Technology Travel Log
For regional magazine production, wise decision-making is the key to success.
Introducing a regional magazine is perhaps no different than producing any other genre of periodical. Or is it? While all magazines are certainly able to benefit from new technologies—digital color proofing, computer-to-plate (CTP) printing, and telecommunications—choosing effective, affordable digital solutions and implementing sensible workflows may be the greatest challenges faced by regional publishers. Really, it all depends on the bottom line
Getting to know your audience
If people don't buy a magazine, any of that title's production woes somehow pale in the big-picture comparison. So how do regional publishers build a circulation list?
The methods chosen to create and maintain a regional publication's circulation are often dictated by the goals of the magazine itself. Regional publications often attempt to attract a readership that is local to the area and/or to capture an audience of prospective tourists.
Alaska magazine's intent, according to Gianna Nelson, circulation director, is to attract a broad demographic range of potential visitors to the Alaskan region. In order to accomplish that mission, the magazine, which is based in Anchorage, AK, has concentrated its circulation efforts in the lower 48 states. As a result, more than 90 percent of Alaska's newsstand and subscriber sales are presently derived from the continental U.S. "In the case of Alaska, we want to get people who are interested in more than travel to buy the magazine," Nelson ex-plains. "Alaska is really broad in its editorial content, and it focuses not only on travel aspects … but it also deals with the history of the region and its cultural aspects."
To target specific demographics, Alaska utilizes a combination of direct-mail promotion and agency solicitation. It also relies heavily on gift subscriptions, Nelson notes.
Unlike Alaska, Montana Magazine, Helena, MT, possesses a different set of circulation-related goals. The publication, according to Editor Beverly Magley, targets the state's local population.
"We're by Montanans, for Montanans," Magley notes. "Our whole campaign focuses on targeting those who live in Montana right now." To capture the attention of locals, Montana Magazine has recently launched an in-state multimedia campaign that consists of television, video and newspaper ads.
Building a broad-based circulation list isn't always as simple as spreading the word, however. David Cohen, director of business development, Cape Cod Life, Pocasset, MA, points out that list development is often highly dependent upon having the support of the advertising community. "We battle a line with circulation," Cohen explains. "We have to decide whether to work really hard at increasing circulation when there's a certain point at which, if you double the circulation, the advertisers wouldn't necessarily pay double the rate for an ad. So, there's a big problem in our market in that regard." All the more reason to plan your circulation campaign strategy carefully.
Spinning a Web of intrigue
The World Wide Web has proven to be a very valuable tool for boosting subscriber interest in regional publications, notes Magley. Less than a year ago, Montana Magazine brought in a freelance Web designer to establish a series of page templates into which the publisher could easily paste updated text and graphics.
While there is some overlap in content from the print publication, Magley notes that the Web is essentially a teaser for potential subscribers, enticing them to turn to the print piece for more substantial coverage. The magazine's articles are repurposed either whole, as excerpts or simply as teaser titles.
When asked whether she has any fear that the site will one day take the place of the magazine, Magley opines: "You can imagine that we've tossed this idea around endlessly, but the fact is that there's nothing that replaces the feel and the look of the printed page. I wholeheartedly believe that. So, we don't even try to present the pages on the Web site in a similar way to the way in which they appear in the magazine."
While Montana Magazine's site is graphically intensive, Magley hopes to provide instant gratification to its visitors by ensuring that no image will take longer than five seconds to download. "We don't need to be interactive or have animation," Magley adds, "because the magazine isn't like that. It's not who we are. We try to show who we are, so that we can inspire people to go to the magazine itself."
Takes money to make money
Adopting new technologies on a limited budget is undoubtedly the biggest challenge faced by many regional publishers. "If you're producing a magazine for 10,000 people versus a million people, you have to go through the same production steps. But it's the budget that, of course, is an issue for regional publishers," notes Richard Royer, publisher of Chesapeake Bay magazine, Annapolis, MD, and past president of the International Regional Magazine Association (IRMA).
"The regional magazine is faced with the problem of having a relatively small circulation and as production costs—paper and printing—accelerate, we don't always have the ability to raise advertising rates accordingly," Cohen agrees.
Saving money at Cape Cod Life meant bringing prepress in-house, according to Cohen. Since moving the publication to computer-to-plate, it made sense for the publisher to take control of the scanning, preflighting and proofing functions typically done at the prepress shop or printer level. By modifying workflow to allow the prepress work to occur at the publisher level, Cohen saves a considerable amount on outsourcing to a vendor.
Linda Lockhart, art director/production manager, Alaska magazine, adopted a similar philosophy for her publication—go digital.
Working with World Color Press, Dyersburg, TN, Alaska is beginning to test CTP, with a portion of the September issue slated for digital production. An ISDN line will be installed to facilitate the transfer of the digital files to the printer's digital facility in St. Louis, where preflighting will be the primary task.
In anticipation of moving Alaska to CTP, Lockhart and her staff have begun an aggressive campaign to encourage advertisers to submit digitally from this point on. Lockhart estimates that approximately 60 percent have complied, while 40 percent of the ads will continue to be copydot scanned. "Obviously, I think it's important to get as many electronic ads as possible," Lockhart notes.
For Royer's three regional publications—Chesapeake Bay, Lehigh Valley Magazine and Offshore—production has also been brought in-house to save on outsourcing extensive prepress jobs. All three titles are handled CTP by The Lane Press, Burlington, VT, with preflighting assistance expertly supplied by York Graphics, York, PA.
The bottom line was a key determinant for moving Royer's titles to CTP and taking control of prepress, he explains. "We've saved more than $125,000 on two of our publications alone," he exclaims. "It pays for the Christmas party!"
While a digital workflow may be a method that will allow regional publishers to save time and money, digital photography is still at issue for Montana Magazine.
Magley points out that one of the key objectives in regional publishing is to provide the reader with a vibrant and breathtaking visual journey to a region. Strong photographic images are essential to that goal. Four-color photography is one of Montana Magazine's hallmarks, she adds.
"Razor-sharp focus, high contrast and major saturation in photographs are not as critical for news magazines, for example," explains Magley.
Montana Magazine requires photographers to submit transparencies and shuns any manipulated or digitized images. "We tried (digital photography)," Magley recalls, "but it didn't give us the saturation that we liked. … When you have a particular lime-green leaf that you want to capture, you're only going to get it with a drum scanner. We found that we couldn't achieve the same results digitally. The images looked drab and muddy. … But we didn't give up easily; we tried it for three or four issues and kept working on it before we finally gave up."
Thus, Montana Magazine has no imminent plans to adopt digital photography. Instead, Magley will continue to rely on the analog process of scanning transparencies, and, more importantly, counting on Matchprints as contract proofs.
For regional magazine publishers that do not often benefit from a corporate conglomerate safety net, budget is a major and ongoing concern. Fortunately, notes Royer, many new technologies offer affordable production options.
"Lately, with the technology changes that have taken place in our industry, we can have everything that the big guys have," claims Royer.
But it is still important to choose your technologies wisely: "Every dollar we spend is really important," adds Cohen. "So, in the production world, if we can find ways to utilize the technologies that save us money, we have to do that. I think it's critical that publications make decisions that take advantage of the technology to save printing and prepress costs."
For more information on IRMA, call (512) 819-9500 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Gretchen A. Kirby