Management service providers for paper, publishing and print

Paper the tip of a corporate iceberg Print Media Management: November 2002

Developments such as digital workflow and print management may be consuming the industry's time and attention at the moment, but here at PMM we recognise the importance of bread-and-butter issues, too. So here's the low-down on something that we all use or buy - paper. Paul Venediger explains

To some, paper is as dull as ditch water, a necessary evil for the production of magazines, catalogues, brochures and direct mail. But given that it accounts for up to 40 per cent of the production cost of any printed material, and that the UK consumption of publication and fine papers in 2001 was approximately 7.3 million tonnes, valued at 3.9 billion, this product is a truly essential and high-cost element of our society.

Companies such as IPC, EMAP and News International consume enough paper annually to satisfy the total production output of half a dozen medium-sized paper machines. Even more remarkably, a paper company such as StoraEnso produces 12 million tonnes of paper and board annually, nearly twice the total UK consumption of printing and graphic papers.

Yet, given paper's importance to all media organisations, paper is a poor second cousin to publishing, design and print. It is a pure cost, and generally speaking only considered as a medium to carry a message.

Unfortunately the paper industry does little to discourage the view that volume is vital to price, and smaller buyers tend to shy away from a more active involvement in their major cost because of this.

The biggest single problem for buyer and supplier is actually trying to co-operate with one another; and, where the buyer is concerned, having the confidence to approach the paper organisations. There is no doubt that the sheer size of many paper organisations creates in the buyer a sense of inferiority. Additionally, the recent prolific rationalisation within the paper industry leaves the perception that the supply chain has been dramatically narrowed, with fewer (but larger by volume) suppliers with increasingly restricted product ranges.

It may be true that the top four or five paper suppliers control the lion's share of the market, but increasingly the smaller groups and independent mills/merchants are raising their profile, keen to cash in on the buyers' discomfort at a seemingly limited supplier choice. The choice and breadth of suppliers, grades, weights, brightness and finishes is so vast and complex that a single article would not do justice to the subject but the more important issue is where and how the buyer or specifier gets the right information on how, why and what to buy.

Many paper suppliers, whether they are mill sales companies, agents or paper merchants, have a wealth of experience from dealing with buyers' peers, and are ideally suited to provide advice and options on fit-for-purpose papers.

Unfortunately, the paper industry thrives on jargon. Many of the terms have little or no meaningful relationship to the actual product. For example, what is the difference between a near-woodfree and part-mechanical paper (a common question)? Well, actually, depending on which paper 'expert' you listen to, they are either the same thing or slightly different, but with similar characteristics!

To create further confusion, paper companies no longer 'tag' their products with generic terms but brand them to straddle product categories.

So how do you choose the best paper for your printed material? Ignore the jargon, technicalities and the product branding. Establish what you want the paper to do for you, look at your competitors, get plain and printed paper samples, and make sure that you compare like-for-like products and prices.

Others issues to consider are: supply (i.e., can you get hold of the paper as regularly as you'd like, are stocks available for quick delivery if necessary); whether your printer is familiar with the product; some form of price longevity from the supplier; establishing at what point in the price cycle the grade is (i.e., coming down/going up); and, lastly and maybe most importantly, whether you actually need the grade you've chosen - have you over specified the whiteness or grammage, etc, and could you satisfactorily use a slightly lower grade or different product to achieve your aims and therefore thoroughly maximise your expenditure?

Since paper is a singularly subjective material, there aren't any rights and wrongs about choosing one particular grade over another, but don't place too much store by plain A4 samples, as the optical characteristics of all papers change when they've been subjected to the rigours of the printing process. Only printed samples, and preferably with the same subject matter, will ever give a true reflection of printed results. Finally, if possible, ask for bound dummies to be produced: dummies will replicate the bulk, feel and look of your printed material, allowing you to simulate, albeit in unprinted form, the finished article.

So who should you contact if you want to become more involved in the purchasing and specification process?

As a general rule, if you want to purchase sheets your first contact should be with either a regional or independent merchant. The distribution of sheets is a highly complex process entailing administration and delivery of a high number of relatively low-volume orders. Almost all paper producers of sheets have outsourced the sales process of this format to paper merchants. The list of UK paper merchants is extensive: in addition to the panel showing the contact details of the largest regional merchants, your Yellow Pages will also list local merchant suppliers. The other option is to use your printer: they can obviously take away the pain of you buying your paper by purchasing on your behalf.

For reels, providing that your print job warrants running on a web press, there are three choices: a paper supplier; a paper merchant; or, again, your printer. All three will be naturally keen to take your order, but the paper price you get from each may vary. Both the merchant and printer purchase in volume from the paper supplier, and their buying price reflects this, but usually they will charge some kind of handling fee for purchasing it on your behalf. The mill on the other hand will not charge this fee, but the price offered will reflect the size of order. You must make your choice based on service, supply, price and product, but remember that throughout the supply chain it is the paper producer who ultimately controls price and supply, and who is therefore the defining influence on your purchase.

Pulp descriptions

Mechanical pulp
Timber or wood chips are ground mechanically into the individual fibres.
Chemical pulp
The individual fibres from timber or wood chips are separated by heat, pressure and the addition of chemicals.

Paper descriptions

Mechanical pulp-based, low brightness, high bulk and good opacity.
Standard brightness level.
Matt finish.
Predominantly available in reels. Grammage range 42.5-52gsm.

Improved newsprint
Mechanical pulp-based, but with 'fillers' added to improve the printing surface characteristics.
Different brightness levels are available.
Matt finish.
Predominantly available in reels, typical grammage range 49-70gsm.

SC (super calendered)
Mechanical pulp-based, but high gloss finish.
Different degrees of brightness available.
Predominantly available in reels, typical grammage range 49-60gsm.

LWC (light-weight coated)
Mechanical and chemical pulp mix different ratios provide higher/lower brightness grades.
Single coated on both sides, providing a smooth gloss, silk or matt surface.
Available in reels and sheets, typical grammage range 57-70gsm.

MFC (machine-finished coated)
Mechanical and chemical pulp mix, with one coating to each side.
Available in matt/silk finishes only.
Higher bulk than standard LWC grades -providing good yield characteristics.
Only available in reels, typical grammage range 48-80gsm.

MWC (medium-weight coated)
Mechanical and chemical pulp mix, normally with two coatings to each side.
Higher brightness gloss/silk/matt products than LWC available.
Comes in reels and sheets, typical grammage range 75-170gsm.

Chemical pulp-based, providing higher brightness and improved bulk compared with MWC.
Opacity, grammage-for-grammage, compared with MWC is lower.
Available in gloss, silk and matt finishes, and is uncoated, single-, double- or multicoated.
Available in reels and sheets with a typical grammage range of 80-200gsm (reels) and 80-300gsm (sheets).

Publishing Paper Solutions provides paper training, procurement consultancy and paper management services to end-users and paper purchasers. +44 (0)1442 255791,

Paul Venediger is director of consultancy company Publishing Paper Solutions