRANGER LIKENS PRINT INNOVATIONS to the new squeezable ketchup bottle, what he calls "the greatest consumer product in the history of mankind." That little twist on the American staple "allows people to access it in a simple and fulfilling way." The use of print innovations have yet to become as widespread as the ketchup bottle, but the new technologies are breathing fresh air into a mature industry that is battling its own digital counterparts for survival.

"In this era, when everyone's excited about new media, we need to do everything we can to make older media as exciting as possible," says Granger, Esquire's editor-in-chief. The magazine's latest print gimmick was its May 2009 issue where it featured a mix-n-match cover. The facial features of President Obama, George Clooney and Justin Timberlake became interchangeable thanks to a tri-perforated cover.

It's not just the digital era, but also the poor economy that has publishers looking for new ways to stay viable. "The growth of the Internet as consumers' primary news and content-delivery method, in combination with the impact of the recession on the publishing industry, has created a marketing environment that requires inventive and customizable cover and insert creative that will resonate with the consumer," says Scott Berry, senior vice president of sales for specialty printer Vertis Communications.

Print Innovations, Past and Present

Four years ago, Rolling Stone made news with its 3-D lenticular cover for its 1,000th issue. Late last year, The Hollywood Reporter also produced a 3-D cover featuring the movie "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" for its November 30th issue. Some other recent covers include Esquire's October 2008 e-ink issue, where it embedded an electronic paper device in the cover--a first for the magazine industry. Another Hearst publication, House Beautiful, featured a pocket cover with a pull-out for its September 2009 issue. The cover line asked, "What colors does your house need?" and the pull-out provided a sampling of colors with personality descriptions and suggestions for use.

Hearst Corp. seems to be embracing print innovations. The company's 2009 annual report is a panoply of print gimmicks, including digital bar codes, pop-ups and magazines within magazines, produced by Sandy Alexander and Brown Printing Co. And for the past three years, the company has held "print expos" where it invites printers to set up display booths to showcase their cutting-edge capabilities in an internal tradeshow setting for Hearst's publishers, editors and marketing people. In January, Michael Clinton, executive vice president, chief marketing officer and publishing director for Hearst Magazines, decided to open the doors to invite advertisers and agencies to the expo.

That was a smart move considering that producing these special issues usually requires advertiser buy-in. One of the reasons specialty print issues aren't more commonplace is because they are more costly to produce.

Granger notes that it wasn't until the economy started to head south that advertisers got interested in collaborating on some print innovations.

"I have no budget for increased cost so I need an advertiser to do it with," he says. "Frankly, there are costs that need to be shared. That's why we haven't done more; we have to find advertisers that get excited about doing something, as well as committing on the edit side."

It should be noted that some of the best print innovations these days are showcased by advertising inserts. Take the magazine insert for Ubisoft's Assassin Creed II, a video game. As you open the four-page spread, you actually tear off the head of the king, one of the characters in the game. "You can literally hear and feel the head tearing," says Doug Hazlett, vice president of marketing and sustainability for specialty printer Sandy Alexander.

A Jump In Newsstand Sales

While specialty printing has been around for a while, new technologies coupled with publishers' desire to stay relevant are leading to growth in this area of magazine publishing.

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