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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: Paper Substitution and Other Ways to Lower Costs

A book printing client of mine told me today that she wanted to go with “Printer A,” but unless the printer could lower its price by $2,000, she would have to award the book to “Printer B.” As a commercial printing broker, I had negotiated prices with both printers. Although I trusted both vendors, I knew Printer A would meet the delivery deadline, period. I knew my client’s schedule would be tight, and she and I both agreed that Printer A would therefore be the ideal choice. But what to do about the price?

My client asked whether Printer A would negotiate to win the job. Although many printers I work with will in fact negotiate pricing, this printer would not (which I can respect). I don’t consider such a request to be “cheating” in any way. After all, there are other variables beyond price, such as quality, customer service, materials, delivery, and schedule. Still, I had been very impressed with Printer A’s quality and turn-around in prior years, so I wanted them to get the work, and so did my client.

The Option I Suggested to My Client

I offered my client an option, and she came up with a second one of her own. My option was to ask the printer for a paper substitution.

The job in question is a 300-page, 6” x 9” trade book printed on Finch Fine text stock. My client likes the brightness, whiteness, smooth formation, and thickness (or caliper, or bulk) of Finch, as well as its opacity (light-stopping power), which keeps images on one side of the sheet from being visible through the other side of the sheet.

Finch is not the only paper with these qualities, though. In addition, all of these qualities are measurable on various scales and can be compared from sheet to sheet and brand to brand. For example, the brightness of Finch is 98 on a scale of 100. Lynx, another sheet produced by another paper mill (Domtar), has a brightness of 96. To the unaided eye, the two printing stocks may be sufficiently close, if the cost difference works. (Of course, my client would need to see printed and unprinted samples before making such a decision.)

Some book printers buy Finch Fine in bulk and use it as their house sheet, while others may choose an alternate sheet to keep on the pressroom floor. Given the discounts many printers can negotiate with paper mills for large paper purchases, choosing a particular text stock can add up to either a savings or a premium, depending on your book printer’s buying habits.

In fact, a few years ago I had solicited a bid for the same print book and had received pricing from a print supplier who made a paper substitution without telling me. It was only because I saw a different caliper for the paper than I had expected within the specifications of the estimate that I questioned the bid. The sales rep confessed: there had been a paper substitution. When I asked for Finch Fine stock instead, the book printer’s revised price went up several thousand dollars. For this particular printer, Finch Fine was definitely not the house sheet.

So we’ll see what kind of revised pricing comes back from Printer A for this year’s book. My only concern is that the press run may be too short to realize an adequate savings (i.e., press run multiplied by page count multiplied by the savings per hundred weight cost of the paper, if there is in fact a savings). But we’ll see. We only need to lower the price $2,000.00.

My Client’s Thoughts on Lowering Costs

I had mentioned that my client came up with a plan for an additional savings. Her fulfillment house had moved and now had a loading dock in their new location. What this means is that the delivery truck could back up and offload one or more skids rather than numerous separate cartons of print books. Clearly it’s much easier to move one heavy, wrapped skid of books with a lift than to move cartons one, or a few, at a time. Perhaps this would add to the savings my client would reap. Every dollar would help meet the budget.

Asking for the Book Printer’s Suggestions

When I asked the book printer if we would save money by changing the paper stock and perhaps delivering wrapped skids rather than cartons, I also asked him to make any other suggestions he could think of based on the specifications for the print book. (It always helps to approach the printer as a partner. After all, he may have ideas you haven’t considered yet.)

Why You Should Care

After receiving a number of bids on a print job, it’s common to have a preferred vendor. Usually it’s because you’ve had a number of years of positive experiences with that vendor. If their price is a little high, and they can’t lower it for any number of reasons, don’t take this as a show of bad faith. Just look for other options.

Specifying paper by its qualities rather than its brand can open up avenues for savings. Discussing options for delivery (or, as in this case, packaging) can open up other areas for savings.

This kind of negotiating says something a good printer will want to hear: that you appreciate the quality, service, and schedule he provides enough to want to find a way to work with him.

PS: The Final Answer

Today, as I was completing this article, I heard back from the printer. He could lower the overall price by the requested amount to meet my client’s budget. He had shopped around for paper deals, and he would buy the same Finch Fine paper stock in rolls rather than sheets. Cartoned paper costs more than rolls. The printer had recently installed “sheeting” equipment, so he could prepare the paper for the sheetfed press, taking it from the web roll and chopping into the required dimensions. What a wonderful answer. If you’re in the same spot, ask your printer if he can buy rolls and “sheet” the paper.

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