Polybagging is the process whereby the various newspapers sections, supplements, inserts and add-ons such as CDs and samples are gathered together and encased in a protective plastic wrap. In the past, the relative slowness of the production speeds made polybagging difficult to use with large circulation newspapers but recent huge improvements in technology from Ferag are making it a more viable option that offers distinct benefits.
Firstly, polybagging ensures that the printed product arrives as it is supposed to look. With publishers spending millions on the latest production equipment and hi-tech printing plants, today’s newspapers have never looked better. That’s not much use though if the final product ends up being delivered scrunched, ripped and soggy. Polybagging protects the newspaper from the elements and keeps it in perfect condition, something that is particularly important for home deliveries to the valuable subscription market.
Secondly, polybagging makes it much easier to include a range of inserts and freebies that might otherwise fall out of the main body of the newspaper. This makes the newspaper much more attractive as a vehicle to advertisers and readers alike. When everything is enclosed in a single bag, the range and variety of add-ons becomes almost limitless.
To date, polybagging of newspapers in Australia has mainly focused on suburban and community titles where there is a high premium advertising content and the lead times permit additional post-press processing. Across a range of newspapers though, there’s no doubt that all major publishers are looking very carefully at polybagging as a means of potential future revenue growth.
According to David Steele, News Limited National Distribution manager, the trend towards polybagging of national titles started in the UK when the supermarkets began to have trouble ensuring that the ever-increasing number of sections and inserts stayed upright in the newspaper rack. As a result, they were losing customers to the newsagents who sold their newspapers flat. Polybagging helped to overcome this problem and ensured that the supermarkets reclaimed their market share.
In Australia, Steele doesn’t expect polybagging, if and when it does take off, to encompass every single newspaper that is produced. To begin with, it would probably only apply to weekend papers because lead times currently don’t permit wrapping of the daily editions Equally, it wouldn’t include the entire production run but possibly only supermarket sales and home deliveries.
“You wouldn’t wrap all the papers because then you lose the impulse buyer, the person who starts reading a story in the paper and ends up buying it,” Steele says.
Bob Lockley, Rural Press general manager printing, says that the company was looking at polybagging and that the main considerations were speed and cost as well as the environmental friendliness of the plastic wrapping. The main benefit is the add-on value to publications.
“There is certainly a market there for us and other publishers. We’re currently doing our homework on the options available and will be looking to trial it initially at a couple of sites,” he says.
At Fairfax newspapers, Tony Inglis, group general manager, logistics and retail network, acknowledges the scale of the task involved with polybagging but adds that ‘if it is what our customers want then we will give it to them’.
“There is obviously a cost involved in replacing existing infrastructure as well as an effect on an already narrow time frame for delivery,” he says. “The changing lifestyles of customers means that they are already seeking earlier delivery times. Polybagging adds an additional process, so it’s a challenge but not an insurmountable one.”
One of the driving forces behind the development of polybagging technology has been the mailroom specialists, Ferag. At Drupa 2004, the company showed its latest PolyStream system that runs at double the speed of previous gathering and polybagging systems.
PolyStream has been adapted from Ferag’s very successful RollStream technology that was originally developed for high speed inserting on MultiSertDrums. Now the same feeding and gathering technology is being used for wrapping rather than just inserting with the result that PolyStream goes a long towards overcoming the types of bottleneck problems previously associated with polybagging.
A prominent example of the successful implementation the PolyStream system is at the High Speed Bagging Company (HSBC) in London where several million printed products are wrapped every week. While polybagging may not be new to the UK market, the extent of the PolyStream system at HSBC certainly is. The company, which is owned by the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, uses a total of six lines for gathering and wrapping, the first of which was commissioned in April 2004. This has proven to be so successful that another five lines have since been installed.
At HSBC, each PolyStream line includes eight JetFeeder hoppers for feeding items to the collecting belt. In the case of the Mail on Sunday, this enables two special-interest sections, Financial Mail and Property, plus two magazines, Night & Day and You, to be collected with the main jacket. Promotional products such as CDs and collectors items are then added to the bundle via the final three feeder stations.
Overall, HSBC estimates that the PolyStream system has doubled production speeds for wrapping with no increase in staffing levels, thereby reducing the overall cost of inserting and wrapping each item.
Markus Haefeli, Ferag Australia managing director, says the doubling in speed of the latest PolyStream system was an important step towards making polybagging a viable, productive finishing option not only for newspaper publishers but also commercial web printers.
“The great interest shown in PolyStream at Drupa is a clear indication that publishers are looking to extend their capabilities in this field,” he says. “Publishers are well aware of numerous alternative marketing organisations that are working in direct competition with newspapers supplements these days to deliver advertising material to households. They need to take action now to ensure that this potentially lucrative growth market is not lost.”
“PolyStream is a tool that allows publishers to harness their current know-how and organisational structures in the longer term. Newspapers enjoy a high credibility among a broad segment of society and, when combined with the opportunities that polybagging presents, this provides an ideal vehicle for building on existing marketing opportunities.”