Co-mailing is a process in which a number of different magazines bound for like ZIP codes are grouped and shipped together in order to save on postage. Publishers essentially are asked to help each other so that they all may cut costs.
"Basically, printers become the coordinators of this," said Bert Langford, a publishing consultant for Netburn McGill. "They really are the driving forces behind bringing people together and getting this done."
Nick Cavnar, VP-circulation and database development at Hanley Wood, said co-mailing savings could be huge for small and midsize publishers. He cited as an example a title with a run of 75,000 that is 55% advertising. Enter these magazines into the mailstream without co-mailing and it would cost $31,800 in postage; co-mailing cuts the postage to $25,600, a 20% savings.
Several printers already offer, or are preparing to offer, co-mailing capabilities for smaller b-to-b publishers.
Quebecor World has been running its Express Coalition Mailing System, built for short-run b-to-b publishers, since March. It has more than 220 clients, which have saved a combined $1.6 million so far, according to Joel Weber, VP-sales at Quebecor World Mail List Technologies.
Quebecor's new facility is located in Bolingbrook, Ill., a suburb southwest of Chicago. The area has become a popular location for printers' mailing facilities because of its access to major airports. Also, having a 24-hour post office nearby means mailings don't need to be staged and kept waiting for morning; they can be sent off at any time.
Weber said one characteristic marks b-to-b publishers: unpredictable schedules. So Quebecor designed a system with plenty of flexibility, with several delivery "pools" running throughout the week. Under the program, publishers must have their mail files at the shipping facility three days in advance; their magazine files can arrive the day before. Quebecor charges a set percentage for each title based on the savings gained through co-mailing.
Banta plans to use a percentage cost structure for the co-mailing program it will launch in March when it opens a facility in the Bolingbrook area. Banta is currently configuring the system, which will feature numerous pools and allow publishers to run counts as low as 5,000.
"Basically, our business is made up of small-to-medium-size business. So if we can't find a solution and include those 5,000-copy runs, we would be screwed," said Jonathan Williams, group project leader.
Williams noted that some printers don't have to worry about run lengths, but Banta does. "Maybe the big guys don't need shorter runs," he said, "but we do."
R.R. Donnelley, which started co-mailing in July from a new plant in Bolingbrook, requires publishers to print at least 30,000 copies to be included in a pool. The company, which has offered co-mailing since 1996, prices its service by splitting the difference in postage between co-mailing or not co-mailing.
David Straus, postal counsel for American Business Media, noted that while co-mailing is an advantage for small publishers it has its limitations. "Co-mail is a great thing, but it can never be flexible enough," Straus said. "People are always late. People don't want other people telling them where to put their labels."