Digital as the Future of Mass Print One-to-One Print

Earlier, John Mehl touted the future of print as just another arrow in the quiver of today’s ad executive. I could not agree more, but digital printing is not being used to its fullest potential to enhance one-to-one marketing. There are a few advertisers and marketers leveraging the advantages that digital printing has to offer, but by and large no one has really pushed the boundaries.

Let’s take an academic magazine first. Rochester Institute of Technology’s student publication, Reporter magazine, used digital printing to enhance its circulation by creating 10,000 unique issues. Each issue had over 20 separate images compiled from more than1,000 student portraits, making each of the 10,000 issues unique. The issue was designed around two 16-page static signatures and printed on the Goss Sunday 2000 web press (housed on campus at the RIT Printing Applications Laboratory and used for laboratory print testing and research) with two digital 4-page signatures, one inserted as the cover and the other as the center signature. A combination of traditional web offset printing and digital printing from the Xerox iGen made this possible. The architecture that was designed to orchestrate the project was the biggest hurdle, but a combination of traditional variable data–printing software and a good database made the system a success. The issue had one of the highest circulations in the title’s history.

In October 2008, Esquire published a cover for its 75th anniversary issue using integrated electronic ink that incorporated flashing text and images in monochromatic form. Yes, this was a cool use of “digital” and static print, but for the subscribers who received the issue in the mail, it could have been so much more. Hearst Magazines already knows a lot about the subscriber: his age, address, maybe even income. That data could have been used to deliver more specific and targeted messages to each subscriber via a cover wrap with a die-cut section matching the e-ink portion of the static issue cover. Esquire could have taken it to another level and made four variations, each targeted to a specific subscriber demographic and with a corresponding personalized cover wrap.

Now, one must acknowledge that an academic setting can be more accepting of the risks of a project like the special issue of Reporter, but beyond the novelty, the project proved that personalizing a traditionally static product can increase circulation and sell more ads. Could a model be developed to execute this task on a weekly or monthly basis? Sure, given the right system and database behind it. With the proliferation of access to the Internet, the right hook could be cast to catch the right audience and make the model profitable.

Author: John Carew

Note: The author served as the production manager and project lead for Reporter magazine’s “Me” issue.

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