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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) 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: Coordinating All Aspects of a Print Job

I’ve been asked by a client of mine to not only find a suitable book printer for her 488-page plus cover, 8.5” x 11”, perfect-bound textbook but also handle the warehousing and fulfillment. She has also asked me to research e-commerce options for these tasks.

This is how I’m approaching the job.

Determining the Custom Printing Parameters

The first thing I did was review a PDF of the book to determine its specs. It seemed to me that starting with the finished product, as well as the press run and budget, would be the best approach. Then I could consider storage and fulfillment issues.

I had been given a book printing budget of $10,000. In reviewing the PDF of the book, I saw that it was very long (essentially a textbook) and that it would need to be printed in 4-color throughout (very expensive).

Two years ago I had actually solicited bids for this job (which had never been printed but only formatted for the organization’s website). Here it was again, and the book printing budget was about a sixth of what it had been. (That is, I realized that the approximately $6.00 unit price from the prior year’s estimate would go up dramatically as the overall cost dropped by $40K.)

I started by approaching one of my favorite book printers. I knew this firm had in-house binding and that it was in the Midwest (where pricing is much lower than here on the East Coast). I had assumed a press run—based on the budget—of no more than 1,000 copies. Nevertheless, based on my client’s preferences, I requested pricing for 1,000; 1,500; and 2,000 print books. I also requested warehousing and fulfillment information and fees.

A Rude Awakening

When the estimate appeared in my email, it was more than twice the budget. So I called up the sales rep. She noted that the quality of her vendor’s sheetfed printing was outstanding, but for the lower price I sought, I needed a heatset web offset printer.

With this thought in mind I went back to the prior year’s estimates, since two of the vendors had been heatset web book printers. Granted, the pricing was lower, but it was clear that a revised bid for the lower press runs would still exceed the budget.

An Alternative

What to do. So I contacted another, local vendor with an HP Indigo 10000. I knew this commercial printing vendor had just purchased this digital press and was excited about its use. I also knew it accepted a 20” x 29” press sheet (unlike smaller HP Indigo presses), and I thought this would make the process (a short press run of a long print book) more competitive. The request for quote is in this printer’s hands. We’ll see what happens. That said, the plant manager offered an intriguing suggestion for producing the book. Since my client has $10,000 to spend, this printer could digitally print an initial press run, and then follow up with an additional press run after my client has sold the books and reaped the profits. Given that this would be a digital press run, setting up the job to print a second time at a later date would be less expensive than if it were an offset printed job (since there would be far less make-ready work involved).

Fulfillment Issues

At the same time, I’m researching online vendors, for both book printing and fulfillment. Having worked with local and out-of-state brick-and-mortar shops, I’m somewhat hesitant to choose an online printer. I have a cadre of vendors with whom I have a history and level of mutual trust. That said, I will keep an open mind. At this point, I have the per-page cost from one of the online print shops (I’d call this a web-to-print vendor). I can now compare the $.07 per page cost to whatever pricing my usual vendors offer.

The same online vendor will unbundle the job and offer fulfillment without printing. If my client chooses this option, I would have the job printed traditionally at one of my brick-and-mortar shops, and then send all books to the fulfillment house. One of these has an online presence, so I could choose and bid on keywords, set up a pay-per-click ad account, and in this way entice potential readers to buy my client’s textbook. The company would then handle orders, pick-and-pack fulfillment, billing, warehousing, inventory calculation, and any returns.

I have listed all of these functions: printing, delivery, online marketing, warehousing, fulfillment, and returns, and will get multiple bids from both web-to-print and traditional brick-and-mortar shops. Then I’ll devise a pricing grid to compare the costs. I’ll also have a list of expenses to deduct from my client’s selling price, reflecting her potential profit on the print book sales.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

This is a learning experience for me. I would encourage you to approach it in the same way. Consider the following:

  1. Break down the printing and distribution process into all of its component parts: printing, finishing, delivery, warehousing, inventory management, marketing, order fulfillment, returns, etc. Then set up a spreadsheet to compare all estimates.
  2. Weigh the pros and cons of whether to have an online vendor or a brick-and-mortar printer complete all of these tasks. Consider the cost, but also consider your level of trust in the vendors. Remember that one shop does not need to do all of these tasks. You can split printing and fulfillment between two vendors, for instance.
  3. Consider the appropriate printing technology for the job: offset or digital. Talk to various printers about the length of the book and its press run to see what the cut-off point would be to make one technology more or less economical than the other.

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