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Modern media

April 30, 2011

For a printing firm that began as a publisher, evolving with the market's need for creative, multimedia solutions comes naturally.

Fry Communications (www.frycomm.com) in Mechanicsburg, PA, began in 1934 as a small, family publisher of weekly shopping guides. Since then, it has grown into a diversified, four-plant (totaling 1 million sq. ft.) operation with 1,000 employees in its eponymous divisions — Fry Communications and FryDirect — alone.

President and owner Henry Fry took over the business in 1958 after his father passed away. In 1967, he purchased a sheetfed, 1-color offset press and began to expand the company's scope beyond publishing. David Fry, his son and Fry's chief technology officer (CTO), explains, “When the machinery wasn't being used to produce the guide, he took on small print jobs from a local Navy installation. By the end of the 1960s, procurement for this work was being centralized at the Government Printing Office. The firm started bidding on government jobs, and that started its rapid growth.”

By 1975, Fry was the largest federal contract printer in the country. At the same time, the firm was developing its publication and catalog work, focused on business-to-business markets.

Fry's expansion into commercial printing set the stage for continuous growth through relationship building that continues today. As its customers' needs have grown and changed, so has the company.

Embracing variety

While some companies partner with a small number of equipment manufacturers to build and supply their fleets, Fry keeps its options open. Marketing operations manager Elizabeth Bellis says the firm's equipment purchases are driven by customer demand. The company has two dozen presses and as many bindery machines, all from a variety of vendors.

Fry's equipment mix has grown from sheetfed to nonheat to heatset to wide-web offset, as well as two Océ digital presses (color and monochrome). In the bindery, hand stitching transitioned to saddlestitching, then perfect binding and high-speed selective binding with inside/outside inkjetting. Fry also does its own tipping, polybagging and other auxiliary processes. A hand-glued mailing label operation has grown into onsite comailing and distribution planning.

The company's custom-built Komori sheetfed press, purchased in 2009, applies effects inline that formerly required separate equipment and outsourcing to trade shops. “Our customers kept asking for it,” says Bellis.

Fry worked with “Mr. Magazine” Samir Husni (www.mrmagazine.com) to publish his 25th “Guide to New Magazines” showcasing these new capabilities. Fry used the Komori press to produce the cover, which features inline foil, embossing, spot gloss and spot UV coatings. Fry dubs this the “Megazine,” a product for magazine publishers that offers heightened newsstand visibility, presentation value and reader interest.

Major media moguls

In the past several years, David Fry has launched a number of digital initiatives, expanding the company's reach into online information distribution services. Recent acquisitions signal that this is a key growth area for the firm.

“There has been a wholesale change in how people consume media, in the last 10 years,” says Fry, “and we see more changes ahead. This has obviously caused an upheaval in the publishing industry. We are responding to those changes by providing technologies and services that help our customers operate effectively across these new worlds.”

Fry's digital publishing platforms include “LivePages,” which incorporate interactive graphics, video, flash animation, sharing via social networks and virtual tradeshows.

“While the concept of the Megazine is to show how a publisher can use innovative production processes to make their product stand out in the marketplace, LivePages allows them to do the same online,” Fry explains. “It's a very attractive and affordable way to add rich content [that is] appropriate for the channel, yet still bring the familiarity of the print publication. And it's a great way for the publisher to increase revenue from their digital operations.”

Mobile apps are another option for Fry's customers. The “Mozine,” such as a recent example produced for NYLON magazine, is aimed at handheld smartphones. (See “Print vehicles extend their brands,” April 2011, at http://americanprinter.com/how-to/printing_print_vehicles_extend.)

“Because of the small screen size, you can't successfully reproduce the printed page, and rich media touches — like elaborate animation — detract from the user experience,” says Fry. “So we repackage the information in a new design, leveraging the publication's brand and art direction but optimizing for speed and readability.”

Fry Communications affiliate Thumb Media Group (TMG) (www.thumbmediagroup.com) produces these digital products, with some help from Fry's staff. Fry partnered with National Publisher Services (NPS) (www.nps1.com) to purchase the intellectual property and software that became the basis of TMG in 2010. “We operate the business together, each providing expertise and technology as appropriate,” says Fry.

In January 2011, Fry acquired a 50% interest in NPS. At the same time, NPS acquired Circulation Specialists Inc. (CSI). John LeBrun, hired as an NPS partner and CEO of CSI, calls the combination of those two companies “a publisher's dream.” Fry explains, “NPS and CSI bring a number of new capabilities in the newsstand, circulation and fulfillment areas that our customers can benefit from, which, in turn, helps Fry.”

Also in January, Fry acquired Asyling Digital Media Solutions (www.aysling.com). “Aysling provides tools and services for content creators and distributors, such as enterprise content management software or digital asset management,” says Fry. For example, the firm is working with one of the country's largest publishers to install software that will help its staff manage the production of print titles and produce iPad editions for resale through Apple's iTunes store.

Custom built

Fry Communications has built a portfolio of products that offers its customers not only efficient and advanced printing but the ability to reach people just about anywhere, at any time.

“We like to say we do the things you display on a screen or in print equally well, and often in a unique fashion,” says Steve Grande, vice president of sales. “This has resonated well for custom publishers that wish to create a standout product that presents a higher perceived valued, is a coordinated message on different platforms, or represents an amalgam of content from many sources.”

As publishers and marketers seek more integrated methods to get the word out, Grande says Fry's battle cry is, “Equip to support those needs with the same level of competency and enthusiasm we have in traditional print.”

Environmental initiatives

Fry Communications' environmentally friendly practices include Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Chain of Custody certification and, most recently, the installation of solar panels. Its reduce/reuse/recycle practices include reflective roof coatings, more energy-efficient presses and gas heaters, press water system improvements, and variable-frequency drive and HVAC controls to reduce electrical consumption. The company is conducting feasibility studies on the use of renewable energy sources such as wind power, geothermal power, load cells and cogeneration.

Denise Kapel is Managing Editor, AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at denise.kapel@penton.com.

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