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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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Magazine Printing: It’s Always Wise to Have a Back-up Plan

About seven years ago, when I was a custom printing consultant, I received a crisis call on deadline night. I learned that a tornado had ripped off the roof of the business printing vendor that had already started producing a 64-page weekly issue of the Monday magazine. The printer couldn’t complete the job. It was Friday night at about 8:00 p.m.

The Fallback Plan

I spoke with the magazine publisher and mapped out my suggestions. A second business printing vendor was already producing a much shorter, daily magazine for the company. They wanted more work. They also had sheetfed equipment, in contrast to the printing company responsible for the weekly magazine. I told the publisher that the sheetfed printer was used to impossible deadlines. I also noted that sheetfed printing was of higher quality than web printing, and I suggested that the magazine’s advertisers would like the printed product. Their ads would be of a visibly higher quality.

For the magazine to land on subscribers’ door stoops by Monday morning, a decision had to be made immediately. The publisher concurred with my solution, and I called the plant manager of the sheetfed commercial printing company. I asked him to help. He was pleased by the vote of confidence.

The Execution of the Plan

The publisher’s advertising coordinator sent all electronic ads via FTP to the new business printing vendor. Film-based ads (it was seven years ago) went to the new printer by courier. The magazine editorial department diverted all text pages to the new printer, also via FTP. I had the editorial department send a back-up disk by courier. All of this occurred between 8:00 p.m. and midnight on Friday.

Needless to say, the new commercial printing company stepped up, printed the job through the night, and bound and addressed the magazine in the morning. Mail copies went to the Post Office Saturday afternoon, and the business printing vendor handed off copies for courier delivery on Saturday afternoon as well.

The Aftermath

The magazine cost more to produce. Sheetfed printing almost always costs more than web (roll-fed) printing. But the crispness of the color and the photography, the superior paper, and the fact that the commercial printing company had met all deadlines made everyone happy. To the subscribers, it was as though nothing had happened.

As soon as the contract with the first printer expired, the second printer acquired the new weekly magazine. New pricing structures were addressed, along with new schedules and workflows. The new commercial printing company proved itself beyond a shadow of a doubt. The rest was details. When I tell the story, I like to say that the first printer’s comment, “You’re on your own,” combined with the extraordinary performance of the second printer, created a vacuum that sucked all remaining work out of the web printer and into the new sheetfed printer.

What Can We Learn?

This is an isolated incident that happened to one publisher seven years ago. But it could also happen to you at any time. So it helps to have a back-up plan.

Consider the following:

  • The power could go out at your custom printing vendor’s shop during a deadline. What would you do?
  • The trucks that deliver your magazines could break down. What would you do?
  • A traffic accident could snarl traffic and slow down delivery of your publication. What would you do?

Disaster recovery should be a part of your plan. It is very reasonable to ask your commercial printing company about their disaster plan for a power outage, a hurricane, or a tornado. Do they have a strategic relationship with a comparable custom printing vendor? It is also prudent to either groom a second business printing supplier to take over in an emergency or at least to develop relationships with a number of local printers with similar equipment.

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