Production: Is It Time to Resell Innovative Preprint Ideas to Advertisers?


Preprints have dropped off in many areas across the country. Developing strong relationships with customers and presenting programs that clearly show the value of print can create revenue growth while also expanding readership.

I remember not so many years ago mailrooms stuffed to the brim with pallets of preprints. During many holiday seasons we went so far as to bring in rented trailers for storage and packed every corner of the building with boxes and skids. Not only were national advertisers excited to have a mechanism to get their message out, but local ROP advertisers also saw the value of preprint advertising.

We often brought in armies of temp labor to load hoppers, and all of us worked 70-hour weeks throughout holiday periods. Thanksgiving was especially ornery with multiple packages and lines of tables pulled together so that carriers could hand insert their multiple packs into a one-part for final delivery.

Fast forward to 2018, where the drop in preprints has become yet another challenge we must face in our industry, and I must admit that I’m not quite sure what exactly happened. Sure, we still have preprints during the week, but definitely not as many. We still have Sunday packages, but they’re nowhere near as thick as just a few short years ago.

Are we doing all we can to stop yet another backslide in our industry?

For once, I don’t think we can blame the internet or technology as a whole. Many newspapers have experimented with digital preprints, but I don’t believe they’ve caught on quite as well as were expected.

If you don’t know by now, I love print. I believe in digital but just love print. In this article, I’d like to point out the advantages paper preprints have over digital. With the strength of social media, digital media, video streaming, tablets, cell phones, etc. there remains one area of print media that still offers more than can be replaced by any of these digital options—preprints.

Selling Ideas to Customers

Just a few years ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article that found less than 1 percent of people who read newspapers online click through to digital circulars. If you’ve ever tried to view a digital preprint on your phone, you know that it’s just about impossible and isn’t very user friendly.

Additionally, the article claimed that more than 80 percent of individuals who read a print newspaper look through the preprints. These are pretty favorable statistics, yet for one reason or another we are experiencing a decline in preprint numbers and associated revenues.

I recently read a promotional piece that outlined some very favorable aspects of preprints over digital. It stated that Walmart cut spending on circulars in certain regions and foot traffic in those regions decreased. It went on to reference a Daily Beast article that stated JC Penney’s marketing team had found their customers browsed print circulars, but would still do their shopping online or in the store. They too saw a large drop in sales when they discontinued their catalogs (i.e. print).

So, circling back around, I don’t quite understand why we’re now seeing a decline in preprint advertising, but I sincerely believe this is one area we still have time to get out in front of and correct, even strengthen.

Not much has really changed in the world of the physical preprint. One of the huge advantages we have over digital is being able to put the actual piece in the reader’s hands. Right now in America, I’m pretty sure thousands of refrigerator magnets are holding down coupons that were cut out of the Sunday paper. So why don’t advertisers see the advantages of print advertising/preprints? Maybe it’s the way we’re not selling those advantages to them?

A long time ago, I figured out that it’s not very productive when you find something that doesn’t work but you keep doing it anyway just because everyone else is. My point is we haven’t done a thing to change the way we sell preprints. I truly believe we’re taking the same approach with preprints that we did with ROP many years ago. We call on customers, national and local to “see what preprints they have for us this week”, or we wait for them to call us. Does that all sound familiar? We don’t “sell” preprints; we “book” preprints, and there lies the main issue.

Before I go any further, I need to digress just a bit. Last month I hit a few nerves with my article on innovation (or the lack of). I received a few comments that indicated I was giving other media fuel to show the ineffectiveness of print. Obviously I don’t agree, but nonetheless if we rest on our laurels in any area—or any one area—other media is quick to capitalize on our lack of innovation. Be innovative and they won’t have fuel to light the fire. Anytime anyone thinks I’m being critical of our industry, look at it for what it is “a call to arms.” I love our industry and believe we should and can do better. I get frustrated when we sit back and let other media minimize the value and audience we offer each and every day. So please understand that I’m not criticizing, but merely trying to wake some of us up and bring some new energy to our challenged industry.

Now, back to preprints.

Years ago our advertisers got innovative for us. They put their minds to one-upping the competition by using us to get their message out, and we rode the train right to the bank. Preprints were popular and sold themselves.

Advertisers put together preprints with scratch-and-sniff perfumes, preprints that smelled like chocolate; they did huge promotions and we inserted car keys on a card for auto dealer promotions into our papers, we inserted dry drink mixes and powders—the sky was the limit. And then it stopped.

Ask yourself, when is the last time you’ve seen one of these promotions? Better yet, ask yourself when is the last time you’ve thought of a promotion, contacted a specialty printer for pricing, put together a package sale, and presented and sold it to an advertiser. I’m guessing not recently.

