Paper weight: How low can you go?

In a recent article published in Multichannel Merchant, they highlight the ongoing battle to reduce catalog production costs, and how many mailers look at reducing the basis weight of their paper. This can be a good move, since it typically leads to significant cost savings. But it's not a decision that should be taken lightly: Going with a lower-weight catalog paper has repercussions as well as advantages.

First, why would you reduce the basis weight or your paper? The initial answer is, naturally, to have less overall weight, and therefore lower costs.

Let's say your printer needs 500,000 lbs. of 40-lb. paper to produce the catalog, and you're considering moving down to 38-lb. stock instead. Doing this will reduce the poundage required by 5% to a new total of 475,000 lbs.

So are you 5% ahead? Maybe, maybe not. That's where it gets interesting.

In nearly all cases, a paper mill's price structure dictates that as you go down in weight, you go up in price. In the case of 40-lb. paper vs. a 38-lb. stock, whatever price you're paying for 40 lb. will be $1.50/hundredweight (cwt) more for 38 lb. Here's the math, using a hypothetical price of $41/cwt for 40 lb.:

40-lb. 500,000 lbs. x $41/cwt = $205,000
38-lb. 475,000 lbs. x $42.50/cwt = $201,875
= $3,125 savings
By going to lighter paper, you've saved $3,125, or just about 1.5%, not 5%. So you might immediately conclude that it's not worth moving down based on a savings of just 1.5%.

But there's another key variable you need to look at: postal costs. Although you may have only saved a few thousand dollars in basis weight reduction, you could be saving many thousands more in postage costs. It all depends on your mail class and the weight of your book relative to U.S. Postal Service guidelines.

While it's impossible to generalize � especially when it comes to your individual catalog and the USPS � it's worth looking into the potentially significant postage savings you may see with a lower basis weight. Your paper merchant may be able to help you with this, and your printer should be able to supply a definitive answer. Going lighter may have no impact at all on your postal costs, or it could yield substantial savings.

Another consideration for lightening your paperweight may have less to do with cost reduction and more to do with gaining potential revenue. Going lighter may enable you to increase page count while staying under USPS weight guidelines.

This way you can get more of your products in front of your customers. A lower weight that enables you to add eight more pages of merchandise to your book could be quite beneficial. To read the complete article, click here.

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