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InPublishing Tip 9 - Beware the perils of non-standard print

Publishers like to be different and they’ll try almost anything to make their title stand out from the crowd. There are a number of ways to increase the chances of your magazine getting noticed but, advises Darrel Crowley, changing its shape shouldn’t be one of them.

By Darrel Crowley

Back in the day when I was employed by customer publishers (now known as content publishers), the majority of my day was spent preparing print tenders for potential new customer publications.

Most of this time I focused on devising ‘hybrids’ of your typical ‘standard’ magazine.

This involved numerous scenarios of what would work within the budget constraints, such as reducing / increasing the trim size or changing production methods.

I would then examine how this would impact postage costs. What would happen to paper consumption / postage costs / overall quality if I increased or decreased the text paper weight by 5 grams, 10 grams, 20 grams and / or likewise the covers?

In the end, one publication could end up costing me dearly in time to devise up to twenty plus variations and that was before I began to equate the pricing for differing quantities, versions, finishes and distribution!

Was this a clever use of my skills as a print buyer / production director? In hindsight no - however I had my taskmasters to answer to and that’s exactly what they employed me to do.

‘So what has this got to do with my magazine’ - I hear you ask?

Well, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to print, it pays not to re-invent the wheel. Beware the perils of non-standard print! Consider:

FACT 1 - All printing machinery (UK based) is based on the premise of how many A4 pages you can output from a single sheet of paper.

Whether it be web offset, sheet litho, digital or gravure production, they ALL work on this basis.

FACT 2 - Let’s not forget that advertisers and their agencies tend to create ads derived from A4 and their relevant divisibles (ie. A5, A6 etc). Do you really want to incur the additional design / agency costs for a bespoke ad? Not to mention the additional costs associated with editorial design (assuming you pay by the hour).

FACT 3 - Ever wondered why the majority of your print suppliers tend to decline quotes at odd sizes or take forever to get your quote back? Because they don’t like to produce products that are non-A4 divisible.

It takes them away from their core business - which is to get as many A4 or divisible products on and off the printing press as quickly as possible; what we in the trade like to call ‘sausage factory’ production.

I’ve lost count of the times potential suppliers have said, “we are good at what we do, but we are not geared up for your specialist publications.” (This is especially true of ‘pass on press’, which to most print suppliers is the business equivalent of a stake to a vampire).

FACT 4 - Royal Mail’s recent 2012 change on tariffs, whilst becoming more streamlined and simplified, have affected the publishing market with Presstream dropped in favour of ‘Publishing Mail’.

In addition, for large run publications, Walksort has been discontinued. If your publication is mailed, endeavour to take into consideration the impact that the size of your product has on postage.

With postage still contributing up to 60% of a publication’s costs, this is a crucial area to consider.

Product size is one of the first key factors I teach potential print buyers: without this tool you are dead in the water.

Of course there are many other factors that go into successful and professional print buying, however in my mind it’s one of the golden rules.

These days we are more time-poor than ever, so when considering changing the size of your magazine, keep it simple. Don’t overdo it, don’t look at every variable under the sun, don’t waste your valuable time and also don’t forget your time is your money. Time spent evaluating options that will never see the light of day is costing you time and money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Also, spare a thought for those poor print estimators out there. With the majority of print companies working leaner, fitter and faster - there’s usually one to two estimators in your average size print company.

If they get bombarded with ten variations of one publication, you are more than likely going to go to the end of the quote queue or, worse still, in the ‘filing cabinet’ under their desk.