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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: Compromising to Gain a Price Advantage

They say that everything is negotiable. As a commercial printing broker, I would agree, but I would also add that sometimes negotiating involves compromise. If the three variables are quality, cost, and schedule, it stands to reason that you may choose to compromise on one of these to attain the others.

Case Study: The Backstory

I recently negotiated a contract for a short book printing run for a client. The requested press run was 500 copies of a 202-page “zine,” a perfect-bound book with a 5.5” x 8.5” trim size. The cover would be 4-color (4/0), and the text would be black only.

When I learned that the book would be a “zine,” I did some online research. I wanted to get an idea of what kind of “look” my client might want.

Wikkipedia defines zine as “a small circulation publication of original or appropriated texts and images. More broadly, the term encompasses any self-published work of minority interest usually reproduced via photocopier.” Furthermore, Wikkipedia notes that “topics covered are broad, including fanfiction, politics, art and design, ephemera, personal journals, social theory, [and] single topic obsession.”

From the online description, and from samples I had seen, I sensed that a zine should look “edgy” and “raw.” So I suggested an uncoated cover and text stock to my client for a softer, more environmentally conscious feel. I specified a 100# Finch Opaque cover as an alternative to the more common 10pt C1S. I also specified 60# Finch Opaque text for the interior, and asked for hard-copy proofs.

Sending Out Bid Requests and Vetting Estimates

I chose three custom printing vendors with appropriate press equipment. I chose companies based on my prior working relationships with them. Pricing fell into a range from $3,500.00 to $4,000.00, expensive for 500 copies, but since the commercial printing suppliers would produce the print books via offset lithography, I was not surprised. In addition, the bids were reasonably consistent from vendor to vendor. (This is always a good sign that the specs have been accurate, and that the vendors have considered all specs in computing their estimates.)

Based on the short press run, I asked about digital printing as an option to lower the overall cost. One of the printers has an HP Indigo. Another has a Canon digital press. Neither could do the job economically on their digital equipment due to the length of the run (202 pages of text multiplied by 500 copies or 101,000 pages).

The Third Custom Printing Vendor Offered Digital Output at a Sweet Price.

The third printer is huge. It’s actually an organization, not an individual vendor in a single building. It has various shops all over the country and one in Mexico. I go to this printer for good pricing and high quality, knowing that they have access to pretty much all printing and finishing equipment in existence.

The third printer offered to produce the job via offset lithography. Their pricing fell in line with the other vendors. However, this printer also offered a digital printing option for approximately $1,000.00.

That said, there were stipulations:

  1. The cover would be 10pt C1S. There was no option for 100# Finch Opaque Cover.
  2. The text would be of a slightly lesser quality: an offset sheet (not opaque). It would be 50# Thor Plus Offset rather than 60# Finch Opaque.
  3. The book would be 208 pages, not 202, since this printer’s digital press works with 8-page signatures.
  4. The proof could not be hard-copy. It would be a soft-proof (on-screen PDF image).
  5. The cover coating would be UV coating, not varnish.

Why the Stipulations?

This custom printing supplier could do anything for a price. However, to provide the $1,000.00 estimate that severely undercut everyone else’s price, this printer had to avoid special order paper stocks (hence the 10pt. C1S cover rather than the 100# Finch Cover, and the 50# Thor offset rather than the Finch Opaque text sheet).

The printer also had to use the available equipment. That is, the particular printing plant through which this printing organization could offer such low prices could not run 100# text in their digital press, and their in-house capabilities excluded cover varnish but included UV cover coating (which actually would have been glossier and more durable than the varnish, so I was happy and didn’t argue).

I requested printed samples, which both I and my client reviewed and thought were quite good. My client chose this option due to the price. I chose to include this commercial printing vendor in the bidding process due to its stellar past record of providing quality work for my clients. Therefore, my client and I chose to accept the limitations to meet the budget.

What We Learn from This Experience?

In your own print buying work,

  1. Consider large commercial printing organizations as well as small local printers. They have the economy of scale and in some cases can therefore be extremely cost-effective.
  2. But get samples and develop a relationship with the printer over time. It’s easy to get lost at a big printer.
  3. Consider compromising. Be willing to adjust your specifications to get a better price.
  4. Realize that different specifications are not necessarily worse specifications. Thor Plus 50# text is a bulky sheet. It mics to 440 ppi (pages per inch). Finch 60# Opaque mics to 426 ppi. Therefore, the thickness of a 208-page book printed on Finch would be .49” and the same book printed on Thor Plus would be .47”–just slightly thinner.

The key word is flexibility.

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