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Paper – the choice does matter

“Paper’s paper” seems to sum up the prevailing view at some magazine publishers of one of the essential raw ingredients in print publishing, and this represents a major missed opportunity. Denmaur Independent Papers’ Julian Townsend and Peter Sommerville tell James Evelegh that there is a myriad of options that directly affect the look and feel of your publication.

By James Evelegh

“The last thing some publishers think about is the paper”, says Peter Sommerville, marketing director at Denmaur, the paper merchant. “It’s something they leave to the printers and never review”, agrees Julian Townsend, sales director. “It’s just left on default setting.”

It’s a bit mad really; it’s like telling the haute couture designer you’ve commissioned to create a fabulous evening gown, not to concern themselves too much over the choice of material!

Magazines are about so much more than words and pictures. If they weren’t, then the switch to digital would have been done and dusted years ago.

Reading a magazine is a physical experience. The look, the touch, the feel all contribute to the reading experience and convey a whole host of signals to the reader about the quality of the publication, the creativity of the editorial team and the seriousness of the publisher’s intent. Most of those signals are transmitted within seconds of picking it up; first impressions count!

Paper choices really do matter, and to illustrate this, Peter and Julian came up with a few examples to show how the intelligent use of paper has impacted on some of their clients’ businesses:

* Premium woman’s fashion monthly had a two page 300gsm uncoated board (200% thicker than the rest of the paper stock) inserted within the text paper: this became the header page for a six page photographic spread for a major fashion brand. The insert, distinctly different from the regular text paper provides a disruptive message for the reader through touch; it also makes the magazine naturally fall open at those pages and, at a stroke, turned this mid-magazine position into a premium advertising slot.

* Men’s lifestyle monthly uses three different paper stocks in every issue to fully optimise the reader experience. In the first third, an uncoated, very white, tactile paper is used for the main editorial pages. The second is made up of gloss coated paper to deliver stunning photography and uncoated cream paper is used for the business pages in the final third. “It’s a spectacular looking publication, with superb signposting between the different sections”, says Julian.

* B2B monthly reinforced its re-positioning from news-led to article-led, by using the opportunity to move away from a web-fed tabloid to B4 size, using B1 sheet fed presses, thereby greatly reducing paper wastage and delivering higher quality.

* B2B fortnightly had printed on 115gsm throughout, seemingly forever. When the title was sold last year, the new owners asked ‘why?’. The title now prints 170gsm covers with 90gsm high bulk coated paper inside. The result is a better looking product at much lower cost.

* Consumer monthly reacted to the recession by reducing the weight of its paper stock and dropped to a hybrid super calendered uncoated paper from the regular lightweight coated paper. This was a cost-based decision, pure and simple. However, when the economy stabilised, they sought advice on how to increase the perceived quality of the paper, to consolidate its number one position on the shelves, but without greatly increasing cost. Denmaur recommended keeping the same grammage, but switching to a newly developed lightweight coated paper with superior rigidity!

Making these kinds of choices, says Peter, requires commercial imagination, market knowledge and experience, yet the recession and the move towards digital means that paper savvy production experience is increasingly hard to find at many publishing companies as experienced staff have been laid off and resources reallocated to digital and events.

The irony is that at a time when publishers are having to be more and more creative with their print titles to compete effectively with digital media for consumers’ time, they find that they no longer have the in-house production capability to deliver that creativity.

A further irony is that as the overall paper market has contracted, the range of paper products and niche options has increased greatly, further exacerbating the effect of the knowledge gap. In the 90s, says Peter, almost every magazine seemed to be on 80 or 90gsm gloss – not anymore!

Publishers need to be proactive and imaginative in their paper choices, says Julian, and they have to get their expertise from somewhere. If they no longer have it in-house, then they must look to their printer, paper manufacturer or paper merchant.

How then, I ask them, should a mid-size publisher with ten or so titles but little or no dedicated in-house production resource, approach the whole issue of paper? They have six tips:

1. Remember you have a choice

Don’t necessarily accept the paper choice suggested by your printer. It might be the best option, but you need to question it. Making the right paper choices means talking to the right people, says Peter. Printers’ primary role is to print and, understandably, they will source paper from preferred suppliers and promote use of their house papers. As for manufacturers, obviously, they are only going to talk to you about their own products. The advantage independent paper merchants like Denmaur have is that they source from multiple manufacturers and paper supply is their only business. They know all the options!

