By: D. Eadward Tree
A financial analyst who specializes in the printing industry recently speculated that “the potential to produce personalized magazines at scale is not too far in the future.”
He was a bit off: That potential already exists – and is irrelevant to most magazine publishers.
Here’s the question we should be asking: Is digital printing -- the technology that is already creating magazines that are personalized from front cover to back cover -- relevant to our business?
The answer is yes.
Let me explain: Most of us don’t need a “solution” that quadruples (or worse) our production costs, kicks us out of co-mail, makes inserts difficult if not impossible, and may require additional investments in writing, editing, photography, and design.
But digital printing – which has no fixed costs and can use data to give each reader a different version of the same page – is creating many real opportunities for magazine publishers. After all, it has revolutionized book publishing, created whole new types of direct mail, and enabled catalogs and retailers to deliver more precisely targeted promotions. Here’s a peak at what it can do right now for magazine publishers:
1. Inkjet Messaging
Most U.S. magazine copies are already personalized with a form of digital printing – the inkjetting of each recipient’s name and mailing address. It can cost next to nothing to add additional inkjet messaging to the cover, a technique often used by catalogs but rarely by publishers.
Imagine the possible messages:
- Subscriber: “Marie, we’d hate to lose you. Please renew your subscription today!”
- Acme Rocket executive (who’s a potential advertiser): “Acme Rocket made our Top 100! See page 84.”
- Calling out a particular ad inside the book that is likely to interest the subscriber, based on her online behavior and newsletter subscriptions.
2. Programmatic Direct Mail
Programmatic direct mail is a lucrative, rapidly growing approach to marketing that cries out for the kind of content we magazine publishers create. Yet, as far as I can tell, the magazine-media industry is not even thinking about this opportunity.
The tactic involves identifying web site visitors who are prospective buyers based on such actions as their clicks, searches, and cart abandonment. Then, using databases that link online identities to physical mailing addresses, a customized mail piece – usually a postcard or mini-catalog – is digitally printed and mailed First Class to the prospect.
We publishers should have a leg up in this field: Not only do we have web visitors, we have relevant, high-quality content. Consider: If you’re thinking about buying a particular model of car, would you respond better to a simple sales-pitch postcard or to a mini-magazine that includes a Car and Driver review of the model? Many marketers who employ programmatic direct mail should be eager to license the use of our branded, trustworthy content.
3. Customized Cover Wraps
Sponsored cover wraps are a proven method of using popular magazines to reach highly targeted audiences – such as copies mailed to ENTs’ waiting rooms with a promotion for a hearing-aid brand. Now imagine if each cover wrap were customized with a listing of nearby dealers, perhaps with directions or a map from the ENT’s office to the nearest dealer.
This isn’t just hypothetical. Audience Innovation, one of several companies that offers marketing campaigns that use sponsored cover wraps on popular magazines, reports that it sometimes employs digital printing to customize the wraps. An insurance company’s campaign of cover wraps affixed to copies of Good Housekeeeping, for example, includes information about and a photo of the agent who is located closest to each recipient’s home. Doing that for a national campaign with traditional offset printing would be inordinately cumbersome and expensive.
4. Distributed Print
Using an international network of digital presses aboard cruise ships and luxury hotels, the PressReader service for years has sold same-day copies of daily newspapers and current issues of magazines in places that would be nearly impossible for the publishers to reach on their own. As the cost of full-color digital printing continues to drop, publishers may be able to build up their foreign circulation by printing in-country rather than using slow and expensive overseas freight.
In the past few years, book publishers have cut down on the number of “just in case” copies they print, knowing that if they run out they can switch to digitally printed just-in-time copies. Although unit cost is more expensive than traditional offset-printed books, publishers can save money by printing fewer wasted copies and using less storage space. And they can make money on titles that would otherwise have gone out of print.
How many just-in-case copies does your magazine print? And how many times do you pass up opportunities – to capitalize on an issue that becomes a collectors’ item or to bolster the circulation of an issue with poor newsstand sales – because you don’t have enough copies?
With print-on-demand, bookazines and back issues could be sold on your web site with no upfront printing costs, inventory, or risk. You could offer commemorative books featuring compilations of your best articles on a particular topic, celebrity, athlete, or car. With a bit of programming, you could even let the buyer choose the cover photo or add a personal message to turn the book into a one-of-a-kind gift or keepsake.