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The View From The Tree : 6 Things Digital Natives Should Know About Print

February 2014 By D. Eadward Tree
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With several prominent web sites launching magazines, Newsweek starting to rise from the ashes, and many titles seeing increased ad pages, 2013 was the year print forgot to die. It was the year our industry seemed to reach consensus that, for many years to come, we will derive much of our profit from putting ink on paper.

But now that it's clear Gutenberg won't be leaving the building any time soon, we face a new challenge: ourselves. The "print is dead" mantra has so permeated our brains that in our meetings, conferences, and publications, we've stopped talking about how to be successful with dead-tree editions or the implications of the latest print-related developments. I can't remember the last time I saw an article about cool inserts and other special print options for advertisers or on the best methods for recruiting new print subscribers. And pity the newcomers who thought they would work only in the digital arena but are now being told to sell integrated ad packages or to promote print subscriptions.

So to help those of you who joined our industry in the iPad era, as well as those who've been around since before Al Gore invented the internet but need a refresher, here's a look at some of the unique challenges and opportunities of printed magazines:

Printed Magazines Have Multiple Uses
It's not just about subscriber and newsstand copies. Some sponsors pay big money to attach their message to magazines distributed at events and to other targeted groups. Distributing to hair salons, waiting rooms, and other public places will boost your brand's visibility and web traffic—and your circulation. Magazines are a great "leave behind" for salespeople who are pitching to prospective clients, even if they're only selling digital media.

Printed Magazines Can Be Customized
Magazines are so versatile because they can be customized with stickers, special cover versions, regional and demographic sections, polybagged brochures, and personalized messages. Putting a belly band on every subscriber copy would be expensive and cause problems with postal delivery, but putting a sponsor's message on 500 belly bands for copies at a conference can be extremely profitable. A cover wrap can remind a reader that her subscription is about to expire. You can send a jewelry insert only to your female subscribers or a luxury auto ad only to the affluent ones.

Print Is Multi-Dimensional
Print engages the reader's hands, eyes, ears, and even nose in ways that digital media can't. You can put a gatefold or even a belly band into a digital edition, but in only two dimensions they're just not the same. A special section can really stand out if it's narrower than the rest of the printed magazine or uses different paper. I've never seen a blow-in card fall out of an iPad. (Some would consider that a blessing, but not my friends in the circulation department.) And forget about replicating die cuts, scratch-and-sniff, or fluorescent inks.

Print Is Imprecise
Unless someone's monitor is out of whack, the web page a reader sees will look like the web page you see. But a PDF is only an ideal approximation of how a printed page will appear. And they're not much good at telling you how a metallic PMS ink or special coating will look.

Color printing is done with four colors of ink that are placed one on top of the other— usually well enough that the reader doesn't realize they are not in perfect alignment if you follow some basic rules. But if you use colored body type it will come out blurry, and small "knockout" (white) type on a colored background is likely to be illegible.

There's also natural variation in how pages are trimmed from copy to copy and from section to section. To prevent strange white areas on the border of a page, any color or graphics on the edge of a page should extend into the "bleed" area. And to avoid lopsided pages or having important information trimmed off, keep text and any graphics that don't bleed within the "live area." In an 8" x 10.5" magazine, for example, a full-page full-bleed photo should be at least 8.25" x 10.75" on the PDF and a non-bleed photo should be no larger than 7.5" x 10".

Industry standards, specifications, and guidelines were established to manage print's unpredictability. Violate them at your own risk, even for materials submitted by an ad agency.

Print Has Its Own Newsstand
No, Steve Jobs did not invent the word "newsstand." That's been the term we've used for decades to describe brick-and-mortar retail outlets that sell printed magazines. Nearly half of newsstand sales occur at supermarkets and supercenters, while barely 2% happen at actual newsstands.

A few newsstand factoids: "Draw" is the number of copies shipped to a store. "Sellthrough" is the proportion of copies that actually sell, rarely more than half. Only sold copies count toward rate base. Several studies confirm that magazines are the most profitable category for supermarkets, yet supermarkets keep putting random unrelated displays in front of the magazine section or cutting back on the space devoted to magazines. Go figure.

Cost Calculations For Print Can Be Tricky
When I'm asked about the average cost of a magazine copy, I usually refuse to answer without knowing the context. The average cost is rarely meaningful. What people usually need to know is the incremental cost or savings from doing something—increasing newsstand draw by 15,000 copies, shipping 1,000 copies to a conference, or converting 10,000 print subscribers to the digital edition. The same goes for the average cost of a page; what people usually mean is "How much do we need to charge for this page to make a reasonable profit?" There is no simple answer to that question. As with digital media, determining the optimal pricing of print ads is more art than science.


 

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