Seven years ago magazine printer Stephens & George diversified into events organisation, or at least the Welsh magazine printer decided to put on a day-long conference, SGA Live.
That initial event has become a regular fixture on the magazine industry’s calendar offering a day-long flow of ideas and inspiration to the company’s customers and prospects. It works. One publisher told S&G managing director Andrew Jones that this event was more relevant than that organised by the PPA.
There is no attempt to sell the printers’ capabilities to the audience, though one session did reveal that the company has started work on an extension to its pressroom. It has become somewhat cramped as it has come to standardise on long-perfecting Heidelberg Speedmaster XL106s with Cutstars.
The extra space will accommodate a new press before the end of the year as a replacement for one of the existing machines rather than substantial additional capacity. At least that is the idea.
Before then Stephens & George will become one of the first dedicated magazine printers to operate paper wrapping on one of its Sitma mailing lines. In a session billed as a conversation between paper industry consultant Matthew Valentine and S&G’s technical manager Mike Donovan, details of the development emerged.
“Other companies have also been looking at conversion of their wrapping lines to move away from polywrap and the pressure to do so increased following television programmes last year,” said Valentine.
It is a quite complicated change, not least because the reel of paper wrap must be cut and, instead of running across the line, has to change direction instantly to complete the package around the magazine. And that reel is more akin to the paper reels handled by the CutStars rather than the very much smaller reels of the plastic material. Depending on the weight of the paper, it could deliver enough paper to package up to 60,000 magazines.
Before making the decision, he and a team from the printer spent a day with Sitma running tests and checks on different papers and different formats of magazine. “After that we decided to invest,” said Donovan.
The big gain comes with a much improved environmental story. But it will be a more expensive material and method of wrapping. It might also have an impact on postage costs as the paper will weigh more than the ultra thin plastic film.
It will be easier though to make the paper envelope more suitable for discounts under the Royal Mail’s MailMark discount scheme because the qualifying barcode, allowing the package to be tracked to the door, is easier to print and read on the paper wrapper than on the polywrap version.
The paper used will tend to be recycled or an FSC stock. Tests showed that it is possible to use 45gsm though a 70gsm silk or matt finished substrate is more likely to be chosen. Ultimately this may be preprinted with an ad or promotional message before being delivered to Merthyr Tyfyll though until the company is comfortable with the plain paper version, it will not be handling preprinted reels. With an average print run around 6,000 copies, preprint could easily create a logistics nightmare. The reels used can be 1,250mm in diameter, enough for continuous running for six hours, five times longer than a reel of poly.
“The cost of using paper is more expensive that existing polywrap, though not as expensive as some of the alternative film wraps,” says Valentine. “The paper wrap could add 8-10g to the package weight.”
The technology is capable of wrapping a magazine to 25mm thick and 400mm long, far greater than a standard A4 product. Instead of heat sealing the paper needs to be glued. This uses the same PUR adhesive as the company uses for perfect binding.
During the tests a wide range of paper types and grammages was run including krafts. The fear was that waste might exceed a 3% level that was expected. “In fact we didn’t get any waste at all,” he added.
Consequently Stephens & George will begin the conversion this month with the aim of having it running before the end of May.
The economic argument is likely to be changed by the introduction of taxes on the use of plastics in packaging, though rising paper prices adds another layer of complexity. Valentine explained that paper costs are dependent on the costs and availability of pulp which can also be used to produce hygiene products, packaging and even fabrics.
Forest fibre companies will choose the more lucrative markets unlikely to be paper as paper consumption of three popular grades in the UK has fallen around 31-42% in the last decade. “And at the same time primary costs have risen dramatically,” he adds.
While pulp is a world market, there is no new significant capacity coming before 2021. There might be a shortage in some papers before the end of the year with further price increases on the cards.
If that aspect was not what the audience from magazine publishers wanted to hear, the first presentation of the day was very much more encouraging. Consultant Chris O’Grady had looked at the advertising background to the magazine industry in a presentation titled The Revenge of the Analogue. In short, digital has not and will not destroy magazines, even if circulations globally have declined.
He quoted the editor of Empire magazine, saying “people love magazines, the touch, feel and even the smell of them”. This engagement with the printed product delivers an endorsement to the advertising that the magazine’s website continues, a kind of halo effect of trust, that gives the advertising greater value than that placed on Facebook or other social media channels where the ad can be placed alongside “some not so nice stuff”.
He has pointed to the research which had been much quoted at the Power of Print seminar at the end of last year which, calling up the findings of numerous pieces of research, to show that advertising in magazines is more influential and has greater impact than ad agencies and brand managers believe.
The academic studies make magazines the third most influential channel, while the attitudinal research among ad buyers puts magazines in ninth position, behind digital media, outdoor and television.
The strength derives from the magazine and how it is enjoyed. “It gives the ability to target the right people at the right time,” he said.
And as he had started off talking about the importance of looking up instead of being hunched over a mobile phone looking down. This is the action of the battery hen, kept inside and fed a drip feed diet that keeps them locked to the screen. In contrast the magazine is different. “The free range form of attention is the magazine,” he said.
Invigorated that there was enough life in magazines to keep them employed (and Stephens & George in orders), sports psychologist Mark Francis delivered a short training session to uplift the most jaded ad sales rep.
Even though it was a far shorter session than most of the training he delivers, there was an impact, particularly when Stephens & George sales director Nick Pressling reminded his sales team about the messages of understanding the clients’ issues and coming back with an upselling solution to this problem.
Two technology products were presented: the MagManager flatplanning application for putting a magazine together, integrating with accounts packages and shortly to be linked to InDesign to automatically populate templated pages with a PDF ad.
The other was Ownable, a start up which links a magazine page to a website for a reader to make a purchase. It solves the problem, says founder Craig Smith, of a reader having to put down a magazine, to search for a website and find the product, a process averaging 12 minutes.
Ownable applies a thumbnail graphic to a magazine page to bring the digital version of the page up on a phone and with products shown linked to a product page where a purchase can be made.
The app has been tested with two interior design magazines with an uplift in sales and providing the publisher with more than 100,000 data points about reader behaviour that he did not have before.
The business model is that Ownable will take a referral fee, shared with the publisher, for each product sold through the app. It is possible to link to video or other types of content as well as to a merchant page, Smith explained.
A pair of customers delivered their experiences, one a small magazine publisher, the other the organiser of the internationally renowned Hay Festival. One amounts to 50,000 copies across five editions each month, the other a programme for 250,000 attendees once a year.
The first was Stuart Oliphant, a self confessed control freak who had ended up running MKFlyer, a free delivery monthly magazine for Milton Keynes. Attempts to set up a sister title in Aylesbury had failed because of the difference in culture between a young forward looking and growing city and a traditional market town suspicious of change.
But the publication has been rebranded as YourLocalFlyer with the aim of spreading the concept wider.
The Hay Festival concept has already spread worldwide, earning its founder Peter Florence an MBE along the way. He brought the day to an end with a captivating presentation full of stories about the people who write books. That love for the printed word pulls in thousands to the town tucked in the hills with Wales on one side, England on the other.
It was a return to the presentation that started the day. Readers, of both magazines and books, love the products, the touch, feel, smell and feel a sense of ownership over them.
By Gareth Ward