2. Do a health check

According to Julian, the first thing Denmaur does with any new client or prospect is a paper health check. They find out what print processes (gravure, web offset, sheet fed, digital) are used; what paper they currently use and why; what paper their competitors use; what aspirations they have for each title etc etc. In light of this, do their current paper choices dovetail with where they want their titles positioned?

3. It’s not just about price

Price is important, but value is more important, as is the message that your choice of paper conveys to your readers and how the paper enhances the reading experience. I ask them how many different paper options there are. Limitless! The variables (grade, colour, brightness, grammage, finishing, thickness, stiffness, colour, opacity, source) can be sliced and diced into an almost infinite number of permutations. If that all sounds a bit arcane, then remember, says Peter, that Denmaur’s job is to know the options and to translate them into easily understood, cost-effective solutions for publishers.

4. Review periodically

Denmaur tries to see its clients face-to-face quarterly or six monthly to look at options. Every title should review its main paper stock regularly in the context of current objectives, market trends and new paper products.

Special issues, supplements and the push from advertisers for ever greater innovation mean that you should in any event keep a regular dialogue going with your paper supplier.

“I hadn’t thought of that”, is a common publisher response to many suggestions about paper, says Peter, “so let’s keep talking”.

5. Test it

A concept popular in online publishing! Changing the paper stock of a magazine is a big deal and should not be undertaken lightly. Denmaur has a dedicated team of three, whose sole job it is to prepare samples and mocked-up dummies of proposed new paper combinations. This service is something Denmaur is particularly proud of. In addition to the dummies, limited 16 page test runs with your printer are also worth considering for major changes, and Denmaur will hand-hold their clients through this process.

6. Adopt a title-first approach

The bigger a publishing company becomes, the greater the risk of decisions being taken that are far removed from the needs of each title within the portfolio. No two titles are the same, yet there is a danger of corporate, group-wide decisions being made about paper stock without the specific requirements of each individual title being taken into account. Denmaur’s paper management service helps publishers focus on title-led paper strategies.

The paper market

There is no getting away from the fact that the demand for paper from the publishing industry as a whole (newspapers and magazines) has reduced dramatically over the last decade – with graphic paper down 30% over the period, and running at minus 4.5% year-on-year. Newsprint in general, and a number of magazine sectors in particular, have been decimated. Yet some of the remaining European mills are reporting that they are now operating at close to full capacity, which makes modest price rises a real possibility in 2016. But, says Peter, with paper knowledge, there are always options!

Some of our clients, says Julian, have put out their biggest ever issues over the past twelve months. Print launches, if not on the mega scale of the early noughties, continue apace, and just go to any well stocked newsstand to witness the hugely exciting amount of print innovation going on. There is still a big demand for printed magazines!

Peter and Julian are passionate about paper and print. They talk, almost evangelically, about the “whole glorious experience of taking a publication into one’s hands, absorbing the content and turning the pages…, without the need to swipe one’s finger or rub one’s eyes from the glare of a screen, before pressing delete…”!

While the big paper manufacturers have suffered big falls in revenue and there has been contraction and consolidation in the supply chain, Denmaur reports that it has actually expanded its business over the past four years. The company is a long term supporter of the PPA and is firmly committed to the magazine publishing sector.

Your paper department

Denmaur has been trading since the early eighties and now employs just shy of one hundred people at six different sites. Over the past decade, the company has positioned itself as an extension of the publisher’s production team – an external paper department, providing a fully managed service built on trusted long term relationships. “We know and love publishing and print”, says Peter; “our success is based on providing insight, advice and a high quality of service which helps publishers minimise costs and maximise performance. We’re not in it for short term gains. Our solutions must work, first and foremost, for our publishing clients.”

What advice would Julian give publishers? “If you are proactively managing the paper choices for each of your titles, and have reliable sources of information about the paper market, stick with it! You’re doing it right. But, if paper is a bit of a blind spot for you, and you feel that you lack the information needed to make good choices, then give us a call. Personal service is a cornerstone of our business and Peter, I or one of the team would be delighted to pop in for a chat at your convenience. We look forward to hearing from you.”

Denmaur Independent Papers

Bourncrete House, Bonham Drive, Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10 3RY

Julian Townsend, sales director

Peter Sommerville, marketing director /

Julian: 07770 721171 Peter: 07770 721170