As we were in the 90s with ROP, we’ve now become “order takers” for preprints.

My “call to arms” is for us to sell some ideas to customers. Fall back on some of what we’ve done in the past that has worked; develop some new initiatives that we can sell to advertisers; be innovative; be a leader; and generate new ideas for advertisers.

One of the advantages I’ve been fortunate to have in my career is the ability to put myself in the shoes of the customer. If I don’t believe in something, I can’t give it away, but if I truly believe in a product, there is no stopping me. Advertisers have options, many options. They’re not going to just come to us like they used to, so we need to come up with the ideas for them, show them the value in advertising with us, and present a professional, detailed yet succinct and convincing program.

I recently heard a very wise statement from someone, “Money flows to ideas.” It’s a simple yet true statement. So, here are a few thoughts on how the operations team can help “money flow to ideas” once the sale is made.

Accurate and Timely Delivery

I’ve certainly presented enough articles on the importance of meeting in-house deadlines and following up with timely delivery to our customers. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of processes in production being aligned so that they become predictable and generally effortless. We do the same basic thing every day: running the press, inserting papers and dropping to the carriers. Yes, things may go wrong, such as equipment breaks, people calling in sick and processes falling off track, but for the most part, we have regular systems in place and perform well. It’s our job to check these systems frequently to ensure they’re running efficiently and being well maintained.

I’ve been witness to advertising pulling out all the stops to sell a Post-It note and production not checking the applicator before the run. The result was missing half of the papers for a sale the next day, not a lot of chance to make up for this error. Just goes to show the importance of the whole team functioning together and not having a weak link in the chain. You’re not only letting down your advertising department, making the next sale that much harder, but ultimately letting down the customer and hurting the reputation of your newspaper.

Do your job before, during and after the production run.

Print and Deliver Programs

When advertising sells these programs, they are selling the one-stop-shopping concept and production has to make sure to hold up their end. If you’re printing flyers for the customer in-house, make sure they’re top quality. If the flyers come from an external printer, check them out when they arrive on your dock. Make sure the correct amount arrived for insertion and they are printed well. Go through the order and double check everything. Don’t wait until you’re in live production to figure out that you were supposed to have nine boxes and only received eight.

Even the little things help ensure on time delivery and consistency when you’re dealing with an outside print house. You may receive product in turns of 25. Small turns will slow down the process on that hopper and in turn slow down the entire line. Communicate back to advertising any shortfalls in the outside printing so that they can be addressed immediately or worse case, on the next order. Don’t assume. Inspect, don’t expect.

In-House Printing of Wraps

This is something most everyone does at one time or another—sells and prints wraps. Needing a wrap (jacket) to hold inserts when you have more preprints than heads on your inserter is a nice problem to have.

Various paper stock choices are available depending on how many inserts you have in a package. Advertising probably isn’t going to understand or care about the logistics (their job is simply to sell the wrap). Production needs to communicate the requirement to them and make sure that becomes part of the sale. If a single sheet (wrap) of 34 pound Hi-Brite isn’t going to hold a dozen preprints, then you need to calculate the cost difference moving up to a Kraft or 50 pound offset and make sure advertising takes that into account on the frontend when the sale takes place.

It’s also beneficial to discuss with advertising multiple runs on wraps. If you’re going to need a wrap for multiple weeks, it’s much more economical on the production side to print in volume. If advertising is aware of this need, they may be able to adjust pricing up front on the sale.


Sometimes the simplest things seem to present us with the biggest challenges. Zoning of preprints tends to be one of these simple things. Small mom and pop advertisers are not going to get the exposure they’re looking for on the internet, but they can through our websites or with zoned preprints. They may not want or benefit by the broad exposure digitally, so that gives us a distinct advantage with small zone preprint advertising (or print and deliver programs).

When we zone into small areas, route design is critical, and we need to work hand-in-hand with circulation to achieve accuracy. There is likely some crossover on carrier routes, and nothing frustrates a customer more than inserts going into an area they don’t want and running out in the areas they do.

Clearly marking bundles, double checking route lists and discussing expectations with carriers beforehand can help to ensure accurate placement of zoned preprints.


Many of us have cut back or dropped TMC products because of weak preprint revenue to support them. Paper prices have hurt our industry and the more this trend continues, the more advertisers are moving to mail or alternate products. We have a strong product offering and can tell a pretty impressive story about the results we bring to the customer. Now is the time to act. Be innovative, be adventurous and sell to your customer like you own their business. Let’s not let this one slip away.


Jerry Simpkins is vice president of the West Texas Printing Center, LLC in Lubbock, Texas. Contact him on or at




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