How Much Does it Cost to Mail a Catalog
People often search our website wanting to know how much it costs to mail a catalog. Therefore, I decided to write a series of articles to help you better understand the cost of mailing a catalog. I will discuss what is included in the final cost of mailing a catalog and how these expenses should be managed. Knowing how much it costs to mail a catalog will make it possible for you to budget and to determine your incremental breakeven point; critical to profitability.
The past few years, companies who started as internet only marketers are now using print to generate new buyers and to maximize their sales. That’s because print catalogs remain the largest single driver of traffic to the web. Catalogs are a good way to remain in touch with your current customers. They are also a proven and targeted method for generating new customers to grow your house file. These companies see the benefit of mailing a catalog thus taking advantage of this important marketing channel.
The cost of mailing a catalog can vary greatly. There are several factors that determine the final cost in the mail. Many of these factors are under your control. Quantity printed, page count, paper weight and grade, trim size and co-mail are the most common factors affecting your cost. I want to discuss each one of these factors in more detail.
QUANTITY PRINTED – The unit cost per catalog will come down as the quantity printed increases. When you do your circulation planning, include one or two re-mails (with a cover change only) as a way to increase the quantity printed. Make-ready and the upfront costs of printing a catalog can be spread over multiple mailings from only one press run to help reduce cost. These re-mails should be spaced 4 to 6 weeks apart. Remailing the same catalog with a different cover each time is a good marketing strategy which will yield more bang for the buck helping to reduce your marketing cost and selling expense to sales ratio.
PAGE COUNT – The unit cost per catalog is affected by the number of pages you print. However, the incremental cost per catalog will not increase proportionally as you add pages. Keep in mind that more pages will yield a higher response rate because more SKU’s can be included in your catalog. Our rule of thumb is that revenue will increase at one-half the percent increase in page count. For example, if the page count increases by 20%, the revenue will increase by approximately 10%. The larger the store, i.e., the catalog, the greater the sales. It is important to understand how the page count changes the weight of your catalog and the effect on postage cost.
NUMBER OF PRESS FORMS - Utilize the fewest number of press forms possible; one press form is the most efficient to print. For example, you can print 48 pages as one press form on the same paper. Running 48 pages on two different weights of paper is less efficient. A 48-page catalog can also be produced using a 32-page press form on one basis weight of paper and a 16-page press form on a different basis weight requires two forms which adds to the cost. Catalogers should know the press equipment being used in order to take advantage and the various efficiencies. The more press forms, the greater the cost. It is generally most efficient to print in 16-page (or at least 8-page) sections and with one weight of paper if possible. For example, you could print a 64-page catalog with 2 press make readies (two 32-page sections) more efficiently than you could print a 44-page catalog (requiring 3 make readies). Unless your product presentation requires top grade paper, which most do not, substantial money can be saved by altering paper and print manufacturing combinations. Ask your printer for cost saving options.
PAPER WEIGHT/GRADE – Paper represents over 30% to 40% of your total printing costs. Your choice of paper weight and grade will influence the cost. Be reasonable. Don’t overkill on paper weight and grade. As a rule of thumb, as the page count increases, the paper weight can come down. It’s important that the catalog weighs enough to feel good in the hands of the reader. But again, don’t print on 40 lb., or 50 lb., paper if a lighter weight paper will do. Your printer can best advise. Grade is another factor. For example, understand the difference between a #3 sheet vs. a #5 grade. The choices you make regarding paper weight and grade affect your cost and bottom line.
TRIM SIZE – Another important consideration. Standard trim sizes range from 6” x 9” for smaller Slim Jim formats up to 8” x 10-1/2” for full size catalogs and everything in between. Reducing the width or height of your catalog can save on paper and sometimes on postage cost therefore you should work with your printer on format options.
CO-MAIL – Be sure you use a “catalog printer” to print and mail your catalog. This is a printer who co-mails which enables you to mail your catalog in a pool with other catalogs to help reduce postage costs. If you use a printing company who does not co-mail expect to pay more for postage. Click here to read more about co-mailing.
POSTAGE COST - How much you pay for postage is determined by the weight of the catalog. There is the postal piece rate (a catalog weighing 4.0 ounces or less) and the postal pound rate (catalogs weighing more than 4.0 ounce). It is always a good strategy to increase the page count up to the 4.0 ounces limit in order to maximize postage. For example, it will cost just as much to mail a 32-page catalog vs. a 48-page catalog (depending on trim size and paper weight). Postage costs represent approximately 50% of the total cost to print and mail a catalog. Therefore, do everything you can to leverage postage cost.
When taking all of the factors above into consideration, the average cost per catalog in the mail will range from $.55 to $.70 or more. There is no rule of thumb because once again, there are so many variables affecting the cost. Don’t assume that you can’t change your costs for printing and mailing a catalog … because you can. The decisions you make are critical. Worry about what’s important and everything else will take care of itself. Give us a call if you are thinking about starting a catalog. Or, if you would like suggestions on ways to reduce your catalog costs. We will be glad to help.
Stephen R. Lett is Founder & Chairman of Lett Direct, Inc., a catalog consulting firm specializing in digital marketing, circulation planning, forecasting and analysis since 1995. Mr. Lett spent the first 25 years of his career with leading catalog companies; both business-to-business and consumer. He is the author of a book, Strategic Catalog Marketing. He can be reached at 302-539-7257 or by email at email@example.com.