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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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May 4, 2006

My kind of business

On Tuesday, I took my first big step into learning the ins and outs of magazine printing, production and distribution. It was quite a stride.

Michael Watson, The Lutheran’s art director, and Curt Peterson, the magazine’s circulation marketing manager, took me to Hartford, Wis., home to one of five printing plants in the state that belong to QuadGraphics.

Quad had been printing the magazine for about a decade. It is a leader in the industry, doing work for more than 600 publications, ranging from Business Week to National Geographic.

Having spent most of my adult life in newspapers, the presses were familiar enough, except for the drying units for the final printed sheets (newspapers don’t use as much color and don’t demand the same quality of reproduction).

Where magazine production excels is in inserts and distribution. It’s all a bit dizzying. From “pockets” that can add dozens of items to the insides of a magazine to multimail programs that send bound material directly to postal carrier routes, there are scores of ways to personalize magazines and other products for readers.

It’s the scale of it that’s interesting. The average multimail stream, where magazines are bundled with other companies’ CDs, magazines, fliers and the like to save on postage, numbers 4.1 million pieces. Even for a guy who worked at a newspaper that in its prime was selling 637,000 copies a day, anything totaling into the millions is serious business.

Thanks to the trip and the help of QuadGraphics managers, The Lutheran will purse zoning opportunities (where a reader in Minneapolis gets a copy with a slightly different editorial content than a reader in New York City), a more timely in-home delivery date (that could give the editorial staff as few extra days to make the content more current), advances in technology (“soft proofs” of near-final pages that can be checked off at a remote location with a computer screen instead of in a more expensive printed format) and, of course, further refinements in multimail.

While it’s a different kind of ink, it doesn’t matter whether it’s from magazines or newspapers. Once it’s in your blood, you’re never the same. This is my kind of business. This is fun.

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