At DigiPub, MPA Offered a New Message & Printers Showcased Innovative Digital Print
Last week I went to a NAPCO conference in New York City called DigiPub. Its advertised mission statement was "Harnessing the Power of Data-Driven Print." The overarching question after a decade or more of collecting digital data was, can the information we have gathered be intelligently and successfully applied to a printed product?
To be fair in this analysis, the day was mostly sponsored by digital press manufacturers such as Canon, HP, Ricoh, and Xerox, and thus the underlining quest for an open discussion about smartly using data with a digital printing press was understandable and with a defined purpose. I have no problem with the bias for underwriting industry dialog. In the old days, magazine conferences were sponsored by printers such as Quad/Graphics, RR Donnelley, or paper companies such as International Paper or Westvaco, whose intention was the same -- sell more printing and more paper to magazine professionals. Conferences have always been a symbiotic relationship between vendors and buyers. At DigiPub there were people who make digital presses and media personnel trying to grapple with and discover how to modernize ROI in the printing industry using new tools.
Using Online Data to Target Printed Content
Early morning discussions focused on data-driven print as a more responsively delivered product, where the final printed product is produced with some reader input in one form or another. Some of this information is captured by tracking the unknowing customer across sites, and other data is collected with the consent of the reader. This is a relatively new form of hyper-personalized targeting when it comes to print. The theory is that demand-based printing is more directly focused on what the consumer is actually interested in. (I'm skipping the moral intrusion questions of storing and weaponizing our online behaviors. I'm just looking at the possibilities of an obviously achievable goal. From a strictly ROI perspective, it is very promising.)
Printed Magazines Are Trusted Media
Mid-morning was a slight departure from topics about digital printing presses and their uses to an out and out, well-documented defense of print itself. This was delivered by Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO of the MPA. I have at times been hard on the MPA’s reliance on internet "likes" in the vain attempt to promote magazine brands. At the DigiPub Conference the focus was on print and its attributes. I have no idea where the shift of messaging originated, but if it was Linda's decision while in her first year on the job, I say bravo, and it's about time.
For years keynotes by MPA spokespersons have been about digital metrics and billions of magazine brand "likes," so there was a certain amount of irony and, dare I say, refreshment to hear the new message "not to be fooled by fake content," and that the magazine media is better because you can believe it. Yes, magazine print is one of the last trusted parts of the media pie.
Linda discussed how magazines build brands and at the same time magazines move products in a safe and transparent environment with demonstrable results and more rigor to prove it. She presented third party data suggesting that the return on advertising spend was $3.94 on every one dollar spent.
I liked the analogy that magazines are invited guests in consumers' homes and advertisers are the “plus one.” This was an admitted cheerleading discussion about magazines' place in the media mix, and I rather enjoyed it. Linda stated that this is a "magazine media moment in time" where brand safety in print can be assured. The elephant in the room will always be the yearly drop in advertising and loss of sales in both subs and newsstand, but at least this approach of brand safety and the fight against internet fraud of all kinds should resonate with all sides of the media triad: the publisher, the advertiser, and the consumer.
Linda was selling to the choir Thursday morning. I'd like to see a similar push to the consumers themselves. Trust is a commodity the magazine business still has hold of with the general public and should be used to motivate increased sales. Got print?
Examples of Personalized Print
The rest of the day were discussions about the rise of possible uses of digital printing such as short run personalized magazines, direct mail pieces, clever book inventory programs, and more. One of the best ideas presented was unique and apparently very effective. It was a marketing plan by a local insurance company. Since their client's data is already in the company's database, having already sold them one kind of insurance or another, the goal is to sell added, bundled insurance of multiple products. The concept is that, once bundled, it is harder for the homeowner or auto owner to change companies. So, the insurance company sends an informative, highly personalized, digitally printed magazine to their current clients driving them into the insurance office and bundle pitch. The ROI is apparently staggering. This was a great example having the data and using it wisely to print a personalized product on a digital press.
There were three afternoon tracks: catalogs, books and magazines. No surprise I was in the magazine track, and I was on a panel with the topic of: How can publishers take advantage of short-run personalized print? This may sound odd, but since I was on the panel I don't have notes of it. But I will tell you it was a serous conversation with a great group of professionals not only on the panel but in the audience as well. It was more round-table discussion than talking-head panel of prognosticators.
Digital Printing Reaches New Levels of Quality
Lastly, I must say this: I've been keeping my eye on the progress of digital presses for years, and they have come a very long way. The current technology sprays very fine droplets of toner meant to be absorbed by specialty, prepared papers. At least that is the way it was. I say "was" because now there is a standout performer in mix. All of the manufacturers have pretty damn good samples of the quality work now produced by this up and coming technology. One of the vendors, Canon, is taking a new and unconventional approach with its Océ PhotoStream Press. They add polymers to their “ink” and instead of being absorbed into the paper, the “ink” sits on top of the sheet. This gives outstanding gloss and near perfect reproductions. Not only that, this press runs with standard publication grade papers.
I was very impressed by the printed piece I saw. I have no idea about the price per piece compared to other vendors' approach, nor how much more this press is to buy compared to the others, but this is a game changer and a new quality benchmark in my opinion for digital presses moving forward. Here is why: it rivaled in quality of reproduction almost any offset printing I am aware of.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.