Printing and Design Tips: MAY 2019, Issue #214

What Can You Do If Your Print Job Gets Behind Schedule?

A client of mine is producing 50 copies each (reader's copies, called "galleys") of three long perfect-bound books. They are 6" x 9". The printer initially offered a ten- to twelve-day press schedule (and finishing schedule) after proof approval, but my client needed to make changes to the cover and in the text for one of the three books. Ironically, the only text change was a single number on the copyright page, and on the cover the only change was the deletion of a photo.

Due to these changes, the printer put all three titles on hold while the corrections were being made (old cover and text files replaced with new files) and revised PDF proofs were being generated. Even though the client only needed to see revised PDF proofs (that is, no time was lost by physical proofs' being sent to the client), the clock kept ticking. The schedule began to lengthen.

(By the way, this is what printers do. It's very reasonable. If you make editorial changes at the proof stage, it's your responsibility. The printer is not responsible for making up time and putting the job back on schedule.)

That said, this became a problem for my client. She and her husband (a publishing team) had to get the three sets of books to the book distributor by a particular date or face consequences (possibly financial, possibly being bumped from their initial schedule). Regardless, no one was happy to hear any of this.

This is what I'm suggesting at the moment:

1. Consider having the books sent from the printer directly to the book distributor. The initial plan was to send the 50 reader's copies (galleys) of each of the three books to my clients (the husband and wife publishing team). They would then send the books on to the book distributor. At this point, this change in plans might make up some time.

2. Ask the book distributor about taking delivery of the books in batches (although this is usually a better plan when the overall press run is much longer). This is called "taking a partial delivery."

3. Our representative at the printer had recently made it clear that the books would be done by the drop-dead delivery date. Presumably he wanted to ensure that my clients were happy and therefore willing to print future books with his firm. However, today he said one of the printer's presses was down and being repaired. I noted that if my clients missed their due date with their book distributor, they might not be inclined to print the final versions (1500 copies of each of the three books) with his firm. So at this point he is encouraging the printing plant to maintain the schedule so they will get the future work.

What You Can Learn From This Ongoing Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

1. Plan for the unexpected. Schedules are broken for various reasons from time to time. Sometimes it's because of what you have or have not done. Sometimes it's due to the printer's error(s). Regardless, if you create a schedule with a little wiggle room, you have room for a crisis.

2. Have a back-up plan (a contingency). Consider partial deliveries. Consider having the printer drop ship the books to their final destination. Think in terms of workflow and logistics. Think creatively.

3. Look at options for shipping. For instance, you may want to overnight mail a handful of copies and then have a trucking company deliver the balance of the job.

4. Avoid blame. This can be hard. However, if you and your printer work as partners rather than as adversaries, you have a better chance of finding a solution.

Why Are Paper Prices Rising?

Paper prices are rising. The trade journals peg this increase as ranging from 4 percent to 7 percent. If your print job is a book (let's say a 428-page perfect-bound book with a press run of 10,000 copies), you're using a lot of paper. So the 4-percent to 7-percent paper price increase can add up.

Here's why it's happening, based on my research.

For a number of years, demand for P&W paper (printing and writing stock) dropped due to the increased interest in online publications. Printed magazines and newspapers became less attractive to readers (and publishing companies), as readers dropped print-based periodical subscriptions in favor of digital copies. At the same time, demand for PSA papers (pressure sensitive adhesive) had not yet bounced back.

In addition, the Producer Price Index reflected an increase in direct costs for papermaking supplies (such as paper pulp and chemicals), which the paper manufacturers passed on to the printers (and the printers passed on to their customers).

Those paper manufacturers who weathered the storm (many paper manufacturers went out of business entirely) retooled their papermaking machines to produce those printing papers that were in demand.

Then things changed. Print books became more attractive to readers than online books and e-readers. In fact, over the past three years "book pages printed" (as a traceable metric) have increased.

Direct mail, which had decreased due to email marketing, also started to bounce back, along with transactional mail (bills and promotions on the same page; check your utility bills, for instance). In both cases, marketers found that relying solely on online marketing didn't work as well as pursuing a multi-channel approach (for example, using physical mail to direct customers to a vendor's website to get further information).

And labels became a hot item. Who knew?

All of this increasing consumer demand (considering there were fewer papermakers in existence) created the perfect opportunity for paper mills to raise prices, restore their profit margins, and put money back into their businesses (upgrading equipment, for example).

So that's why paper prices are going up.

What Can You Do?

I have a few suggestions for how to cope with these paper price increases:

1. Consider specifying paper based on its characteristics rather than on its brand. Your printer may buy certain house sheets in bulk. The printer gets a volume discount, and usually you can benefit from this discount as well. Instead of specifying a certain brand of blue-white, opaque, uncoated paper for your textbook (which might incur a premium—in some cases a huge one), just tell your printer that you want blue-white, opaque, uncoated paper, and let him know that you will accept paper substitutions.

2. Think about combining "big data," "variable-data digital printing," and "multi-channel marketing." Big data represents the collection of all manner of information on your customers: demographics, psychographics, buying history. If you can parse this customer data and then combine it with the variable-data nature of digital printing (changing information such as names and even content of each marketing piece based on its intended recipient), you can target your marketing message specifically to groups of potential customers or even specific individual customers. Targeting your marketing message (and reinforcing it through a combined presentation of physical mail and an online presence) can make your marketing initiatives more successful. If you've been used to getting a 3- to 5-percent response to generic direct mail pieces, you may find that this multi-channel approach drives up your success rate (potential customers converted into actual customers). And if you approach marketing this way, even though you will pay more per printed item (per-piece cost), your overall "spend" on gaining "one new customer" (or two or 100) will decrease. In financial terms, your return on investment (ROI) will go up. (You will be spending your marketing money more efficiently and effectively.) And this will help you offset the paper price increases.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]