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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: Options for Paper Management

In an earlier PIE Blog posting I mentioned that buying paper on the spot market was an option worth considering for magazine printing publishers.

Shortly thereafter, I read an article in Publishing Executive by Steven W. Frye called “Tips for Picking the Best Paper Source” ( I thought you might find the information helpful in purchasing paper for your longer (multiple-page-count, multiple-copy) press runs, so I’m including a synopsis of Mr. Frye’s article.

Here are a selection of paper sources for your magazine printing work, along with a few benefits and pitfalls of each choice. Since there are so many kinds of custom printing paper available (with such variables as opacity, whiteness, brightness, texture, and caliper to consider), it helps to know where to find the experts with the most reliable and up-to-date information on commercial printing paper qualities, paper availability, and pricing trends.

Paper Merchants and Brokers

Both paper merchants and paper brokers represent several paper mills. The main difference between the two is that a paper merchant actually takes delivery and ownership of the paper and then turns around and sells it to customers. In contrast, a broker does not take ownership. He or she just finds the client, determines the client’s needs, finds the paper, negotiates terms, and coordinates delivery.

What this means is that a paper merchant can actually buy paper when prices are low and hold it in inventory, whereas a broker cannot. So you can sometimes get better prices from merchants. Of course, when paper prices drop, the merchant is stuck with excess inventory.

Working with a paper merchant can benefit you in a number of ways. A merchant represents many publishers, so he or she can collect all the paper orders and act as a single, large buyer. He or she will purchase significantly more custom printing paper than an individual publisher, so the volume discounts and payment terms will be much better than an individual small publisher could get directly from the mill.

The Spot Market

I mentioned the spot paper market in an earlier article, noting the potential for buying odd-lot paper at a significant price discount. These papers represent excess inventory or remnants, paper made for other publishers that no longer need it, or lower quality paper that may not be as “runnable” as higher quality stock (not as usable on press without incident). Think of odd lots as comparable to remnants in a fabric store (bits and pieces made but not used). You may find exactly what you need at a deep discount. Or you may not. Given the unpredictability of the spot market, you may want to buy the majority of your stock from your custom printing vendor, the merchant, or the mill, and then get some discounts occasionally through the spot market.

Keep in mind that paper brokers and merchants do not represent the spot market, so you must do a little research on the Internet to find these specialty suppliers.

The Paper Mill

The paper mill makes the paper. They are all about quality and supply, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get a good deal buying from the paper mill. It just means that if you develop a relationship directly with the mill and your paper stock becomes less readily available, you will have an edge in acquiring what you need for your magazine printing work.

However, in contrast to the paper merchant, who represents a number of buyers (and hence becomes one large buyer himself/herself), if you buy from the mill, you are ostensibly just a small buyer, and you don’t get the discounts that come from the economy of scale.

What to Consider

As you can see from the preceding sections, these are the variables you should consider when buying paper:

  1. Accessibility of the paper stock (being absolutely certain the paper will be there when you need it)
  2. Quality of the paper
  3. Price (more expensive at the mill–but you’re certain of getting your stock—and potentially much less expensive on the spot market; however, you can’t always get the quality or the immediate access to a particular paper stock)
  4. Simplicity (it’s easier to have the printer buy the paper, but you may not get as good a deal)
  5. Storage (if you buy the paper–instead of the printer–he may charge you to store it)
  6. Responsibility. If there are problems with the paper, and you supplied it to the printer, you are ultimately responsible for replacing the paper, accepting any printing delays, etc.

More Things to Keep in Mind

  1. The mill provides all buyers with the same price for the same paper (by law). However, if you order a huge amount of paper or pay especially quickly, you can get volume or financial discounts.
  2. Buying paper through a merchant is no more difficult than having your magazine printing vendor order the paper. It is in your paper merchant’s financial interests to make the process simple for you, so all you need to do is specify the format of the job (size, page count, paper stock) and the press run, and the merchant will acquire the paper and deliver it to the printer (or store it, as needed).
  3. Since you are ultimately responsible if you buy your own paper through a merchant or broker, it behooves you to carefully vet the supplier. A merchant’s or broker’s paper buying mistake can cost you a lot of money, whereas a commercial printing supplier’s mistake won’t cost you anything (since he buys the paper).

What Else Can You Get from Your Merchant or Broker in Addition to Paper?

The goal is to get good paper for a good price with no headaches before or during the press run. A merchant or broker can keep you abreast of the paper market trends and prices; manage the purchase, inventory, and storage of paper; resolve disputes (if there are problems with the paper); and coordinate and track paper shipments to minimize inventory and therefore reduce storage costs.

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