Hello from Kim Kardashian West: Magazine publishing gets personal

Partnering with HP, ELLE’s April issue shows off first-of-its kind customization — and the future of publishing.

By Garage Staff — March 29, 2018

As the April issue of ELLE lands in mailboxes this week, subscribers may find themselves doing a double take as they glance at the cover of Kim Kardashian West. In addition to an image of the TV personality and entrepreneur, the cover also offers a greeting — personalized for more than 50,000 lucky readers. “Hi [reader’s name], Love you! XOXO Kim.”

Beyond the surface, the legacy magazine used a combination of creativity and digital printing to reinvent the style icon’s autograph on each of the specialized covers.

Printed digitally on the covers of the April issue are one of two messages in Kardashian West’s handwriting: “Love you” or “This is major.” HP’s Indigo 10000 printer, along with Sappi paper, provided the color quality required to print a fashion magazine cover. Then, using ELLE’s subscriber database, a technique called variable-data printing personalized each cover with the recipient’s name.

Jenna Blaha, ELLE’s technology editor, says imbuing this technology into a 72-year-old magazine was a perfect storm of opportunity: a combination of the right celebrity, the right cover shot — because it feels aesthetically fresh — and the right technology to do something new.  

Leszek Czerwonka

The cost-benefit equation has shifted

The ELLE triumph spotlights the growth of digital printing, which offers publishers advantages that traditional offset printing can’t provide. In 2017, according to research from Smithers Pira, digital printing accounted for 16.2 percent of global print’s market value and 2.9 percent of its volume, with digital (toner and inkjet) processes expected to see the fastest growth from 2017 to 2022.

Traditional offset printing is an economical choice for producing large quantities of printed copies of a few originals, such as magazines, using physical plates that transfer ink from plate to page. Digital printing, on the other hand, transfers images directly from a computer file without the use of plates. This form of printing easily allows for design changes during the print process without significantly slowing it down. And while the technology has been around for years, it’s only recently that the quality has become high enough and costs have come down enough that it makes sense for magazines to print digitally in full color.

“The media industry is ever-evolving and we’d like our readers to be part of the change.”

Nina Garcia, editor in chief of ELLE

Automatically updating pages

One future opportunity for publishers to extend the shelf life of an issue would be to embed automatically refreshing content within its pages. Imagine using an app to scan your print-magazine cover each week to reveal new videos, animations, giveaways, access to a microsite or even augmented-reality content. For example, readers could scan the cover of a fashion magazine to unlock a behind-the-scenes video of the photo shoot or find travel facts about the location where it took place.

This power to personalize will also give print ads more impact. Custom regionalized messaging — based on subscriber data — will enable advertisers to engage with readers on a more personal level than is possible with traditional print ads. That opens the potential for renewed advertiser revenue streams for publishers.

Consumers say: “Talk to me”

While magazines have long been able to individualize copies, a shift seems to be happening within the publishing industry as demand for personalization grows and digital-print quality increases. According to recent Epsilon research, 80 percent of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers a personalized experience.

“Publishers understand that they need to find new ways to reach out to their audiences,” says Jacob Shamis, HP’s market development manager for the Americas. “Digital-print technology enables them to reach out and talk specifically to and in the language of the individual who's receiving the product.”

Nina Garcia, editor in chief of ELLE, says creating personalized covers allows ELLE to deliver a deeply personal experience directly into people’s homes. “The media industry is ever-evolving,” she says. “And we’d like our readers to be part of the change.”

There’s a saying in publishing: If your content is for everyone, it’s for no one. This month, the industry will no doubt be watching closely as ELLE combines digital technology, personalization and celebrity to redefine the print experience for readers. “We have taken that first step of putting your name on the cover,” says ELLE’s Blaha. “But thinking of the future and the things we can do to provide better, more personalized content for readers — it’s really exciting stuff.”


Learn more about ELLE’s April issue — and its breakthrough cover — on