Printers re-invest profits

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Most large printers fared well financially last year, and that should be good news for the publishers that helped provide the revenue boost. The reason is simple: More money means more capital investment, which will ultimately be a boon for publishers.

In the first three quarters of 2004, Quebecor World's net income was $148 million compared with $78 million during the year-earlier period. In August, the company announced it was investing in the latest comail technology to reduce costs for short- and medium-run magazine publishers. That investment kicked off a three-year strategic plan to create more comailing possibilities for publishers.

Quebecor wasn't the only large printer to have a strong year. RR Donnelley had net income of $114.4 million in the first nine months of 2004, compared with $82.8 million during the same time in 2003. And Brown Printing Co. had its best year in the last five, enjoying double-digit growth.

Bill Gesele, director of marketing at Brown, attributed the increase to both new customers and an increase in page volume from existing customers, both signs that the magazine publishing industry is improving overall. Brown has invested more than $300 million over five years, with the addition of wide press technology, and will continue to invest in press and bindery upgrades, Gesele said. Closed-loop color and ribbon controls have been introduced on all of Brown's presses to provide faster makereadies and less paper waste.

Last year, Brown also implemented DaLiM software, which allows for online collaboration with publishers and digital work flow. As a result, this year will bring the challenge of integrating the company's three printing plants into one system so customers can have a consistent experience with the company.

Brown also plans to implement co-palletization this year and to conduct intensive studies about comailing. "This is the initial phase of our strategy to achieve greater distribution savings and to enhance our services," Gesele said.

Banta Publications Group, which focuses on printing special-interest publications, saw its revenue for the first nine months increase 5% to $742 million from the year-earlier period. Revenue in the third quarter alone was up 14%. Kimberly Williams, president of Banta, attributes the growth to investments in customer service and bringing in new customers. "Banta's capital investment strategy is designed to help magazine publishers attract new readers and advertisers while retaining the old," she said.

Banta has invested in digital technology to help it communicate with its customers as well as to aid the transfer of information between customers and advertisers. The company has also invested in color-management systems, such as closed-loop color and monitor calibration, and added printing capacity to accommodate its expanding customer base. Banta is helping to educate its customers and prospects through free seminars, Webinars, white papers and other tools. "These vehicles bring added value to our relationships by helping our customers bring products to market faster, easier and more profitably," Williams said.

Another printer, Fry Communications had one of its top five revenue years of all time "and certainly the best in the `post-dot-com' era," said Stephen J. Grande, assistant VP-sales. That success resulted in the installation of a new, 48-page, wide web press last year, in-line glue lines for cover and insert production, high-speed stitchers and a complete upgrade of the prepress operation. Grande said 2005 will bring an additional stitcher, two new press lines and a new perfect binding line for directories.

This year, Fry established a unit to deal with digital editions and has expanded its offerings in classified and display-ad management portals and ad tracking. M

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