Waiting for The Digitally-Printed Magazine (or Catalog)
OK, I digress from my usual finishing tech discussion this week. Although I’m on the digital finishing side, I spent enough time in the high-volume offset world to become quite familiar with publication, periodical and catalog production. Those were the days when Time, Newsweek, Readers Digest, Playboy, Vogue, and Vanity Fair (among others) were at the peak of the media universe. And most of these were based in my home town of New York City.
But times are different now, and there are far fewer publications that have the kind of circulation base that used to be common back in the 90’s. There are (however) many more specialist titles that address almost every interest and hobby you could think of. And these generally have monthly print runs that could make them candidates for full, or partial digital print. Note that the top 100 range in circulation from 23 million (AARP) down to 782,000 (FAST Company). So, if you take 700,000 copies and multiply that by (on average) 64 pages, that’s a LOT of digital print!
And even enthusiast pubs have circulation numbers in the 100,000 plus range. But there are specialist titles that run 60,000 or much less. Wouldn’t they be better with more personalization and targeted advertising? Well, per-page cost is a big differentiator. I remember when Newsweek (in its print heyday) cost about 18 cents to print and finish with web offset. That’s for a 64-page magazine. Comparing web inkjet with web offset yields a much higher unit cost for digital. The highest cost in the magazine world is actually postage, so publishers are desperate to keep print costs down.
Quality is another. You buy (or subscribe to) the print version because it’s a high-quality product printed on nice coated substrate. Inkjet is getting better every day at printing on coated papers but it’s not at the National Geographic level yet. There is also press and finishing capacity. Many publications run on heatset web offset at speeds in excess of 1,000 fpm. Inkjet presses are still in the 500 fpm range.
But publishers are experimenting. Digitally-printed inserts and sections have been tested, and customized catalogs reflecting buyer history and preferences are a marketer’s dream. And inkjet continues its steady progress. A new generation of advanced continuous inkjet presses will enter the market in 2018. These will create more possibilities for adding digital content. Print publications need more innovation. Many publications now have “pure” digital online or mobile editions. But these have been something of a disappointment and have not provided the additional revenue that was anticipated. It’s clear that there’s room for more innovation on the print side in order to keep subscribers happy.
Editor’s Note: Printing Impressions and its sister publication Publishing Executive will be hosting DigiPub: Harnessing the Power of Data-Driven Print on Nov. 16th in NYC. DigiPub is an executive summit exploring the convergence of online and offline publishing in the magazine, catalog, and book markets. Attendance is free, but limited to printers, publishers (books and magazines), catalogers and sponsors. For more info, visit DigiPub’s site or contact Matt Steinmetz at firstname.lastname@example.org.