The Future of Museo Papers in Australia.
Question is - is there even going to be one?!
[Update December 2018]
UPDATE: The importer has indeed now decided to no longer import further Museo stock in to Australia.
We have therefore bought a large supply of the remaining stock - much of which we will reserve for our own printing services, but we do still have some stock for sale (and will update our product pages as particular sizes run out).
We of course still hope that some resolution will be found in the future & Museo will resume operation in Australia.
So, recently we had a phone call from the importer of Museo Digital papers in Australia.
This call was to tell us that by the end of the year, Museo pricing will be rising by almost 30% (!!!!).
Given Museo papers are already amongst the most expensive we stock, this will make their pricing approach in many cases 50% or more than the similar papers offered by other brands.
We believe this makes Museo papers an untenable proposition in the Australian market, unfortunately - but whilst they have a small range, it is a beloved one, and so we'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Could you stomach such a price rise - or is it Portfolio Rag or nothing?
We know that both Portfolio Rag and Silver Rag are much loved favourites - so please contact us with your feedback. This will help us judge whether we'll continue to offer Museo - and will also allow us to provide further feedback to Museo themselves.
The Glorious Beginning
In the beginning, there was Silver Rag, and it was wonderful.
In 2006 Museo (then Crane) launched what remains to this day the most exciting paper launch we can remember. Crane Museo Silver Rag was the first truly great digital darkroom replacement paper and was, for years, the king of this market.
I still remember the night out first shipment came in and to date don't think we've ever quite repeated that level of pre-orders for a product. Excitement was palpable, this was the dawn of a new age for inkjet printing.
For several years, Silver Rag was the clear leader in its category. There were some QC issues along the way - appalling for a product at its price range - but most of the time it was simply a truly excellent paper with a contrast range perhaps still unmatched to this day - inky deep shadows that retained detail marvellously and in a way no paper has come close to except for perhaps Ilford's Gold Fibre Gloss in recent times (our current favourite in this category).
Somewhere around 2007 Museo also released Portfolio Rag - their answer to Hahnemuehle's classic and much beloved Photo Rag (which remains the most popular digital fine art paper in the world). Portfolio Rag offered a few advantages for its noticeably higher price tag - for one, the sheets were coated both sides and thus the paper, in sheet form, lay dead flat. This made it a breeze to work with compared to most of the other rag papers. A beautiful smooth, brushed finish, the best blacks of any matte rag paper, and no OBAs made this a best in class paper. For over 10 years it has been, simply put, our all time favourite paper.
Museo Artist Cards - a pre-made card and matching envelope product - were another excellent effort from Museo. The early versions of this product were laser scored and just sublime, and these have always been a popular option.
The Difficult Middle
Crane sold the Museo range and the papers became simple Museo Silver Rag and Museo Portfolio Rag. And then, year over year, the Museo range was sold and re-sold, and inevitably this, and issues with cotton supply, has led to significant problems. Despite having the highest price tag, Museo's quality control was easily the worst in the business.
The only point of putting up with the QC issues was that the papers - when good - were so very, very good!
Notoriously, Silver Rag changed almost completely at a certain point. The base paper stock was changed, and Silver Rag went from an egg shell like appearance to a high gloss appearance almost overnight. Sales tanked and indeed we returned almost all of this material to the supplier and stopped sales.
We also shifted our own print services to more reliable materials (first to Canson Infinity Platine, which is a solid but not especially loveable effort in this category, and then to the current best in class Ilford Gold Fibre Gloss).
Portfolio Rag remained largely unchanged, fortunately, although there were issues with spots and ripples in the coating and whilst most stock was good, the overall percentage of issues with PR was far higher than it should have been - especially given its premium pricing. This was a frustration for us, for our print services, with a lot of wastage, and of course for our paper customers too. But at its best, it is simply so good, and so despite these issues this paper has always remained very popular.
Artist Cards changed to have a more traditional scored fold, which was a shame, but these remained steady sellers over the year. The biggest issue was increasing episodes of gaps in availability - so particularly for commercial users of these cards, this created a lot of issues.
In recent years, QC seems to have improved and things have settled a bit.
Silver Rag is near identical to the beloved 2006 version. Thanks to Museo accidentally sending too much stock to Australia, it is also keenly priced in the sheet form currently. So, this has recovered in sales at least a little, but given the modern alternatives, it will never have the presence in the market it once had.
(We continue to choose Ilford's Gold Fibre Gloss as the better paper overall in this category and thus use that for our own print services).
Portfolio Rag still looks identical to the eye, and still handles like a dream, but it would seem slight tweaks to the coating (perhaps in response to the ongoing QC issues?) - means it is no longer is the king of blacks as it once was (Photo Rag, in combination with 9070/7070 printers, has actually regained that crown!). But it remains without doubt a lovely paper, and a firm favourite here and with our customers.
Artist Cards have pretty much become unavailable in recent times. (We've been looking for a good alternative for a while and hope to have some good news in the not too distant future on this).
However, with this impending massive price rise, we feel that Museo has simply 'jumped the shark' on pricing and are pretty much ruling themselves out of the market.
As we are both the biggest users and sellers of Museo papers in Australia, the importer tells us if we're not interested in buying at the new prices, they will probably simply no longer import the papers. That is, Museo would effectively exit the Australian market completely!
This is a strange thought for us - it's like losing a friend. We've printed so many thousands of wonderful works on Portfolio Rag over the years, it's hard to imagine life without it. But the simple reality is when you look at the new pricing - it just doesn't work.
Here's just one example using some popular sizes and our projections of the pricing as it would be later this year once all the price rises are in:
|Museo Portfolio Rag||Hahnemuehle Photo Rag||Difference|
|A4/25 - $81||A4/25 - $60||35%|
|A3/25 - $193||A3/25 - $118||64%|
|24"/15m roll - $394||24"/12m roll - $260||52% |
|44"/15m roll - $687||44"/12m roll - $462||49%|
(note the Museo rolls are 3m longer, so the difference is a bit less than this table states, really - but it is still around 30 to 35%).
So on average, we're looking at pricing that is around 30 to 40% higher than the competitors.
We need your feedback! We'd like to know:
Please get in touch and let us know your thoughts, as this will be a strong factor in the decision we make.
- Alison Bennett -
I got 2nd prize at the Julie Milliwick Photography Prize!
I wanted to thank you for doing such a fabulous job on the print. It was wonderful to see the exhibition print on the wall.
I am particularly delighted that we were able to hold so much detail in the shadows and I like the matt powdery finish. I had lots of questions about the paper.