Insert Your Preprint Needs Here

By Travis Loop

A LOVE-HATE relationship – that’s how many newspaper companies view inserts.

With run-of-press ad dollars relatively level during the past five years, revenue growth at many dailies has been dependent on preprints, said Ken Harding, former vice president of operations and distribution at the Chicago Tribune, at the NEXPO® Chicago session “FSI Preprints: Delivering on Accuracy.”Harding now is business unit president of the Newspaper/Print Media group at The Facility Group, a newspaper plant design firm in Smyrna, Ga.

Michael Morgan
Michael Moran, senior vice president of field auditing for the Audit Bureau of Circulations, discusses his organization's new Insert Verification Service for preprint auditing.

While executives undoubtedly love that revenue stream, it became clear in the Windy City that management is frustrated by advertisers’ ever-increasing demands for finer preprint zoning, the need to verify accuracy of insert delivery, and the choices and capital involved in post-press equipment to put inserts inside the paper.

Not dealing with the issue is not an option, however.

“Preprint zoning has become a tidal wave – no newspaper is going to be able to escape it,” said Scot Sherick, newspaper/print media director at The Facility Group.

Before NEXPO, Sherick surveyed a cross section of newspapers, advertisers and vendors about preprint zoning, and gained some interesting perspectives. For example, when advertisers were asked if they would switch from direct mail to newspapers if the papers could meet their zoning requirements, 80 percent responded no.

But if papers can approach advertisers before they begin direct mail, eight in 10 said they were more likely to place preprints in a newspaper that offered more zoning options. If papers fail to meet the zoning objectives of current preprint advertisers, however, about 90 percent said they would move their business to other providers.

A point of concern: Sherick’s survey showed zero advertisers thought papers were doing an “excellent job” meeting expectations for zoned insert or order-fulfillment accuracy.

Enter the need for preprint verification.

After he changes his month-old twin boys’ diapers, David Walker’s 2-year-old daughter checks his work by picking up her brothers for a sniff.

“This is the same attitude of preprint advertisers – trust but verify,” said Walker, president of Strategic Print Marketing, a division of Newspaper Services of America in Downer’s Grove, Ill.

Some advertisers are employing homegrown tracking reports – including reports from family and friends – single-copy spot checks, and customer surveys at store entrances. Direct-mail giant ADVO in Windsor, Conn., upped the ante further when it developed an “affidavit-quality” tracking system for advertisers, Walker said.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations in Schaumburg, Ill., met the needs of the newspaper industry with the January launch of the Insert Verification Service, or IVS. About 30 newspapers have already used the innovative audit program. ABC acquires insert packages, compares them to the run schedule and calculates error, said Michael Moran, ABC senior vice president of field auditing.

Auditors pull a sample selection of 300 to 400 insert packages from the point of delivery for carriers or single-copy sales. Each package is manually reviewed to identify errors such as missing inserts, inclusion in the wrong route and incorrect versions of an insert. Newspapers then receive a detailed quantitative report with data for total insert proficiency, overall error rate, and error rate by distribution method and type of insert.

Moran said newspapers have so far shown error rates between 1 percent and 6 percent, which NEXPO panelists called “very encouraging.”

The IVS report, which costs between $15,000 to $20,000, has a shelf life of two years and the results are made available to all ABC members.

Before there is auditing, however, equipment is needed to actually place inserts into newspapers. At NEXPO, several companies offered solutions to papers’ inserting and collating needs.

Quipp Systems Inc. in Miami showcased the Inline-C, which is able to either insert or collate with the flick of a switch. The Inline-C features 18 hoppers and runs at about 7,500 copies per hour in collating mode. When switched to inserter, it handles an estimated 12,000 copies per hour. Quipp also offers the SLS-1000, with its 20,000-copies-per-hour rate, for newspapers seeking a high-volume inserting machine.

GMA in Allentown, Pa., takes a unique approach to post-press with automated multipress inserting. In the system, newspapers move from the press onto FlexiRoll winding stations that compactly wrap the copies for temporary storage. When it is time to insert, papers are automatically fed into an SLS3000, which handles 32,000 copies per hour.

But for newspapers handling massive insert packages that need to be polybagged, collating is the only option. Enter the FSI Collator from PrimHall in Plattsburg, N.Y. While speed varies with insert package size, the machine can handle up to 18,000 copies per hour, but moves at 7,500 copies an hour for a typical 30-piece weekend package.

At this year’s NEXPO, there was no shortage of solutions for preprints, the ad vehicle newspapers love to hate.

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