Brutal Efficiency is the Rule in Magazine and Catalog Finishing
Despite declines in print-run volumes for many magazines and catalogs, those products are still a critical part of many printers’ business mix. Many of the multi-plant printers were built on this type of work. Back in the heyday of Reader's Digest, Time, Newsweek and National Geographic, entire plants were dedicated to this kind of work.
This is not to say that magazines are going away. Many are doing well and making money. But for others, page counts—as well as margins—are down.
In order for printers to keep their existing contracts, they need to be able to produce such work with minimal manpower. Through visits to many magazine and catalog printers over the years, I have seen this transformation first hand. Years ago, printers realized that bindery efficiency started in the pressroom. As my friend Professor Werner Rebsamen once said, “Well pressed is half bound.”
Printers installed signature stacking systems (not cheap) that stacked and pressed web press signatures to create “logs” with end boards. Pressed signatures feed better on binders and saddlestitchers, creating fewer machine stops.
Printers also began installing streamfeeders on their stitchers and binders. These units can accept a log of signatures, then incrementally “stream” them into the binder hopper at a steady pace and level to optimize signature feeding. Streamfeeders alone reduced bindery crew sizes, as one person could know handle 10 hoppers instead of only a few.
Then came the automation of the mailing and palletizing functions. Special single-copy conveyors carried each magazine from the binder to the three-knife trimmer, then to the mail table for addressing. From there, the same conveyors could take each copy to a palletizer for automated copy stacking.
When you see one of these publications lines going full bore, it's amazing. Books are being produced at 300 copies per minute (or better), with only a few operators on the line. As far as cost goes, the pure cost of turning out a 64-page stitched magazine can be below $.20.
While not every printer can afford the kind of total system integration that the big guys can, those in publication printing have to implement every type of automation efficiency that's possible. Given the existing state of the publication market, it's the only road to survival.