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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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: Offset vs. On-Demand Digital; Local vs. China

I have two custom printing clients who are bucking the trends. They are self publishing books, but they want me to hook them up with offset printing companies. They have chosen not to self-publish with online, on-demand printing companies. They do not want to send their custom printing jobs to vendors in China. They want actual ink on paper, printed locally.

Here are some of the reasons this particular niche market exists.

The Clients Want a Certain Level of Quality Available in Offset Printing.

These are all art books of one sort or another. One is a book of photos and quotes. Two others are poetry and fiction. In all cases the authors want very high production values and are willing to pay for them. The perfect bound literary works will have French flaps (cover flaps that fold back in toward the book, in order to give the impression of a dust jacket) and deckled edges on the paper.

The photo book is a coffee-table book produced to showcase the work of a local photographer. The authors want to encourage readers to experience the full tactile range of the books (the feel and smell of the paper, the sound of the binding when the books are opened, and so forth).

Offset custom printing lends itself to this level of quality. Digital on-demand book printing can come close to offset in image quality, but a photographer or other artist would be able to see the unevenness of the digital toner compared to the offset ink.

Longer Works (More Pages) with Longer Press Runs Lend Themselves to Offset Printing.

All of the books in question exceed 200 pages in length. Photo books that can be purchased online cost about $20 to $30 each, which for a short run is not bad at all (you can buy 50 for $1,000 to $1,500). However, this pricing usually includes 20 or so pages, with each additional page costing a premium (perhaps an additional 80 cents to $1.00). For even a single digital copy of a 200-page book, the extra page rate would drive the unit price close to the $200 mark. For a 20-page photo book, the price is right. For a longer book, like my client’s photo book or the two literary works, digital on-demand book printing is not cost effective.

In addition, the press runs are much longer for the two literary books and the photo book. All three clients want 500 to 1,000 books. If their books were short, with a press run of 10, 20,100, or even 200 copies, the on-line, on-demand book printing vendors’ prices might be attractive. But for longer press runs, it’s much cheaper—on a per-book rate—to go with offset custom printing. Even with case binding, a ribbon place-holder, and process color throughout, the unit cost for the photo books came in at just under $13 per copy including freight. Again, this was due to the longer press run.

For a digital job, each unit costs the same. For an offset job, a lot of money goes into makeready, but the longer the run after the initial set-up, the less each book costs.

The Clients Wanted Access to the Printers, So Vendors in China Were Not an Option.

Many book printers in China can do an outstanding job of producing full-color, case-bound books for a low price, even those with longer press runs and higher page counts. That said, some buyers want to be able to sit down with a book printer’s representative (or in my case a broker) and discuss all the options: the paper, the binding, and all the other intricacies and nuances of the job.

Printing companies half a world away may do a great job. But what happens if they don’t? These clients with the photo book and literary works wanted to know that if something went wrong with their custom printing jobs–the binding, the schedule, or the delivery–someone local would address and remedy the problem(s).

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