Q&A 

Print trends: 5 minutes with… Chris Wills

Publishers are constantly reviewing processes, costs and options… and so are their print partners. We grab five minutes with Chris Wills, sales manager at The Manson Group, to get a printer’s view on the challenges and opportunities ahead.

By Chris Wills

Print trends: 5 minutes with… Chris Wills
Photograph: Pete Linforth on Pixabay.

Q: What trends are you noticing in publishers’ print requirements?

A: We’re observing a divergence and increasing contrast between ‘premium’ products where paper grade and paginations are rising and more traditional B2B publications where margins are under increased pressure. With these, we’re seeing a renewed emphasis on lighter weights in paper stocks with higher bulk coupled with distinctive formats which optimise paper yield whilst adding impact with the reader. There’s no doubt that, in many cases, runs and frequencies are reducing. Print is being treated increasingly as a luxury but for many brand owners, it’s also essential to their continued existence. What we’ve seen on premium products is a ‘quality over quantity’ approach where higher paginations allow more space for longform writing and lavish images. We’re also seeing more special finishes on covers – these accentuate the tangible and tactile nature of print as a medium. Print is becoming more expensive but it’s still a great value, incredibly powerful channel when coupled with the right data and content.

Q: Increased paper costs have been a major factor over the last year or so. What is the outlook?

A: This will continue. Paper is an energy-intensive product which many claim has been under-priced for too long. The over-supply pre-covid looks unlikely to return as so much capacity has been shut down or converted to packaging board over the last two years. We are seeing improved availability now, but the price increases look set to continue in line with energy costs. Of course, it can’t go on forever. I’d expect it to level off at some point in the next twelve months, but I think further smaller increases are almost inevitable this year.

Q: What are printers like The Manson Group doing to reduce the environmental impact of their operations?

A: Printers are fighting harder each year on the environmental front because there’s still room for progress but there’s also a lot of anti-print greenwash to counter. Keeping the customer facing team up to date with product news and environmental awareness is more important than ever. We’re more evangelistic now about the choices available from us and our partners including Forestry Certification, biodegradable laminates, paper based packaging etc, but there are always new opportunities in the background with more energy efficient machinery and technology which help us to reduce waste.

There’s been good progress with adding electric vehicles to the fleet too. Many printers run the ISO14000 environmental standard which means they’ll look at every aspect of their activities in relation to environmental objectives. We’ve rolled out the GCI (Green Commute Initiative) heavily with staff which has enabled many, including me, to rediscover cycling. I just need a new helmet before I make that journey into work!

Q: In what areas can printers and publishers work better together?

A: Plan ahead over a coffee or green tea in my case! It’s never been more important from an efficiency and cost perspective. Take a little bit of time to meet up and discuss plans too because it’s often during these face to face updates where ideas happen and take flight. There are lots of options in terms of sizes, grades and finishes and by listening to each other, there’s a good chance you’ll discover things you hadn’t previously thought of.

Q: For publishers looking to reduce their costs, are there any quick wins you can suggest?

A: Look at your logistics and paper. Postage reviews in particular have yielded significant savings with many of our clients recently. Distribution is generally now a higher proportion of overhead than printing itself. Many clients are not using the optimum tariff for their publication. When it comes to paper, have you sampled alternatives? What saving would a reduction by 10gsm save on paper? Could you mix papers across sections? Could you reduce the run?

Q: How do you see the independent publishing sector evolving over the next few years?

A: We’ve noticed a number of new titles which started life as social media accounts and have evolved through websites and blogs to a print title. I see this trend growing; the brand owners have a passion for the permanence and impact that print can offer in comparison to other channels. I think there’s plenty of room for more of this and I believe this is what continues to make print the premium product it is compared to digital.

Q: What’s in the pipeline at The Manson Group?

A: Now that volumes are back to a ‘new normal’, we’re declaring a ‘War on Waste’ which will be part of a further range of environmental measures. We made a lot of changes during covid with equipment. We believe in bringing on board the next generation of young talent into the print industry across all parts of the business. This year it’s all about the processes and people who contribute to our success.

About us

The Manson Group produces publications for some of the UK’s smallest, and largest publishers. Established by our current owners in 1969, and based in Hertfordshire, we are setting our sights on the future by investing in a number of green initiatives, placing sustainability at the heart of our future development.

Email: cwills@mansongroup.co.uk

Web: www.mansongroup.co.uk

Twitter: @mansongroup

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/the-manson-group