The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 20, Number 8
Dec 1996

A Strategy For Promoting the Use of Permanent Paper in the Private Sector

by Jan Michaels
Preservation Policy and Planning Officer
National Library of Canada

This paper is based on a portion of one given at Erice 96, International Conference on Conservation and Restoration of Archive and Library Materials, 22-29 April 1996. It appears on p. 21-31 in the preprints, under the title "Strategies for Ensuring the Use of Permanent Paper."

The deterioration of twentieth-century books, journals, newspapers and manuscripts presents an enormous and continually growing problem for libraries and archives. The National Library of Canada (NLC) has long championed the use of permanent paper. As the library with the largest collection of the Canadian published heritage, we are particularly aware that since the establishment of Confederation in 1867, our paper-based heritage, including federal government publications and records, has been printed on paper which is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

Assuring the use of permanent paper is one of the most important preservation activities the National Library currently can undertake. It is also the most cost-effective way, ultimately, to grapple with the problem of preserving the twentieth and twenty-first century paper-based heritage. We must stem the tides of decaying paper.

National Library Overall Strategy

To meet this need, the National Library developed a two-pronged strategy to increase the use of permanent paper: it decided that it would work toward achieving a government policy to use permanent paper in federal government publications, and at the same time to increase the use of permanent paper in the private sector.

On January 15, the Minister of the Department of Communications announced that all federal publications of historical or information value were to be printed on permanent paper. In implementing this policy, he designated the National Library of Canada as the agency to assist federal government departments in the change to permanent paper use. At the same time, Cabinet called upon the National Library, the National Archives and the Canadian Conservation Institute to work toward developing a standard for paper stability consistent with international efforts.

Private Sector

Meanwhile, in 1991, in order to address the general lack of awareness of permanent paper in Canada, the National Library commissioned a private consulting firm, Peat Marwick Stevenson and Kellogg (KPMG) to prepare a communications strategy framework for permanent paper.1 The aim was to encourage the manufacture, use and purchase of permanent paper in the private sector. The challenge was a cost effective way to create pressure for the use of this paper. KPMG outlined tactics and methods to facilitate this work. Unfortunately, although the strategy outlined below is not very costly, it was not possible to fully implement the strategy in the private sector: due to human resource constraints throughout the National Library, there were not sufficient resources for full implementation of the strategy provided by KPMG.

Nonetheless, their conclusions and solutions were very interesting and, I believe, could be the basis for a strategy in other countries with a publishing industry similar to Canada's. To make it better known to potential users, the strategy recommended to the National Library is outlined below.

1 Most of what follows is based on the Project Report prepared for the National Library of Canada, National Library of Canada-Communications Strategy Framework for Permanent Paper, Ottawa, 5 March 1991.

Strategy for Promoting Permanent Paper in the Private Sector

The players involved in the production and sale of a book can be described as links in a "paper chain." Pressure from a given party on his neighbor to the left affects the demand for permanent paper, while pressure to the right affects supply.

Paper Producers'Paper

Initially, it was perceived by NLC that the key groups which needed to be influenced might be publishers and papermakers. However, interviews revealed that this is not the case and that, in fact, printers and paper distributors are extremely important, if not dominant, participants.

KPMG interviews indicated that pulp and paper producers were largely unaware of permanent paper issues and, at that time, did not care about them. (Clearly, this is not the case today.) In fact, there was little awareness of the distinction between alkaline and permanent papers. The quantity of fine paper that ends up in books is too small to be of concern to producers. (In 1989, 160,000 tons of paper, equivalent to the annual production of only two paper machines, were used in books of all kinds in the Canadian domestic market.) This was consistent with our experiences in talking to industry about the federal government permanent paper policy: they were most concerned with magazines and inserts, items not usually printed on fine papers but on coated groundwood stock. KPMG predicted that permanent paper would be quite likely to be used in many books by default and, of course, this has indeed been the case. They therefore suggested that paper producers not be primary targets of the communications strategy.

Because retailers and, to some extent, publishers are removed from the selection of papers for books and are largely unaware of permanent paper issues, KPMG indicated that they should not be the primary focus of the strategy either. Similarly, book buyers do not act as a cohesive group and were seen to be unlikely to play an important role at this stage, largely because of the technical complexity of the issues. School boards and lending libraries were discounted because the average lifetimes of books that they hold are typically three to five years.

