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Catalog and Publication Outlook : Multiple Platform Providers

December 2011 By Julie Greenbaum
Associate Editor
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Despite some optimistic signs for the magazine and catalog printing segments in 2011, economic and industry uncertainty, multi-channel integration, postal increases and increased supply chain costs were issues that still lingered from 2010. There was, however, some good news for magazine publishers this year, as advertising sales levels began to rebound.

According to the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB), publishers saw a 2.1 percent increase in advertising revenue through the third quarter of 2011, despite a slight 1.1 percent decrease in advertising pages. Consumer magazine ad revenue and pages grew in five of the 12 major advertising categories during the first three quarters, with double-digit page gains for Toiletries & Cosmetics, Apparel & Accessories and Financial.

The B2B segment also experienced a comeback through the first three quarters of 2011. The outlook for advertising in 2012 also looks positive, as some analysts believe that total U.S. advertising spending will continue to grow, and digital ad revenue will increase for consumer magazines.

Finding the Right Mix

A key focus for publishers and catalogers was how to continue to leverage their multi-channel marketing strategies. “Some publishers began to reorganize to better align their sales and marketing structures to support multi- platform products. They also integrated digital content creation into their unified brand teams,” points out Rick Marcoux, president of RR Donnelley magazine and commercial services. “Publishers accelerated development of, and investment in, publishing processes and technologies to extend their reach to mobile, e-reader and other ’third screen’ devices.”

RR Donnelley is helping its publishing clients integrate both print and digital platforms through the use of QR codes, generalized URL (GURL) and personalized URL (pURL) solutions. Its CustomPoint Solutions Group is also helping clients drive traffic from one channel to another. The latest version of its DigiMag 6.5 digital publishing solution has been enhanced for magazine publishers to now offer support for the Apple Newsstand storefront, Android tablet devices and apps for the Android storefront.

According to David Blais, executive vice president and president of magazines and catalogs for Quad/Graphics in Sussex, WI, advertisers today expect publishers to connect to their audiences through print, online, tablets, mobile and social media. But, each new channel can also create a substantial amount of work: “The whole industry—on the publisher side and the print side—has to redefine itself rapidly. While the trend to mobile and other content delivery is obvious, the challenge has been to monetize that trend and be effective and efficient across all of the channels.”

To help its customers with their multi-channel approach, Quad/Graphics produced an Innovation guide to show how both publishers and their advertisers can use print to engage readers and increase response. Quad has also launched an interactive print solutions initiative to help publishers learn how to use QR codes, image recognition, augmented reality and embedded computer chip technologies.

Transcontinental’s multi-channel initiatives for magazine publishers include a full range of integrated solutions, such as data mining, digital editions, apps for mobile and tablet devices, social media, e-mail marketing, and Website and microsite development. It also launched an online Innovation Centre to show how both publishers and advertisers can use print to engage readers and increase response.

“Printing, mixed with other platforms, is still the primary driver of marketing communications today, and remains the most efficient channel to drive traffic to the Internet,” explains Bruce Jensen, vice president of sales for Canada-based Transcontinental Printing.

“As the largest printer in Canada and fourth-largest in North America, we are well-positioned to offer our customers innovative print solutions, as well as to integrate these solutions with multi-platform strategies to generate results.”

Jensen adds that the industry will see a steady improvement in print revenue next year, along with strong efforts to make the digital side—and especially mobile—grow more profitably.

Postal Uncertainty Ahead

On the postal front, there continues to be uncertainty for both publishers and catalogers surrounding financial stability of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Last summer, the USPS introduced a QR code discount promotion that offered a successful attempt at creating synergy between physical and electronic mediums.

However, USPS deflection penalties forced both printers and publishers to find solutions to help magazines retain their automated discounts. And, most recently, the Postal Service has applied for an exigent (above-inflation) rate increase, among other initiatives.

Publishers and catalogers have responded to rising postage costs by including tighter qualification standards for controlled publications, partial conversion to digital editions, co-mailing and co-palletization, smaller trim sizes, lower paper grades/lighter papers, less editorial content, frequency reductions and better list hygiene practices. “The continued migration to Intelligent Mail (IM) will also enable publishers to convert from traditional Address Correction Service (ACS) to the new Free ACS systems, providing reductions in postal-related expenses, especially for large publishers,” explains RR Donnelley’s Marcoux.

On the paper front, increased supply chain costs remained a factor in 2011. According to Marcoux, paper price increases in 2011 were expected as mills took out production capacity and tried to recoup profits from previous years’ soft demand. The paper outlook for 2012 remains unpredictable because manufacturing capacity may be an issue if some mills that were shut down do not come back online.

Catalogs Remain Strong

Looking at the catalog segment, there is no evidence of the printed catalog disappearing any time soon. “Our customers tell us over and over again that the appeal of printed catalogs has not diminished in the wake of more prolific electronic means,” relays John Coyle, president of catalog, direct marketing and retail services for RR Donnelley. “While more and more orders are completed electronically, the decision to buy among shoppers is still influenced by their tactile engagement with printed catalogs.”

Coyle adds that personalization continues to play a critical role in driving customer interest and engagement, and that list management, data mining and Web integration are key drivers to delivering relevant information to customers at the right time.

“We have experienced success with the effective use of add-on elements such as highly customized digital printing, peel-off cards and promotional labels as part of an integrated catalog campaign.”

Quad/Graphics’ catalog customers remain bullish about print and related multi-channel catalog campaigns. According to a recent customer survey that it conducted, catalogers still see the relevancy of printing and mailing catalogs. “Some of our clients experimented with dropping print events, but they put them back into their programs when alternative e-catalogs didn’t work as well,” according to Blais.

Jensen also envisions ongoing improvement in the catalog market. “Catalogers and their print suppliers that best address multi-platform integration will remain the winners. Success will require the right combination of vision, technology and collaboration.” PI





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The graphic communications industry is facing some very serious challenges, but that doesn't mean there isn't still a lot of life and opportunity in our future. “Competing for Print's Thriving Future” focuses on how printers can create their own positive future by understanding and taking advantage of the  changes that...




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