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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: Schedules May or May Not Be Flexible

I like to think that most things are negotiable when buying custom printing services.

A client of mine who is producing a self-published book describing his family’s experience in World War II came to me with a request yesterday. His 9” x 12” perfect-bound print book had already gone to press, and he had seen proofs (actually a one-off version of the text produced on an HP Indigo, since the press run will only be 65 copies for family and close friends).

We had initially negotiated a three- to three-and-a-half-week production schedule with the book printer, which would accommodate in-house digital printing of the text, in-house offset printing of the cover, and subcontracted cover lamination. About half way through the process, my client was called out of town, so we extended the schedule by two weeks. He didn’t expect to need copies until his return.

Then, about a week after negotiating the longer schedule with the book printer, my client learned that his daughters were coming to town for Mother’s Day, so he asked for either an early shipment of the entire press run or two books by the holiday.

The Book Printer’s Answer

Since I alerted the printer only one working week before the holiday, and since at least one of the five days would need to be for FedEx’ing the two copies of the print book, I expected practically any response.

The printer was kind and professional in his reply, but he noted that with all of the careful work required, and the film laminating of the cover, he was not not comfortable making any commitments for this quick a turn-around.

What This Means/What We Can Learn

Had we not given the printer a few extra weeks due to my client’s travel schedule, I do believe the print book could have been completed and delivered by the holiday. After all, it was just about the end of the three- to three-and-a-half-week window we had initially agreed to as the printer’s schedule.

However, book printers keep their plants tightly scheduled. Therefore, what we can learn from this is that last-minute schedule changes can be problematic. Although one would think that two books out of sixty-five would not be a problem, this would only be true if the binding and laminating were done by hand in-house. Given their mechanical, assembly-line nature, finishing processes (or press operations, for that matter) are done all at one time. Stopping and starting a process adds time, money, and the potential for error.

Granted, in some cases a few print books can be hand bound, but this should be discussed early in the process and factored into the cost (depending on the equipment available to the printer, since not all printers have table-top binding equipment).

Some Basic Rules of Thumb to Consider

    1. If there’s an unforeseen change in schedule, let the printer know early. If it’s late in the process, your request may or may not be possible. In many cases, the best you can expect is to have the printer load cartons of books as they come off the binder and ship them via FedEx. This still may benefit you. Let’s say you’re attending a conference, and you want to distribute 30 advance copies of a directory to some of the attendees. It may be worth it for you to pay the higher shipping rate.


    1. Any process done out-of-house will slow down the job. Some components of print book production are usually farmed out. It is not cost-effective for most book printers to have in-house case binding equipment, for instance. It is more economical for most printers in a single geographical region to send their case binding work to a subcontractor, a bindery that does only this portion of the job for multiple book printers. In this case, it is more difficult for a printer to adjust a production schedule when it involves outside vendors.


    1. Still, it’s always worth asking. For instance, if my client’s book had been saddle-stitched instead of perfect bound, it might have been relatively easy to hand bind two copies. I once worked with a small offset printer that did this for me every so often.


  1. A good printer will not agree to a schedule change that will compromise the quality of the product. I actually respect the printer for saying no. He was not willing to jeopardize the quality of this job (the first job for a new client).

In the end, my client agreed that he could ship the two books to his daughters a few days later and that having a quality product was more important to him than having surprise gifts for Mother’s Day.

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