Over-Spending on Your Imposition?
Every issue of a magazine, you have to prove your mettle by seeking the most economical imposition. For some publishers, manufacturing costs put constraints on the configurations ad and edit can create, but at most companies the production department has to print what it has been handed. And, in all fairness, offering flexibility to ad sales is worth some inefficiencies on press. The smarter you are about the costs of imposing the book, the better you can steer the publisher toward the best balance of cost and sales opportunity.
There are three influences on the ultimate economy of your imposition decisions: the number of text pages, the number (and location) of signature breaks needed for inserts, and the cost of each signature. The first two forces change with each issue; the third is a function of your printer’s price structure.
Price and Imposition
The optimum imposition is, theoretically, different from printer to printer; certainly from price list to price list. We start with a baseline assumption: The minimum makereadies and the minimum binding pockets generally result in the least total cost. It’s worth verifying this assumption by picking apart the price list a bit.
Suppose your printer can run your magazine on both a 6x2 and 4x2 press. Check your price schedule—surprises may be in store. Here are some sample prices to chew on:
6x2 press makeready (MR) paper MR total MR thousand (M) paper run/M total run/M
48 pages as 2 24s $3,000 $100 $3,100 $16 $105 $121
48 pages as 4 12s $3,200 $105 $3,305 $17 $145 $162
24 pages two-on as 2 12s $3,000 $100 $3,100 $8.75 $52.75 $61.50
12 pages four-on $3,000 $100 $3,100 $4.75 $26.50 $31.25
4x2 makeready (MR) paper MR total MR thousand (M) paper run/M total run/M
32 pages as 2 16s $1,800 $400 $2,200 $11.50 $70 $81.50
32 pages as 4 8s $1,950 $410 $2,360 $12.25 $71 $83.25
16 pages two-on $1,800 $400 $2,200 $6.15 $35 $41.15
16 pages $900 $150 $1,050 $7 $35 $42
8 pages $900 $150 $1,050 $4.25 $17.75 $22
4 pages $900 $150 $1,050 $3.75 $9 $12.75
The key comparisons we want to make are between the two ways to make a 24-two-on on the 6x2, or a 16 plus an 8 on the 4x2, and the best way to deal with 40 pages—as a 24 plus a 16 or as a 32 plus an 8. Run length dictates how the makereadies come into play.
To determine the run length at which two sets of prices converge, find the difference between the two makereadies and the two run rates, then divide the makeready difference by the running difference to locate the press run at which they’d be equal. Using the sample prices on a 24:
6x2 $3,000 $8.75
4x2 $1,800 $11.25 (16 pages + 8 pages)
difference $1,200 $3
calculation 1,200 ÷ 3 = 400
The two impositions would have the same grand total for a press run of 400,000; above that, the 6x2 alternative offers the better price, with the lower run rate. Below it, the 4x2 option is the winner.
Now let’s tackle the 40-page problem, where we have three possible impositions.
24 + 16 2-on $4,800 $14.90
24 + 16 $3,900.00 $15.75
difference $900.00 $0.85
900 ÷ 0.85 = $1,059
The two-on 16 is preferable for a press run over 1 million, demonstrating that when run rates are close, it takes a lot of copies to make the makeready difference disappear. Next, we’ll see how a pure 4x2 solution fares:
24 + 16 2-on $4,800 $14.90
32 + 8 $2,700 $15.75
difference $2,100 $0.85
2,100 ÷ 0.85 = 2,470
24 + 16 $3,900 $15.75
32 + 8 $2,700.00 $15.75
difference $1,200.00 $0.00
Thought that 6x2 24 would be the champion? Only at about 2.5 million and beyond can it beat the 32 + 8. If it’s coupled with a one-on 16, the equal running rates mean that the lower makeready of the 4x2 will come out ahead at every press run.
The moral of this story is: Do the math. Though your instinct may be to use the larger press or to do everything in your power to avoid a signature as small as an 8, this sample set of prices counters those assumptions. Note that the calculations have to extend all the way through paper consumption, where the makeready impact can be magnified.
You’ll soon be making even more calculations if your magazine fits on the new 64-page presses that are popping up. Because printers are in the first stage of amortizing their investment in this equipment, pricing will either reflect a desired return on investment or act as an incentive to fill the presses. In a few years, per page rates on all platforms will start to converge, but at the outset you’ll probably see the best run rate on the 64s, accompanied by high makereadies.
