“Who are these assholes?” the publisher on the other end of the phone growled. “And are we buying any paper from them?”
“You’d better take a look at today’s Wall Street Journal, then tell me who Champion Paper Company is and why they’re calling us liars.”
The production director soon learned that his counterparts at other publishing companies were getting the same grilling from their publishers that morning. The controversial Champion ad warned advertisers to watch out for sleazy magazine-advertising sales reps, who promised their ads would be on glossy paper when in fact they would be printed on supercalendered (SCA) paper.
(Editor’s note: If you have a digital copy or scan of that ad, please email it to email@example.com so that I can publish it. I would be happy to give you credit – or not, if you prefer.)
The campaign backfired, with some publishers dropping Champion as a supplier, and defiant Champion executives eventually hitting the road for an apology tour. International Paper bought the company in 2000.
Seventeen years later, the makers of coated-groundwood (CGW) paper are still seeking advertisers’ help to prevent magazines from switching to less expensive SCA. But their tactics have become less clumsy and far more subtle.
Based on information from unnamed “paper industry sources,” the New York Post reported today that Time Inc. is saving “at least $10 million a year” by switching from CGW to “razor-thin” SCA in its weekly magazines, “unbeknownst to advertisers.” You don’t suppose any of those sources were from companies that make coated paper, do you?
Color reproduction isn’t as good on SCA, and “bleed through” is worse because the paper is thinner, the tabloid quoted the sources as saying.
My fellow paper geeks will recognize the over-generalizations here: For example, color reproduction isn’t always inferior on SCA, and a thin paper doesn’t necessarily have more bleedthrough (or showthrough or strikethrough) than thicker paper.
Traditional coated paper is like a sandwich: The central “meat” layer consists mostly of pulp, which is covered on both sides by a clay-based coating and then run through giant calender rolls to make it smooth and glossy.
With SCA, the meat and bread are all mixed together, but heat and extra pressure in the calender rolls yield a surface similar to that of coated paper. Because the process is less expensive than making coated paper, SCA sells for a roughly 15% discount off of CGW.
SCA does tend to be limper, thinner, and less opaque than CGW of the same weight and to have lower print quality. But the quality gap between CGW and SCA has narrowed greatly to the point that a good SCA can look better than a bad CGW (and I’ve certainly seen plenty of bad CGW in Time Inc.’s flagship TIME magazine in recent years).
Although CGW is the dominant substrate for North American magazines, extensive use of SCA isn’t new to weekly magazines. In fact, by using SCA mostly in the heartland and coated paper on the East and West coasts, Time is following an approach that Newsweek reportedly employed for several years without a peep from the popular press.
Related articles about SCA and coated papers:
- There's Little Clarity About Some SCA Papers
- Heavier Paper Can Save Money
- Newsweek Spending Millions in Paper Money