Printers Know They Need to Branch out. Are They? It Turns out That Many Publication Printers Offer a Variety of Non-Printing Services for Publishers as the Magazine Industry Expands beyond Print. They Just Don't Always Make Any Money

By Silber, Tony | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Printers Know They Need to Branch out. Are They? It Turns out That Many Publication Printers Offer a Variety of Non-Printing Services for Publishers as the Magazine Industry Expands beyond Print. They Just Don't Always Make Any Money


Silber, Tony, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


IT'S A CHALLENGING ENVIRONMENT out there for printing companies, which long have been--but may no longer be--the magazine publishing company's most--important class of supplier.

Folios are declining, trim sizes are being reduced, frequencies are being cut and e-media for some publishers is emerging as the strategic core of their businesses. Pressure on print pricing is enormous. To avoid being viewed as a commodity, as a purely cost-based decision, printers have for years relied on customer service and perception of print quality.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

That may no longer be enough. Given the climate, FOLIO: recently surveyed the industry's suppliers for their perspective on whether and which new types of services were necessary. Consider this remarkable quote from one of the industry's best-known printing companies:

"Many ancillary areas are necessary to offer our print customers, even if they are not money makers initially or ever," says Dan Weber, vice president of sales for Publishers Press. "It has become extremely tough for printers to hang on to the customers they have, because of price-conscious buying, aggressive printers, and tough times. Great customer service and quality don't cut it anymore, so we need more hooks and substance to try to be a one-stop business provider--a partner that is attempting to squeeze out costs in the process of print and everything that comes with it. We did not get into digital magazines and co-mail to make a profit, but would be nice to get to a break-even, and that looks to be achievable."

Weber was addressing his own company's perspective, but without question was also reflecting an industry point of view. At a recent off-the-record lunch, a president of another printing company said pretty much the same thing--that printers must expand their relevance to publishers beyond merely printing their magazines, but that making money on a new array of services was a big challenge.

Polling the Printers

FOLIO: developed a survey to ask printers what services they offer, how long they've offered them, and whether they make money from them.

We asked about old favorites like digital asset management, which have been discussed for years but which also have never found widespread adoption. We asked about digital magazines, which have gained enormous traction despite predictions four or five years ago that they were a transitional technology. We asked about co-mail, which is a service most printers know they need to provide (even though only a few did prior to 2007). And we asked about far-afield services such as layout and Web development.

What we found was striking. We sent surveys to 20 printers, and eight responded by presstime. Of the eight, all but one offers digital asset management. All but one offers digital magazines. Six of the eight offer page-layout services. Four of the eight offer Web development services. All of them offer co-mail. Four offer content development services. And seven offer page-production services.

What's more, most have offered most of these services for years, in some cases, decades. "In the mid-1990s, we had a marketing campaign with the tagline, "Oh, and we print, too," writes Claire Ho, marketing communications manager at Quad Graphics. "That remains true today."

Who's Making Money?

In a comparison of all of the respondents, the most telling juxtaposition is profitability, which slips even among the services that are most commonly offered. While seven companies offer asset management, only three are profitable. "Digital asset management has not been, to my knowledge, viable in our part of the market, which is serving the small-to-mid-size publisher producing one or two medium-to-long run magazines," says Barry Long, digital services coordinator at American Press. "Asset management seems to make sense for larger organizations, and only when they maintain the process internally, not outsourcing. …

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