2018 Catalog, Publication Printing Outlook Includes Rankings of Top 5 Printers from Latest PI 400 List
For those in the magazine and catalog printing and publishing segments, the past year has been nothing short of dynamic. Although there has been considerable consolidation and downsizing, these trends have opened up doors to other possibilities that are being embraced by printers and publishers alike: niche publications are on the rise and catalogs have evolved to tell their own story.
Niche Is the New Mass Market
Traditionally, magazines were driven by mass-market titles that could appeal to a wide audience, David Pilcher, VP of sales and marketing at Freeport, Ohio-based Freeport Press, explains. The industry has recently seen a shift in the types of titles that are seeing the biggest growth, he says, and it's niche titles that are leading the march into 2018.
“This year, we’re seeing publishers offloading many of these big titles,” he says. “Some are calling it chaos. We don’t see it that way. We see a definite trend toward niche titles, with viable business models that take advantage of a more selective consumer base.”
Publishers are also embracing changes in consumer behavior and using those changes to drive printed products, Pilcher points out. He says that the perfect example is the 2017 launch of “The Pioneer Woman,” which was a Hearst and HGTV joint effort that used the success of the television show to introduce a printed publication. According to Pilcher, the title debuted with 150,000 copies and sold out within one week, necessitating a second print run of 100,000 copies.
“‘The Pioneer Woman’ is the perfect example of a multi-channel brand that launched a print magazine based on the popularity of its existing brand,” he says. “Another one is The Magnolia Journal. Wildly popular on TV and online, Meredith hit a million copies with their latest issue this past summer. That kind of success for a new special interest title is being made possible by multi-channel experiences, and publishers are embracing this reality.”
Doug McKendry, national sales manager at Kappa Printing Management Associates (KPMA), parent company of Random Lake, Wis.-based Times Printing and Ithaca, N.Y.-based Vanguard, points to another example of a niche segment that is growing in popularity — something he calls the “city/regional” publication or location-based titles.
These types of niche publications may provide the perfect opportunity for printers to work with publishers to launch new titles.
Part of the reason publications, in particular, are flourishing in the niche space is because the audience has chosen to engage with the brand rather than because of data analytics or targeting, notes Wayne Peterson, executive VP and COO of Burlington, Vt.-based Lane Press.
Publishers, in turn, have the luxury of producing a magazine for an already loyal, self-selected audience. “The targeting is done, and it was done by the readers themselves. That’s why we see magazine titles that have focused on specific audiences growing and thriving.”
The changing landscape and consolidation in the publication and catalog segments on the paper supply side have also affected the cost of production. Gary Sierzchulski, director of customer engagement strategies at Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Arandell, says that there have been increases in paper costs due to this consolidation. In addition to paper costs trending upwards, postal rates will continue to rise in 2018, with previous technology incentives eliminated.
“This means that catalogers will need to be even more precise in their mailing campaigns with smaller margins for errors and will look to us for answers on how to mail more efficiently without harming their brand or growth,” he adds.
Building a Story and Trust
A key component of the printed catalog in a competitive landscape is to connect with the recipient on a deeper, more targeted level than catalogs traditionally have done in the past.
“Those days of 1,000-page catalogs have come and gone,” Pilcher says, “but 2017 gave us some clear indications that catalogs are back in favor and are being positioned more as lifestyle publications than as product lists.”
McKendry describes a similar experience, noting a trend toward “lifestyle” catalogs opening up opportunities for printers to work with brands to bring back more usage of catalogs.
“[It’s about] telling a story and the experience of the brand,” he explains. “Connecting the brand with people in an experiential way is more effective than showing stacks of merchandise with prices next to them.”
Although some brands may consider a digital catalog to be on equal footing with a printed version, there is an essential difference between print and digital catalogs that drives the print component, McKendry says. When it comes to digital, there is no control over the outcome of the digital rendering. Merchandisers and art directors have no control over what the merchandise will look like on screen, he explains. But, when it is printed, color can be controlled.
“Reproduction in print has a higher fidelity than what you see on screen because home monitors and smart phones aren’t calibrated,” he says.
Print also has the tendency to drive more sales than digital, Arandell’s Sierzchulski points out.
“We know that no other channel can represent a brand’s image better than print,” he says. “Which will draw more sales? Viewing a $600 dress in a beautifully printed catalog or seeing that image on a website? And which will result in more returns? So we all know catalogs work, and work very well. The challenge continues to be how to make them even more cost-effective.”
Not only do printed catalogs provide a more accurate rendering of the products listed — which maintains the integrity of the product and the brand — they can also build trust with the recipient, if done well.
McKendry describes the printed catalog as having the ability to create a one-on-one relationship with the recipient. He says that “intrusive online marketing” has a lot to do with print being the ideal vessel for catalogs.
“You can sit and read a catalog while commuting or relaxing at home and it’s one-on-one; you’re not being interrupted,” he says.
Eliminating “intrusive” advertising is one way to build trust with a recipient, but there’s another trend that is changing the way consumers view print: the proliferation of “fake news” on social media, McKendry notes.
“Print is becoming a more authentic product as opposed to all of the ubiquity of what’s being thrown at consumers in an interruptive way [online],” he notes.
Many e-commerce companies are also embracing catalogs to “increase customer loyalty and credibility,” according to Sierzchulski. That’s where Arandell steps in to help its customers launch printed components into their marketing campaigns.
“E-commerce companies reach a stage in their business cycle where their sales, customer growth and repeat buyers plateau,” he explains. “They look for alternatives and the printed piece is where they turn to jump-start them to the next level.
“We have worked with more than 60 pure play e-commerce companies in the past two years to incorporate a catalog into their marketing mix,” Sierzchulski adds. “They all have seen better conversions, increased loyalty and fewer returns. It is an educational process to get them to understand how the printed catalogs integrate and support their other channels.”
Add Value to the Printed Piece
In a competitive and constantly evolving marketplace, printers need to offer their customers added-value print to help differentiate printed pieces both on the shelf and in the mailstream.
Peterson explains that publishers are trying different strategies to make print more attractive, including “unusual print treatments.” Peterson says that he is seeing more gatefold and French door covers, as well as specialized cover tips and wraps.
Dull-coated and matte papers are also becoming more popular, McKendry points out, because they can make the publication or catalog “feel” more valuable.
Sierzchulski sums up the immediate future for print as a year filled with opportunity based on pushing the boundaries and working with customers to meet their needs.
“Overall, we remain very bullish on print,” he concludes. “It is still the most effective channel for driving sales, maintaining brand loyalty and growing a customer base. The results of print versus all other channels back that up. But, as printers, we have to provide solutions that maximize ROI, and this requires imagination and innovation.”