Paper based information

Senior couple reading a paper leafletDespite the increase in access to digital information through a range of devices, many people still prefer to read and digest information from a printed page. Printed materials can be scribbled on, folded and highlighted more easily than digital information. They can also be kept in a handbag, stuck on a fridge or left on a coffee table for easy access.

One of the biggest challenges when producing printed information is dissemination- the goal is to establish a model which allows you to achieve maximum reach at minimum cost. This article focuses on the practical aspects of dissemination, assuming you are operating within a broader strategy where the need for the product in print, the content and design and the audiences you hope it will reach have been considered.

Print runs and costs

Decisions about the most cost effective way to produce a print product will depend on good knowledge of your dissemination channels and volumes. If the content requires frequent revisions or the product is very slow moving it might be best to print it on demand – waiting until you know how many you need and printing to order. If you only expect to produce a new version every couple of years there are economies of scale in printing a large run and storing it to be used up gradually in time for the new edition.

It is likely to be helpful to determine the cost price of one unit of each product. This will help you to determine what the sale price should be or to account for the cost of the free distribution if you give the information away.

To charge or not to charge

Many organisations producing health information face a dilemma over whether or not to charge for their content. The costs of print and postage usually mean that the print product is more expensive to disseminate than digital.

If you decide not to charge and your information is very popular you may want to think about setting a limit on individual orders, or for particular audiences to keep control of your costs. For example you might only allow up to 5 copies of a product for personal use and up to 100 copies for professionals.

If you do charge for information the sale price will depend on your aim, i.e. income generation or basic cost covering. You might decide that certain audiences will be asked to pay, such as employers, but individuals can still access copies for personal use free of charge. If your aim is to break even then your sale price should cover at a minimum the cost price of the product, the costs of fulfilment and postage and packing.

Ordering – pull or push

Pile of magazinesIn order to disseminate your information you need to receive orders. These can come in a variety of ways, categorised here as push or pull.

Push would be orders that you facilitate. These could come from a wide range of situations e.g.

  • Funded project to ensure particular communities have your information
  • Given as a routine part of care by a health professional at each appointment
  • Sent to your network of charity shops or local member groups to support their work
  • Sent to potential customers to raise interest and knowledge of your products
  • Sections of content included in other communications, such as member newsletter

Pull orders would come directly from your customers, and rely on your organisation effectively marketing the information products. It is important that you make the experience of placing an order and receiving products quick and easy. It is also good practice to collect information about the people ordering so you can develop your products and marketing strategies appropriately.

Marketing is important for both free of charge and chargeable items as it will generate the pull orders. You should consider using a mix of techniques, including e-newsletters, adverts and cross promotion with other parts of your organisation.

Storage and fulfilment

You should make sure that your products are stored in good condition and can be easily picked and packed. If you are sending sensitive information in the post you might want to use anonymous packaging.

If you only deal with a small volume of stock it might be easiest to run the operation in-house, with simple processes for picking, packing and posting out orders. If you are ordering print-on-demand products then your printer will often be able to fulfil directly, saving you a stage in the process. Larger organisations with many customers and products will often outsource the work to a fulfilment specialist. It is good practice to set strict service level agreement with any third party, and re-tender for the work every three years.

Impact evaluation

It can be very difficult to measure the impact of printed information, particularly if it is disseminated through an intermediary.

For push orders you should consider making it a condition that the recipient participates in evaluation. For pull orders you could send follow up surveys, or include a feedback form with each delivery. You might also run a more in-depth evaluation using face to face techniques to understand in more detail how well you are meeting the information needs of your target audience.

Top Tips

  1. Thumbs-upUnderstand the cost price of your products
  2. Think about evaluation at the start to prevent boxes sitting unused in store cupboard
  3. Be innovative with marketing- it doesn’t need to cost the earth
  4. Disseminate printed materials as part of a face to face service if you can


Acknowledgement: Beth Murphy, Mind
Page last update: 19/11/12