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From the Editor: Offset Still Thriving

January 2012 By Bob Neubauer
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I was touring the pressroom at Vanderbilt University last fall with a group of in-plant managers, marveling at the large volumes of printing being run on the in-plant's six- and four-color Heidelberg presses, when Bill May, director of Printing Services at the University of Alabama, made an interesting comment to me.

"Our presses are just as busy," he remarked (sparking the idea for this month's cover story). He said his school is printing tons of recruiting materials, magazines, alumni literature, media guides and brochures on its two four-color Sakurai presses.

Wait a minute! I thought long runs were a thing of the past. Haven't all the consultants and experts (and trade magazines) been telling us that short-run digital printing is taking over? That everyone is doing targeted variable data pieces these days?

Well, that may be true for many in-plants, but at a number of shops, large and small, offset is alive and well.

"We easily do 10 times more offset than digital," says May, whose shop averages a couple million offset impressions a month, versus a few hundred thousand monthly digital impressions.

The same is true at the University of Oklahoma, where an eight-color Heidelberg and a five-color manroland reign. Administrator John Sarantakos estimates that 90 percent of his in-plant's volume is done on the shop's offset presses, with just 10 percent printed digitally, mostly on a Kodak NexPress 2500.

"It's economical," Sarantakos explains. "The unit price is cheap. The quality is superior."

The in-plant prints piles of magazines, books, manuals and mailers on its offset presses. When we spoke with Sarantakos, his shop was getting ready to run a four-color training manual that would require three-quarters of a million sheets, printed on both sides—a two-week job.

Despite having all this offset firepower, Sarantakos still tries to interest customers in short-run, personalized pieces. The response is usually, "That's really interesting. Maybe we'll think about that in the future."

The capability is there, but customers have not bought into the benefits of targeted mailings, he says, especially considering the cost.

"They see that they can produce half the number of pieces for about the same amount of money [as a long offset run]," he says.

"You just get more bang for your buck," agrees May. "They [customers] know the cost effectiveness of offset." And since mass mailing recruitment materials seems to be working—between 2003 and 2011, the Crimson Tide has watched enrollment increase nearly 100 percent—why switch tactics?


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