Colour separations – a publishers view

Courtney Maggs-Jones
This is a guest post from Courtney Maggs-Jones of publisher JLD Media. The views presented are his alone and not necessarily representative of the company he works for. Equally, they aren’t the views of Stone Junction; we just think they are very interesting. Courtney is responding to an article published on the Stone Junction blog in 2006 about colour separations.

As someone who entered the publishing industry much later than Stone Junction's original article on colour seps was written, I arrived into a sales seat in a world filled with colour separation sales. I was a sales executive on a trade magazine, and am now the account manager on the same title, as well as its sister title. When I arrived, the editor of the original magazine was selling colour separations herself, as part of brand guides to accompany relevant features.

The magazine was a glorified brochure with all of these colour separation sales and the front cover sold as advertising as well. Six months later, we re-launched that title, on the basis that the industry really required it, but also that we were forgetting who the reader was.

The re-launch was conditional; that we would NOT sell the front cover, but retain our own brand identity and thus a consistent rapport and identity with the reader. We would also heavily favour editorial over advertising to ensure that the reader was engaged and that the magazine had substance as well as style. Thus, the ratio was 2:7 ads to eds.

In an ideal world, I would rather not sell colour separations at all. So I suggested this to my MD. For the first few months, we tried simply selling display advertising as the sole source of income. (Note, we send the title out for free, thus subscriptions cannot be relied on in this case.)

However, despite our move to not sell the front cover, the other two titles in the sector continued to do so, which caused us two problems. Firstly, that they maintained THE prime position for the major advertising players in the sector, so maintained those relationships a lot better. Secondly, that in bringing in over 30% of their monthly budgets on the one sale of the cover alone, they could drive down the price of the remainder of the advertising in each edition, making it hard to compete.

As someone who I am sure has bought advertising before, you are aware that rate cards don’t mean anything, so we were selling at full capacity and still making a loss.

Of course, you can come up with new and different initiatives to sell, but you need capital to do this. So, whilst a consumer magazine/newspaper can sell copies, and advertising, on substance alone, those industry and trade titles even with real merit, don't seem to have the longevity to survive without selling their souls.

And the sad thing is, that if the product and brand owners don't endorse titles such as ours (whether through misinformation, or the assumption that the only good guys left out there are NPOs, or sheer unwillingness to invest in this sort of activity), we will unfortunately lose the real vehicles of calibre.

So what's the answer?

- A simple solution is to raise the rate card cost. But try telling someone, during a recession, that they need to pay a higher price for something that can't be measured.

- An alternative would be to go back to selling the front cover, which would result in us losing all credibility.

- Continue to write relevant features of genuine substance, with interesting quotes from industry experts (if it is interesting, it will get written about) providing as much benefit and information as we possibly can into the favourable handicap of space provided.

But allow those industry experts, or those who endorse and embody their thoughts, to illustrate those associations, key benefits and selling points by selling colour separations to them. Thus, the colour separation may just be the thing that allows the magazine and company to survive and come up with new and innovative ways in which to maximise exposure for our clients on a number of different platforms.

- The final answer would be what I did with the launch of our latest magazine. In this case, the magazine is the upmarket, luxury version of the original, sister title. We epitomised what we were about and completely carved a niche in the market. We are the epitome of tangible luxury, and no one is doing what we are doing with this title.

The new magazine is beautiful, informative, full of substance, and by being those things, it is profitable.

But we DON'T sell colour separations in it, just display advertising.

Starting out as perfection, and maintaining that standard is the only way of truly being able to demand a crucially required cost without too much negotiation. But if the magazine sets out as a commercial machine in an area of publishing solely focused on generating income, it is difficult to remove that notion and inject some substance without a bit of compromise. The colour separation is a compromise which provides positive, guaranteed coverage as a return.

Ours may be an isolated case, but I am sure we aren't the only good guys out there, who need to have just a fractional amount of budget shared with us in order to operate. In purchasing colour separations, you are guaranteeing the longevity of a magazine which you support and endorse.

My advice to those looking for coverage is to ensure that you do endorse magazines and platforms which can offer you what you need. But, make sure you are endorsing the right magazine, not the magazine using those profits to take you to the coolest brasserie to secure more business.

My advice to those setting up in publishing is to completely nail the niche in the market, to the point where you can hold the value of the advertising as a permanent, but at the same time, provide as much substance and benefit and never lose the reader.

Finally, my advice to anyone in my situation at present would be to meet their clients, listen to their clients, and make sure that what they are trying to achieve in terms of coverage can be a compromise of free coverage and paid for. Rather than making them wait for editorial following some advertising, don't test them, simply fully utilise what you have in front of you to support any budget spend so that you can maximise exposure. You'll find that those clients won't forget the value you have added to their campaigns.

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Richard Stone - Stone Junction

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.


Chris Rand said...

Delivering on your promise is everything. "Selling the front cover" is just a flag to the readership about what sort of content they can expect inside. I don't think that readers have a problem with a magazine with an advert on the front cover and lots of adverts inside. Obviously, they'd prefer one with an editorial front cover and a high proportion of independently-written editorial content inside, but the main thing is that they get what they expect. Putting a high-quality editorial front cover on a magazine filled with adverts and paid-for content creates a mismatch which, in my opinion, is offputting to the reader. I think you may as well sell the front cover if the inside is equally commercial.

I was on the editorial staff of a B2B title when "colour separations" were invented in the late eighties. Funnily enough, they were

Chris Rand said...

...the result of offers from companies being featured, at a time when most magazines had black and white sections. Running a colour section was much more expensive, but it wasn't uncommon to be approached by companies who said: "if you're running our new product story with a photo in a black and white section, we'd be happy to make a contribution to the cost of making it a colour section". A colour section, as opposed to a black and white one, required the colour images to be "separated" into four component colours, and for individual films to be made for each page. Some bright publisher decided to set this up as a formal offering, and generate a profit on the exercise. This incursion of sales into the editorial department wasn't something which many editors welcomed, but if it allowed more colour in editorial sections, there was at least a silver lining.

Fast forward a few years, and black and white sections were things of the past. The idea of charging for colour separations didn't make sense, because four films were being made for every page anyway. With all the usual bravado which has made advertising sales the home of the late 20th/early 21st century barrow boy, publishers continued to request and accept "colour separation charges" from companies being featured in editorial, even though the four films were being made anyway. And they got away with it, thanks to the general ignorance of marketing managers.

By the late nineties, things were even more ridiculous. With the advent of digital printing, films weren't even being made any more, and it certainly cost no more to scan a photo in colour than it did in black and white. By this time, the entire meaning of the term "colour separation charges" had been lost, as it no longer applied or made sense. It was just a meaningless term which was used as a substitute for "paid-for editorial", something publishers still didn't seem to be able to bring themselves to say out loud. The idea that "we were going to run your news story in our magazine anyway, but we'll need some financial assistance to use the colour image" had also gone out of the window. "Colour separation charges" was by now code for "we've received your press release, and will shove it on a news page nobody will ever read if you're stupid enough to give us £100". And even in 2012, publishers can be found down the pub on Friday lunchtimes, laughing with each other at the stupidity of marketing managers that they'll fall for this rip-off.