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"The Growing Market for Multimedia Packaging"
[Column #40, 4/98]

Most people think of perfect bound or saddle stitched books when they hear the word postpress or visit a trade bindery. Ironically, one of the fastest growing markets in the postpress arena has little to do with books. I am referring to multimedia packaging, audio and videotapes, diskettes, CD-ROMs, and the like.

My ears started to perk up a couple of years ago when requests for us to place a disk or a CD-ROM inside a book or other medium became a daily occurrence. Many printers are not equipped to handle this type of work and I quickly realized we were on the brink of a rapidly growing market.

While the fundamentals of binding a book have remained unchanged over the years (except for the equipment, which has become faster, is more accurate, and provides for a better product), the looseleaf industry has seen sweeping changes over a relatively short period of time. Accompanied by printed material, what started out as a need to package filmstrips and records moved to audio and videotapes, then quickly into computer products. First there was the 5" floppy media, then the 3" diskette, and now it's the CD-ROM. Not surprisingly, the computer revolution created a huge demand for these products before the printing and binding industries were prepared to handle it. (Imagine that!) We have made some headway, but we are still scrambling to keep up. It's been a lesson hard-learned for all of us in this industry and requires a complete change of mind set for those who want to survive.

The bulk of the demand for multimedia packaging can be divided into two categories. First, the publishing industry is struggling to find creative ways to market these products for maximum visibility and shelf appeal. One challenge, for example, is packaging a CD that costs only 50 or 60 cents to produce (with basically nothing else in the box) so it has a perceived value equal to that of a book containing the same material. Let's face it, a jewel case just doesn't cut it on the shelves of Barnes & Noble when you're trying to sell the thing for $39.95. (This challenge is not unlike that of dressing up a perfect bound book with stamping, embossing, and die cutting to woo the reader into picking it up.)

Publishers also need affordable ways to market their products in existing forms of printed matter. Some of the more common forms today are catalogs, training manuals, and financial reports, and the demand for many other applications is growing fast. CDs are often found in annual financial reports, in particular, because they offer companies the luxury of promoting themselves through interactive media. The CD offers color and movement in the sales process and allows them to tell a more impressive story. No doubt, binding or attaching a CD or disk into books and magazines will eventually be as common as those smelly perfume samples we all gag on everytime we open our favorite publication. Don't worry! There is equipment today that allows us to automatically place CDs and disks into a variety of mediums (inside and outside of books), however; it does require using some equipment suppliers outside the traditional printing industry. We also needed to hire people with specialized experience in the world of packaging.

There are a variety of ways to package multimedia products depending on how the piece is being used and the type of market desired. For the publisher looking to grab someone's attention and command a price point far beyond the actual value of the enclosed contents, they may include a combination of full-color graphics, die cut SBS (solid bleached sulfate) boxes, litho laminated corrugated, traditional vinyl products or turned-edge cases with interlocking trays, and modified book products where CD holders are bound into other bound matter (i.e., Wire-O, Spiral, or adhesive books). The options are great and, in this highly competitive market, publishers are constantly looking for newer, slicker packaging options to make their products stand out. For this reason, each of these jobs are highly customized and can take months of planning before it is actually produced.

The other growing need for multimedia products is in the direct marketing industry where companies are looking for the quickest, most economical way to get their products into the end-users' hands. The most common types of packaging used today include the simple vinyl sleeve, the traditional jewel case, or the CD shrink-wrapped right to a piece of board. Once again, in a market inundated with similar packaging, newer, more interesting options are in demand.

Everyone, from prepress to postpress, needs to recognize and respond to this shift in the marketplace. Printers need to be innovative and look for ways to provide their customers with newer, more exciting (and affordable) ways to market their products, ways that will provide publishers the differential advantage they need. It is no longer acceptable to take a product and run around for a couple of days looking for ways to package it. Salespeople should be equipped with the knowledge to say, "These are your options...and this is how I recommend you do it." At the same time, printers should be able to rely on their binders and finishers to keep them up-to-date. Communication is key, we want the dialogue to begin before the job is ever produced. That way, everyone can be certain the job is produced and packaged to satisfy the customers' expectations and within the specified budget. At the same time, postpress houses should constantly be searching for ways to add value to their customers' jobs and maintain the technology necessary to produce those jobs. This also means that equipment manufacturers must be working to provide cutting edge technology to meet the changing demands of the market.

By now, we should be used to dealing with dramatic changes brought on by computers. Printers, for example, who once enjoyed the rapid influx of work on manuals written to accompany software have seen that business virtually disappear. In the beginning, all computer software came with a binder and a slip case and was accompanied with a substantial amount of printed matter drilled in three places. These packages were later replaced with perfect bound books and corrugated boxes to cut costs. Now, all of those operating instructions are found on the software itself and very little printed material can be found in the package.

Perhaps the scariest aspect of all this change is the realization that eventually the CD-ROM will become less common and widespread use of the DVD (Digital Versatile Disk. I'll cover that in more detail in future issues.) will occur. Then, no doubt, even better technology will come along. And we all know what happens to those of us who don't stay on top of these trends and respond to changes in demand, if only it didn't cost so much money to keep up! On the upside, for those willing to roll with the changes, diminished demand for one product often leads to other opportunities. For example, although the printing industry took a hit when software manuals became obsolete, it now enjoys a rapidly growing market for books related to personal computers and the Internet.

Now, if we could only come up with a way to package the Internet…we're talking about virtual space here folks...any ideas?

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