Interestingly, they discovered that publishers tend to have long-standing business relationships with particular printers and tend to use the papers that their printer has selected for "floor stock." Many publishers were issuing books printed on alkaline or permanent paper without being aware of it. Therefore, KPMG decided that the strategy would be most effective if it targeted, above all others, the primary sellers and buyers of paper for books: the paper distributors and printers.

Paper distribution companies buy a large fraction of the output of mills in Canada: most companies use distributors to sell their products to end-users. Almost all distributors in Canada have a national presence and there are only roughly 10 to 15 national distributors, most owned by paper manufacturers. Despite this, they continue to offer papers obtained from a variety of sources. Distributors supply printers and influence their selection of paper products. In turn printers influence publishers. Normally, when a printer shows paper samples to a client, they are packaged in the promotional material of the distributor, not that of the manufacturer or the printer. The distributor is therefore a very important player in influencing paper selection, and needed to be targeted in the strategy.

Their interviews showed that there was a general lack of awareness of permanent paper issues amongst all links in the paper chain and also no appreciation of the infinity symbol or the possibilities of using it as a marketing tool even amongst those who knew about permanent paper. The communications strategy which KPMG proposed to accelerate the use of permanent paper in books made from fine papers indicated that the principal targets, in order, should be:

KPMG noted that industry associations provide a very simple and direct means of communication with all of the groups in the chain. Most associations showed a willingness to help the Library in its efforts, for example, through "piggy-back" mailings. However, simple attempts to communicate the issue were not felt to be enough: it was important to be able to quantify success achieved. In short, if the Library was trying to sell people on the benefits of permanent paper, it had to be sure that it ultimately developed some customers.

Tackling the Ends of the Paper Chain

KPMG determined that it would be essentially impossible to affect the production of permanent paper through a promotional strategy aimed at the manufacturers. However, it would be entirely appropriate to alert manufacturers to the fact that a high proportion of their alkaline production would be permanent and that they might squeeze some marketing advantage from the situation.

They recommended that the best method of alerting manufacturers to the benefits of permanent paper was to solicit a response, i.e., send out a questionnaire package through the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association. The information gathered from the questionnaire would be useful but this was not its primary objective. The main thrust of this exercise was to educate and inform. The questions were to be designed so that they could not be answered by a single individual within a corporation. Therefore, several people, at several levels in the company, would be required to participate and would thereby become informed of permanent paper issues.

The extent to which the questionnaires were completed and returned would provide a measure of the effectiveness of the strategy. Names and addresses of the respondents, gathered in a database, could be used in future promotions. This approach requires a fairly minimal investment of time and effort. It was recommended that experts in direct mail be used to design the covering letter and questionnaire, in order to ensure that the letter did not end up in the garbage can. Also, a prepaid reply envelope would encourage the return of questionnaires. The more prestigious the author of the letter, the more likely the company would be to respond.

Not seen to be cost-effective were low-cost bookmarks extolling the virtues of permanent paper, which could be provided to book retailers to be given away to consumers. However, as a means to promote the National Library at the same time, it remained an option, should sufficient funds exist.

Since the level of knowledge varied so much among individuals within publishing companies, communication was suggested to be two-pronged. Mailings could be used to inform publishers of the issues or to provide notices of meetings, seminars or activities relating to permanent paper. These were to be directed not only to heads of houses, but also to heads of production. Secondly, communications or written articles in industry journals or trade newsletters would also help, especially if they were written by people actually engaged in book production.

Strengthening the Central Links

The main thrust of the strategy involved printers and paper distributors. KPMG's investigations showed that the publisher-printer relationship in Canada tends to be of a very long-term and durable nature. They therefore suggested an imaginative strategy which creates a feedback loop between distributor and printer. These are the steps:

-Write to the distributors to collect information on their permanent paper products. Send a letter stating that the Library is acting to promote the use of permanent paper in book products. Add that it will be mailing information on permanent paper to thousands of printers, designers and publishers. With this information, the Library will be sending a prepaid reply card. If a given distributor wishes to be included on the card as a supplier of permanent paper, he simply has to supply the requested information concerning his permanent paper products and the library will feed back a list of sales leads. If participation in such a mailing is not viable for the library from a political standpoint, it could set up the mailing through the trade association. In any case, the trade association should be consulted before the strategy is initiated.

