Digital Original: Newsletters Are Still Good Business

There are myths in any industry. There is always that collectively held belief that has no basis in fact but can cripple a business. One of the latest myths in the printing industry is that newsletter printing is dead because it has moved to the Web. Printers who think that is true are missing an opportunity for some profitable printing.

For years printers have helped customers create newsletters. With the introduction of computer-based desktop publishing, many organizations took the typesetting and design for the newsletter in-house, but continued to have the printer do the printing and mailing.

The Internet added a new wrinkle. An organization could typeset and design the newsletter, turn it into a PDF file, and send it as an email attachment or post it to their website. These organizations thought they would eliminate printing and mailing costs to save money. As companies started to move their newsletters online, printers assumed that the printed newsletter had gone the way of the buggy whip and stopped actively pursuing that type of work.

When newsletters moved to the Web, many organizations learned that the Internet isn't always the best way to get their message to their audience. It was a myth to think a single medium could reach everyone, so newsletters are going back to press. Organizations have learned that they have to use a number of vehicles to get their message out.

Debunk the Myth

Successful communicators use a combination of Web and print to deliver their message. Printers, as part of the communication process, need to be ready to deal with customers who think the Internet is the only way to reach their audience. A printer needs to communicate to the customer the reality of what will happen when they take a newsletter completely electronic.

The newsletter editor needs to know his audience. Is an electronic newsletter the best way to reach that audience? Not everyone uses the Web. People might have an Internet connection, but do they check their email on a regular basis? How old is the audience? If they are under the age of 30, they will probably be more Web savvy. A 40-plus audience may not spend time checking information on the Internet.

What guarantees are there that the electronic newsletter will be read? Electronic mail boxes are stuffed with junk mail and SPAM. Will the receiver take time to look for the newsletter among his email? Will he have time to read the newsletter when he checks his mail or will he just skip it or delete it? How are you going to let the reader know the newsletter is online?

Can the organization absorb the administrative costs of maintaining an electronic newsletter? Unlike mailing addresses, email addresses change constantly. Someone will have to be in charge of keeping the email addresses up to date. How is the organization going to keep in contact with the reader to make sure the newsletter is going to the correct address and not disappearing into cyberspace?

Most good communicators are using a combination of print and Web to reach their audience. A printed newsletter is still produced and mailed once a month or once a quarter. Printed newsletters can easily be set aside to be referenced over and over or read at the reader's convenience. It doesn't require the reader turn on the computer. The printed newsletter can also be converted into an electronic version that can be archived on the customer's website. Most readers toss away a newsletter once it is read, but they want to be able to access archived copies when necessary. Many printers provide the customer with a PDF of the newsletter along with the printed newsletter as an added value.

Printers who have lost newsletters to the Internet should visit their customers to see how using the Internet is working for them. Has the organization maintained its membership levels or grown since taking the newsletter electronic? If the organization uses the newsletter to raise money, has it reached its goals with an electronic newsletter? Are members happy with the electronic newsletter or would they prefer a printed alternative? Has the organization surveyed its audience with a printed letter to see which way the readers prefer to receive the newsletter?

Some organizations will be happy with an electronic newsletter. Others won't. Some will need a combination of the two. But until a printer gets in front of the customer and asks about the newsletter, the myth will continue that the Internet is the only way to distribute newsletters today. It is up to the printer to point out the advantages of print and the pitfalls of going to an entirely electronic means of communicating.

Winners and Losers

It is hard to stay positive with all of the bad economic news swirling around you. Business closings and layoffs tied with roller coaster gas costs and rising prices don't paint a pretty picture for the next 12 months. Even President Obama warns it is going to get worse before it gets better.

For most quick and small commercial printers, the economy turndown is just another nail in the coffin. Most printing economic experts report that 75% of the printing companies make little or no money, so in tough times things will get even harder for those companies. If a printer wasn't making money in the good times, he can't expect to rebound in the hard times.

Surprisingly, not all printers are participating in the recession. Sure, all printers are seeing select customers cut their spending on printing, but there are also printers having success. They know that, no matter what the economy, there are still going to be customers who need printing. And they are making sure they are the ones who do it.

What's the difference between the winners and losers in the printing industry? Winners have a computerized estimating system. Surprisingly, there is still a large percentage of printers who don't have a computerized estimating system. If you can't easily track the costs and profit margins of your work, you are flying blind. The printing market is too competitive to rely on gut feelings. A business can't grow if only one person in the organization can price or if others in the organization use their best guess on a price. The sales and marketing data that is automatically collected by an estimating system can deliver a savvy printer a world of information to make selling easier. Just avoiding the mathematical mistakes will usually pay for the estimating system and keep a printer from losing money.

Winners don't try to sell everything. Successful printers usually have a niche. They produce and sell a product better than any of their competitors and they target the people who need the product.

Winners use PDF. Successful printers use a PDF workflow to make production easier. Not only do they use the PDF technology for internal work, they train customers how to prepare and submit properly constructed PDF files. There are still many printers who think PDFs won't work or will cause problems, but the winners in the industry are making buying printing easier for customers by using the PDF format.

Winners automate. The printers who are using PDF workflows are automating their production processes, especially in prepress, to lower their production costs. Jobs that once took hours are now handled in a matter of seconds. Automation isn't expensive to implement. Most printers have the tools, but they haven't set up the proper production procedures to take advantage of the automation.

Winners get out and sell something. Any printer can start working his way out of the recession by getting out of his office and listening to customers. Too few printers actively solicit business face-to-face with customers. Winners take their message to the customers so they can find out what the customers really need and then meet those needs. Successful printers know what they want to sell and are out looking for the customers who will buy it.

Winners aren't cheap. Successful printers don't cut prices; they add value. Making it easier to buy printing is something valuable to the customer. Getting faster turnaround because of technology can be valuable. Helping lower a customer's administrative costs for buying printing is a plus. Successful printers are either holding their prices steady or raising them, but giving customers the added value that keeps them buying.

Winners have a functional website. There are a lot of printing websites that give the printer's contact information and allow for a file transfer, but customers want more. Customers want printers to provide document libraries, portals, easy file transfer, online ordering. The website needs to become an electronic customer service representative ready to meet a customer's needs 24/7.

Winners instruct. They tell their customers about the technology available to them and then show them how to use it. Just hanging a special service on a website isn't going to generate business unless you show the customer how it will benefit him. The printer who gets in front of his customer and shows him the reasons he should be using the technology will be the one who is making money while others moan and wring their hands.

The next 18 months aren't going to be easy for any business. Printers are going to have new challenges in finding and keeping business. Success is going to require more than just being a quality printer. A successful printer has to be an astute business person who can use the information and tools he already has. He must be able to build a team that can produce a product that customers want. He is going to have to communicate more with customers and show them how his company can make print buying easier. There are going to be winners in the printing industry. The only question is will you be one?

John Giles is the author of "12 Secrets for Digital Success" and "The DTP Price List." He is also technology director for CPrint. He can be reached at 954/224-1942 or