At Nexpo, A Look at Packaging’s Sunday Shift to Collating

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By: Jim Rosenberg

For attendees at Nexpo who don’t subscribe to a metro or large regional daily, the reason The Dallas Morning News is moving from inserting to collating its Sunday preprints was sitting right outside their hotel-room doors on the annual trade show and conference?s second morning.

Panelists for a session on inserting vs. collating all made the case for the latter. The session, after all, was devoted the Sunday product?s high volume of preprints, and its panelists were all from large papers.

The practice is more productive in handling freestanding inserts? zoning and versioning complexity using multiple hoppers ?if you?ve got enough pieces per package,? said Chicago Tribune Preprint Advertising Director John Wollney.

For big papers, the big issue was the growing number of pieces per package. Washington Post Production Vice President Jim Coley recalled inserting demand running ahead of technology.

Volume at the Post rose 115 million pieces from 1987 to 1988 and has just kept rising. Using old inserters, pre-inserting was the prescription, but it was complex and wasteful. Hopper technology then was not what it is today, and inserters? ?rudimentary miss detection was ?easily defeated by an operator,? said Coley.

What?s more, accountability to advertisers was a time-consuming manual process.

For Sundays, post-press at the Post meant making four passes through an old Harris machine. But that, in turn, meant constantly switching between Sunday work and daily operations. And a late daily meant working later on the Sunday package. By the end of a week there was little or no time left for maintenance.

Even as inserting improved, the Post recognized that Sunday and daily operations required their own processes. It would become among the first to collate Sunday preprints as their own part of the Sunday package.

Because collating was more accurate, could be performed in one pass and permitted inserts to be bagged for protection, said Coley, ?we?ve drastically improved our service to the circulation department.?

Coley clinched the case for collating by simply charting volume against time over the years: In 1993, lines representing climbing inserting volume and hours per million pieces intersected. Since then, the first approximately doubled, while the second fell to half the 1993 level.

At the same time, Coley noted, moving Sunday work to a collator improved the efficiency, accuracy, and quality of inserting.

The Post inserts about 1.1 million pieces per week, with ZIP-code targeting of 250 zones and growing. Roughly 90% of packages contain more than 15 FSIs; almost 40% contain 31 to 45 pieces. The work is done on a Prim Hall collator with loaders.

Still, collating cannot entirely cope with very large volumes divided into ever more and smaller zones. The Post?s pages-per-minute rate has declined, said Coley, adding that there is only so much room to add hoppers and only so much floor space that each operator can efficiently cover.

High speeds cause single sheets to fly up in the raceway, and product shifting can cause bag-sealing problems. Also, operators require higher skill levels, and managers are challenged by more-difficult scheduling and machine configuration as volumes rise

Nevertheless, bagged inserts that collect and protect (from loss, theft, damage) please readers and advertisers.

Of the all but 6% of readers in a Chicago Tribune study who gave a positive or neutral response to receiving preprinted ads in shrink-wrapped plastic, more than half said they were ?extremely? pleased, according to Wollney.

Coley reported that advertisers are more confident that ads arrive on doorsteps and will be found if all in one place within the several pounds of Post each Sunday.

Tribune preprint chief Wollney pointed out that collating also pleases retailers. Their floors, racks, and counters are not awash with loose inserts, and their customers don?t complain about such things as missing TV booklets.

About 12 years after the Post?s conversion, the Chicago Tribune made ?basically the same decisions for the same reasons,? remarked Wollney. The Trib collates at a 3-year-old facility devoted solely to the Sunday product.

Advertisers, he said, appreciate reader response to collating, its precision targeting and shorter deadlines, versatility (size, page count, shape — including protected product samples), return on investment, and verification.

The last matter becomes more important as the Audit Bureau of Circulations begins planning for a way to audit preprints at a July meeting.

Collators? data-driven performance measures (which inserters also now offer) can facilitate operations audits rather than forcing newspapers to rely on consumer surveys or, in the case of the Dallas Morning News, submitting notarized statements that the preprints did go out in the paper.

By drawing attention, inserts draw more inserts, and collating ?creates a marketplace in the bag,? said Wollney, likening the ad environment to a mall?s shopping environment — this in spite of advertisers? wish to ?break through the clutter.?

While collating does allow shorter deadlines, inserting?s multiple jackets can take late-arriving ads. So managers, said Wollney, must plan how they will accommodate a good advertiser when a problem such as late arrival of a truck causes late delivery to a newspaper. On an exception basis, he suggested, papers should have a solution at hand — perhaps field inserting after papers are shipped to distribution centers.

According to Coley, Sunday preprints that arrive late at the Post usually are inserted into a weekday edition that?s zoned in the same manner. ?We don?t go out of our way to build a new package for them,? he said.

Besides its greater productivity where pieces per package are fewer, inserting?s other advantage is the possibility of placing inserts adjacent to relevant editorial content.

Handling approximately three billion press sections and preprints in each of the last two years, the Dallas Morning News is just now moving toward collating, and for the same reasons, as well as the goals of reducing full-time, overtime, and contract-labor costs, said packaging Director Mary Khan.

In packaging, the Morning News relies on about equal numbers of temporary workers and employees. Khan said collating Sunday preprints should enable one person to cover 4-10 hoppers and shrink downtime associated with zone changes.

While daily inserting will remain in place, said Khan, ?we hope to break ground on the Sunday packaging plant this year? and take it into operation toward the end of next year. When that happens, the newspaper anticipates sending fewer pieces out to its distribution centers, she added.

Several vendors with experience in collating equipment made presentations to the News, but none has been selected.

Helping drive its decision are increasing downtime and late runs owing to inserting equipment (some of it old) that is reaching capacity and concurrent daily and Sunday inserting, use of up to three jackets for holiday season inserting, its many new editorial products (among them, Al Dia and the Denton Record Chronicle), and increasing product versioning.

Khan said collating is expected to aid in achieving one other goal: household-specific delivery. Though she does not expect to see it happen ?any time in the near future,? she was asked to investigate the possibility.

Achievement of that goal also was played down at another Nexpo session (E&P Online, March 22), and the Post?s Coley said that while advertisers say they want ZIP+4 delivery within the next few years, address-specific delivery is still essentially the province of the direct-mail business.

Though technically possible from a production standpoint (keep making a linear collator longer and longer and label each bag or shrink-wrapped package), Coley thought it not feasible. He maintained that such a program, within the two-hour delivery window, would prevent a newspaper from providing carriers with sufficient copies to allow them to earn enough money to make the job worth taking.

Later this spring, however, look for one large daily (not a major metro) that, while not planning to convert to collating, is aiming for address-specific delivery.

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