Co-manufacturing takes shape

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Production executives are in a constant search for ways to save money. In recent years, the sharing of different parts of the production and distribution chain with other publishers and other titles has helped ease the financial burden. First, there was co-palletization and co-mailing. Then there was co-binding, and now co-manufacturing has entered the publishing world's lexicon.

The term has been bandied about for nearly a year by printing and magazine manufacturing executives, and the concept can take a variety of forms. One saved Reed Business Information $15,000 in three months during a test the company ran on 24 of its titles.

Reed moved some of its monthlies to Fry Communications where it already had several of its titles printed. The idea was to build a large enough mass to make creating an internal mailing pool of just Reed publications cost-effective.

Reed standardized the paper and trim size for all 24 titles. Then, to be as efficient as possible, it loaded all the titles into a single print line to run basically one right on top of another.

"We wanted to take a look at what would happen if we printed our monthlies there at the same time and created co-print pools essentially," said Paula Gordon, Reed's director of manufacturing. The company's test ran from September to the end of December.

Each week, Reed created different test pools. Tuesdays and Thursdays are big print days for its monthlies, so production executives would constantly be looking at how many titles it could close on those days in order to be part of that week's mailing group.

Gordon said Reed locked out publications that failed to close on schedule. "We would just automatically knock some out that didn't adhere to the schedule," she said. "We're keeping close track of what we're actually saving with the books we pool and what we could have saved if those other titles had closed on time."

Noting Reed's savings in the first three months of the test, Gordon said, "In 2008, more magazines will be included, and we're thinking of co-binding some of those titles and then co-mailing. So we're taking it to the next `co-level.' "

Gordon added that it would have been easier to start with weeklies, but the titles were too spread out in terms of geography.

"As postage goes up and paper goes up, more and more money-saving partnerships will occur between publishers and printers," she said. "Big, little—it doesn't matter; we all want to save money."

Alan D. Snyder, prepress operations manager at Fry, said most experiments like this come directly out of specific money-saving conversations with clients and trying to find ways to maximize their spending with the printer. "Publishers used to have a lot of say in what they printed on, and that power is tightening up, I'm sure," he said. "They can't be liberal about their sizes, and texture and that sort of thing [anymore]."

Among the services that Fry offers is selective co-binding, in which titles run simultaneously on the press and the printer selectively binds different titles in different ways. This saves a publisher money in make-ready costs.

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