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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Book Printing: Everything Is an Advertisement

About 25 years ago, when I was an art director/production manager, the non-profit foundation for which I worked brought in a marketing consultant. Even though it was a quarter of a century ago, I still remember two things he said.

First he told a story of a campaign he had created for a foundation seeking funding to help the disabled. He had sent wheelchairs to select donors and had asked them to spend a day in the wheelchair and then donate what they thought appropriate. (Sort of a “walk a mile in my shoes” approach.)

The second thing this consultant said that stuck with me was the following: Everything you do, every printed piece you send out to a client, is an advertisement. (This was before the concept of “branding” had become so widely known.)

From this consultant’s story and his insight on advertising, I came away with a deep conviction that he was right on both counts.

What Does This Have to Do With Book Printing?

A print brokering client of mine is producing three new print book titles this coming year. The client is a husband and wife publishing team. They focus on the quality production values that set apart print books from more generic print-on-demand books and the digital-only books you read on a screen. My clients always have French flaps on their print books, faux-deckle edges on the books’ paper, and superb cover art. They also have the printer coat the covers of the books with a soft-touch matte film laminate, and they request a press score on the front and back covers (a vertical score parallel to the spine that makes it easier to open the books).

These characteristics of my clients’ books tell a story about them. They reflect my clients’ values. These characteristics say that my clients appreciate the tactile qualities only a print book can have. This value is a part of my clients’ brand. A part of who they are and what they offer their clients. So whatever they send out, be it a flyer noting an upcoming book launch or even a new print book itself, everything is an advertisement.

Cover Coating the Galleys

Prior to printing the final editions of these three books next year, my clients will produce “galleys” for selected readers to review and comment on. My clients will then incorporate these comments into their final texts prior to the final book printing. This will do a few things:

  1. It will improve the final books. After all, nothing adds to the quality of a work in progress more than input from one’s colleagues who themselves are writers, teachers, and book reviewers.
  2. It will promote the books. This is a bit unusual. My clients produce books of fiction and poetry, and in the past, in most cases, galleys were of low quality and were only used as editorial tools (albeit for multiple readers to review). Promotional copies came at a slightly later stage, when the text of the work had been set in final form. In my clients’ case, this galley really functions as both a galley and a promotional copy. Because of this, and because of what the consultant said to me 25 years ago, it is clear to me that these books are an advertisement for my clients’ brand and their values, the reasons they don’t just produce e-books.

The Specs for the Galleys

How this relates to book printing will become more clear as we focus on the specifications for the galleys. Unlike the final books, the galleys will not have deckle edges on their face trim. Nor will they have French flaps or a press score. They will just be 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound books with 70# offset text and 12pt. 4-color covers and black-only-text ink.

To save my clients’ money, and since these are not the final books, to date we have printed the covers digitally (usually a 50-copy press run) and without a cover coating. After all, they may need to look good, but they don’t need to look good for very long, since the final copies with the French flaps will follow them into production within a short time.

That said, the printer, a new vendor who specializes in book printing, noted his firm belief that these books should in fact be coated with a gloss laminate to prevent scuffing during shipping.

I was pleased and a bit surprised by his proactive stance, but I brought his suggestion to my clients. Overall, this would raise the prices for each of the galley press runs by only about $40.00 (for 75 copies this time), so it was not a lot of money. I thought it was a good investment in the quality of my clients’ books but also a good investment in their brand image. I said as much, and they agreed.

However, when I asked the printer for the cost of a matte film laminate (the initial bid was for gloss), his pricing went up an additional $40.00. On the one hand, the final books would be cover coated with a soft-touch matte film laminate, so you could argue that consistent treatment of all covers would be good for the brand. It would show coherence. It would be a good advertisement for my clients’ work. Moreover, this would work on a subconscious (and yet still powerful) level with readers.

But, in the final analysis, my clients, the printer, and I felt this was overkill, since the goal was protection of the ink on the print book covers and since the cost of coating the covers was starting to approach a sizable chunk of the total expense.

As an afterthought, what has made this an easier than usual process, in determining the nuances of the cover coating, has been the specific nature of the printer. He is a book printer. Unlike most printers, he has all of the equipment to do the printing, cover coating, and binding in-house. Therefore, the turn-around time is reasonable, and the prices are superb, leaving primarily (but not exclusively) the aesthetics of the product to inform the final decision.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

If you parse out this experience I had, a few teaching points come to mind:

  1. It’s always helpful to have a book printer print a book. A commercial printer can usually also print a book, but he may not have in-house perfect binding, case binding, or even some of the more esoteric cover coating options you might like. If he has to subcontract this work, it will lengthen the schedule, raise the price, and possibly even take away some of the printer’s control over the quality of the final product.
  2. Think about the overall “look,” not only of an individual printed product but also of the other printed pieces that will accompany it. When you varnish, UV coat, or laminate one product, consider the overall look of all the products together. You may still choose a different coating for each, but it will be a reasoned decision (sometimes even a decision based on money as well as aesthetics).
  3. Keep in mind that everything from your business cards to your emails to your texts to your most high-profile printed product is an ad. It speaks volumes about both your customer and about you.

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