Media Vent: In A Bind
There is a report that Elle and Cosmo will include actual vials of perfume with their November issues. That story brings back some very fond and challenging magazine production memories. Some of those memories are from real-time personal experience while others are old-time production folklore. Knowing the trade as I do, I believe most of those stories actually happened.
Here I am talking about the magazine insert business. Magazines have inserted damn near everything and anything you can think of. There was a time when I was considered a bindery expert by many in the field. I used to boast that if called upon by a crazy advertiser, I could bind a hammer into my issues of PC magazine. I accumulated this specialty knowledge early in my career and it developed into a science by being at the right place at the right time.
When I was at Ziff-Davis we had a flock of thick successful computer magazines when computers were new to the public and before what we call the dot-com boom/bust. Computer Shopper magazines was not unlike a telephone directory, a ridiculous thick and over-sized monthly magazine. PC magazine was so successful that there was an assortment of inserts between every signature possible. Do the math, if the magazine was usually over 300 pages that is a lot of inserts. I put together what I called the "gimmick" book, which was a loose-leaf binder with hundreds of inserts that I would visit perspective advertisers with and show them what was possible. It had every gatefold imaginable, inserts with sound chips, floppy diskettes, pop-ups, unique envelope configurations, bind-able mini-magazines, stickers, lenticular applications, and dozens of other fun and difficult to successfully bind items.
One of my favorite stories was when I was at a director at McCall's. At the time we produced 6.5 million copies a month. One of the other seven sisters got a request to insert bind-in shampoo samples. They tested and ran the samples through the binder multiple times until they were assured that it could be bound without slowing the manufacturing process. It passed every test. They went into full production and it was then that they realized they didn't actually test everything. When the magazines were put on skids for shipping the shampoo samples were popping open everywhere from the combined weight of the magazines on the pallet. They didn't do a full pallet test and I am told that many thousands of magazines were totally ruined and that shampoo was everywhere in the plant.
Another story that rings true to me was when another magazine was contracted by Pacific Gas and Electric. The company wanted to alert their customers to what a gas leak would smell like. Again the product was tested, and after considerable review at the plant, was approved for the shipping process. That would be no problem until the copies got to the local post office and the building was evacuated because of a suspected gas leak on the premises.
There are probably thousands of stories like these out there and if you know any I encourage you to send them to me. They would make a great read for the rookies on this list and perhaps prevent some similar occurrences from happening again.