One more twist: if your printer offers a makeready discount for additional signatures of the same size, that reduction in fixed costs could tilt the balance between, say, two 48s and three 32s. Keep your total page count in mind when doing the math.
Page Count and Imposition
When it comes time to put together an issue, production will, at minimum, designate the signature sizes. Production may also have a chance to contribute to pagination decisions, including the critical question of page count. Obviously, the further the book size strays from straight multiples of 48 or 32, the higher the cost per page climbs.
Publishers and ad salespeople usually don’t enjoy these manufacturing nuances, so make them a handy cheat-sheet of the cost per thousand (M) per page. It will pack more of a punch as a bar graph, like this example using a 500M quantity on the sample prices, with makereadies included.
A chart like this will probably be enough to get 4-page signatures banned from the book-makeup process, or at least instill proper reverence for the economic shoals you must navigate. At a larger press run, of course, 4s become more feasible in cost, but they are always a last-ditch manufacturing solution to pagination. In the larger context of ad/edit ratio, 4s and 8s have their place, and it’s never smarter to print more pages than ad revenue supports just to buy each page at the best price.
Signature Breaks and Imposition
Even when per-page costs are identical, the 6x2 press can provide binding-pocket savings if you can deliver 24s instead of the 16s a 4x2 press would produce. On a 96-page issue, the wide web requires two press makereadies and four pockets, while a 4x2 consumes three makereadies and six pockets. That is, until inserts come into the picture.
Suppose you have five inserts in those 96 pages. Under our sample prices, the cost for 500,000 copies would be:
makeready run/M total
6x2, 1 48 as two 24s + 1 48 as four 12s
$6,200 $33 $22,700
4x2, 3 32s as two 16s
$5,400 $34.50 $22,650
OK, your annual bonus isn’t given a big boost by saving $50, but the gap we just revealed tilts further toward the 32s at shorter run lengths, and veers toward the 48s as counts climb. Your job is to know such a differential exists.
Simply providing enough signature breaks for inserts isn’t enough—now you have to paginate the book to locate them. If you’re unable to nudge the ad and edit page planners, you’ll need multiple deliveries on every signature, or even be forced to print 4s or 8s to create the breaks. So long, efficiency.
But if your magazine is insert-heavy, you need to stop thinking of economies lost and start thinking of killing two birds with one stone. Designate a 16 or an 8 as a late-close signature and plan to print it every issue, complete with the two insert locations it offers. By subtracting it from the rest of the pages, you’re free to pursue economies on them while this signature holds two or three last-minute ads, justifying its cost.
Quality and Imposition
The terms “signature” and “form” are not interchangeable, and, in fact, provide a useful difference in nomenclature. A signature is a collection of pages; a form is one side of a signature. Forms relate most closely to plates; signatures to paper-roll stands. Keep the distinction alive in your jargon, and you’ll have a clearer way of thinking about the final effect of imposition on image quality.
On a 4x2 press, two pages are inline with each other, which means they draw ink from the same channel. In three-around configurations, three pages fight for the same ink levels. Advances in prepress and press controls have reduced the toll that inline conflicts can take, but the truly conscientious production expert examines the contents of each form to minimize color-fidelity woes. You’ll need your printer’s imposition layouts to see how individual pages fall.
The first pages to consider are spreads. If they break on different forms or, worse, different signatures, they could become orphans instead of twins. They could even print with different crews, though printers are usually conscientious about marking such pages for proper follow-through. The danger is that once one page is printed it can be difficult to get the other to match.
From the ad director’s point of view, the ideal imposition would put an editorial page inline with every ad, and the press OK would promptly ignore any claims that edit page makes on ink density. That’s an extreme, but smart production planning still considers advertising needs. New and precious advertisers can be positioned to avoid likely conflicts.
If production is to contribute on this level, issue pagination has to include a manufacturing vote. Ideally, the production manager prepares the initial book makeup, observing insertion-order position requests and editorial structure, setting the most economical imposition, then resolving the most likely inline conflicts. Advertising and editorial propose pagination changes, and the production staff offers feedback on the consequences of imposition.
With solid knowledge of your printer’s price structure and attention to the appearance of each page, you can create impositions that both economize and preserve quality.
Alex Brown is a consultant to magazine publishers specializing in manufacturing and magazine management. She founded her consulting company, Printmark, in 1984, and is a frequent speaker at industry events.