A Guide To Paper Buying

- - Working

Of all the things that make up a magazine, paper buying is probably the least understood. It’s also the most expensive line item in the monthly production of magazines. The quality of the paper was always a huge gripe in the Art Department, but I would have gladly taken a cut in quality for an increase in the photography budget.

Dead Tree Edition has a post called “The 10 Most Common Paper-Purchasing Mistakes” and I think it may even be possible to apply some of these cost savings ideas and not take a hit on paper quality. Wouldn’t that be awesome. People working in management positions at magazines owe it to themselves to understand the jobs of the other people in the office who have a stake in the monthly budget pie. And, who knows maybe some day you’ll find yourself creating a magazine on your own and need to buy paper. More insight (here).

There Are 10 Comments On This Article.

  1. Interestingly enough, almost every single mistake listed stems from a lack of understanding the paper market.

    6. Receiving a $1.50/cwt. price decrease from the incumbent broker or printer when the market price really went down $2.50. Fifty percent of the time, buyers were so pleased to get a reduction they were unaware the market slide was more dramatic.

    3. Accepting printer’s paper pound requirements that may be padded. For some reason, over 65% of the buyers accepted the printer’s stated requirements without checking the level of waste allowance included.

    2. Trusting suppliers’ input on competitive market prices. For 77% of the cases, the buyer’s trust was being abused from slightly to significantly by the incumbent printer, broker, or mill.

    You would think that the most expensive aspect of producing a magazine would be the most scrutinized, yet every one of the mistakes is the result of not doing your homework. Why would you trust a car salesman to tell you the ‘competitive market price?’ And how many emails would it take to find the real market price, when that could save millions of dollars?

    Instead of firing creatives, publishers should be hiring people to fix their paper problem.

  2. Always noticed start-up magazines using thinner and cheaper feeling paper. I suppose cost cutting is one issue, though this article point more towards controlling and managing costs over simple cutting. As with many things, the cheapest choice is rarely the best choice.

    There is a perception of quality in paper. Whether it is brochures, promos, postcards, or magazines, the paper will imply a quality level. I’m glad to have experience in the commercial printing world that allows me to understand paper.

    Best looking magazine I have ever seen published is CLEAR. The paper quality is amazing, including the choice of Yupo for the cover overlay. They also control the quality of the ads that appear in the magazine, much like Wallpaper* and Surface, which further increases that perception of quality. I don’t understand why more magazines don’t go that direction.


  3. Do you think paper selection should be a consideration for a photographer?

    In an ideal world I think the answer is yes. After all, the finished product is ink on paper and the tonal values will change radically upon selection, right?

    • @Bruce DeBoer, Exactly! Paper knowledge should be important for photographers to consider. All it takes is one not so great printed image to tarnish your reputation, and rarely will viewers consider that the magazine got it wrong on the printing or paper choice.

      I had a full page ad image that was supposed to go into a regional music publication, and then the magazine had some financial issues. Instead of refunding the client for the ad, they gave them a two ad run in their next two issues. Problem was that to cut costs they went to newsprint paper, but they never changed the image settings. Newsprint holds far less ink than coated paper, so the result was a dark mess.

  4. Great article and makes me feel comfortabel for the choices I made for as I would call them labs to produce prints for me. I was extremely important for me to have a high quality end product of my efforts in Fine Art Photography.

    I looked at outsourcing since I don’t have the budget right now to procure the equipment desired to produce prints.

    I spent several months before I chose several companies to product prints for me. I think that each one I chose does very well in certain media/papers/canvas. Pricing was the second consideration in making the choice.

  5. Just noticed this month’s Esquire with Robert Downey Jr. has really nice, matte finish cover stock. Much better than the thin glossy they were using before.

  6. hm too much information for a photographer really.

    I mean I fully agree that photographers should care about paper. But this is articleabout paper pricing – not quality, types, feeling, printing abilities etc.

    Also for me personally the paper is the most important thing in a magazine. I’m a photographer yes – and I want to have a decent budget. But if the paperfeeling is off – I just dont care about the whole magazine, sorry.

    Also I really do not trust people who use the word “dead tree” in relation to print. Sorry but for me thats an insult to the medium I love. If anything paper is a medium that lives and breathes.

  7. As a photographer who works in-house for one of the largest printers in North America, I have had quite a bit of exposure to paper quality on Sheet-fed, Digital (HP Indigos), and Web. I must say that paper does a lot for an image. High quality paper can hold a better line-screen, reduce modeling and standard imperfections of the stock, and can increase color saturation and black densities. Anyone who receives the VICTOR magazine by Hasselblad can attest that the paper quality alone does wonders for the photographs. I have seen many images published in that magazine that would be mediocre were it not for the excellent printing. Working daily with pressmen that consider themselves artists and having seen the drool from their mouths when they demo a new premium sheet has given me a great appreciation for papers. Also, modern photographers often identify themselves by a specific tonality of their images. They will process them or scan them with very specific curves to create a tone that is unique to their style. The subtleties can easily be lost by having a poor sheet or a sheet that has an inherent color (off white). So, just as it is important to pay attention to color profiles when uploading images to web etc, it is equally as important to base your cmyk conversion or profile to the paper you anticipate printing on.

    • @Ian Barkley, Definitely VICTOR by Hasselblad is very well produced, and on quality paper. Another is Leica Fotographie International (LFI); heavy coated stock and great printing quality. If either of these was on thinner, lesser quality, or (gasp) newsprint, I doubt they would get much notice. The best quality printed magazines are ones that I will keep, while the others go to the recycle bin.