Getting REALLY Personal in the Pages of a Magazine

The core of my background is in high-volume magazine and catalog finishing. Many digital folks don’t realize the extent of publication personalization that occurred in postpress back in the 1980s and ’90s. Even with web offset, it was possible to put out 500 separate versions of a national magazine like Time. You could bind by geography (local advertising), profession (the cardiologists or dentist’s version), or income level.

You simply had to have a stitcher or binder with a LOT of feeder pockets. A code in the address file then told the machine which feeder pockets to “pull” to make up that particular magazine. Copies were then tracked through the system and addressed via inkjet. For a brief period, individual signatures could also be personalized with inkjet printing. All of this was orchestrated by sophisticated and powerful bindery line controllers, which were integrated into the line.

Today, full-color digital printing presents new opportunities. In an ideal world, you simply print the entire magazine digitally, with endless spots for personalized data. Printer vendors turn giddy at this thought.

The problem with this idea is that a Time or Newsweek magazine costs between $.18 and $.25 to produce using offset web. That same publication produced on a digital press might be north of $4 per unit. There’s no economic scenario in which the all-digital magazine is profitable.

Nevertheless, there is a “middle way,” and it’s been tested. You can produce a digitally printed signature (or signatures) in full color that is customized and/or personalized. The signature barcode can control the total magazine make-up and final cover address.

In a recent test, this was done and the signature then fed on a perfect binder. In this case, the signature contained a scannable QR code, which took the recipient to a personalized Web landing page. From the reports, the landing page response was pretty high.

Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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