-Mail the information to printers with information on the sources of supply of permanent paper. Suggest that they request further information. It was recommended that a mailing list of printers in Canada be bought or rented and that the owner of the list would likely be able to provide preprinted pressure sensitive labels. A local mailing house could assemble and mail the information. The package should alert printers to the benefits of using permanent paper. The mailing should be highly targeted and not general. There must be a prepaid reply card identifying the suppliers so that the printers can request more information from specific sources (perhaps those that are close geographically). Again, we were strongly urged to seek professional assistance from copywriters on the text.

-Send requests for information back to the distributors. The extent to which the reply cards are returnd to the library will indicate the measure of interest in permanent paper. Names and addresses of printers should be fed back to the supply houses as sales leads. These houses should then be able to use their own marketing people to promote permanent paper with the printers. The list of replies can also be added to other names and addresses that the library may collect in other elements of this strategy. These could be the subject of subsequent mailing.

Flexibility was recommended so that the strategy could be modified to respond to changes in the rapidly evolving situation.

End Matter

Industry wants to sell as much paper to as many people as possible. Each company will compete vigorously to enter into and then expand in any market which shows promise. Industry has millions of dollars in resources at its disposal. It can have highly developed lobbying and marketing strategies. At the same time, the heritage sector cares passionately about permanence and has established, thanks to a very strong conservation science ethic, rigorous standards for ensuring permanence. Our future is in our hands and we are all missionaries in this regard. Most of us are not strategists. Because we all think in terms of 500 year chunks, because we have seen the effects of the past, we worry about the future. Our experience with soluble nylon and vapor-phase deacidification, to name but two misguided points in preservation history, means that we are necessarily cautious of miracle solutions.

The National Library is continuing to work with industry to ensure that the broadest range of papers can be manufactured to last for the longest possible time; and to ensure that fine papers are not ever again developed in such a way that they will deteriorate significantly over time. This collaboration with industry is particularly important. It is conceivable that no manufacturer of fine papers will ever again develop a paper that is not permanent. Just as no manufacturer would make a paper that could not pass easily though a photocopier, it is possible that no one ever again will consider making a paper that does not have longevity. Longevity could well become a basic requirement of any future fine paper manufacture.

Economics has played a major role in the increased availability and use of permanent paper in the last decade. It would be nice to think that the efforts of the library community internationally have been an enormous influence, but if experience in Canada is any clue, our greatest influence may well remain in the future. When the National Library first began to promote permanent paper use actively, there were only one or two mills in Canada making alkaline paper. By the time that the government policy for permanent paper use for publications was adopted, only a few years later, all but one fine paper mill had converted to alkaline production: the switch could be made for a modest capital investment and afforded a price advantage of $20 per ton over equivalent acid-based papers. One Canadian mill projected that as a result of their conversion from acidic to alkaline paper production, they would achieve a $4 million per annum cost advantage. With the introduction of the latest ANSI permanent paper standard, and its changes to the fold criterion, most of these Canadian alkaline mills could easily produce permanent paper and so they changed their manufacturing processes to meet this new standard. Therefore, our promotion of permanent paper coincided with the realistic ability for publishers to BUY and USE permanent paper.

As resources devoted to the preservation of the paper-based heritage continue to shrink we must increasingly seek proactive, cost-effective means of preserving our patrimony. The NLC has long used mass deacidification as a means to react to our acid book problem: at the height of our program we deacidified nearly 200,000 books a year. Now, with severe budget cuts, we are unlikely to be able to treat even 30,000 books a year. Acquiring items on permanent paper increasingly becomes the only cost-effective means of preserving our heritage. What we will do about our past, I don't know, but there remain means to influence the future.

It is essential that the international paper heritage communty become proactive in its championship of permanent paper. If we remain reactive we will miss an opportunity to strengthen the ability of our future patrimony to survive the next century and beyond.

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