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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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Catalog Printing: Newspapers Are a Different Breed

A few weeks ago I started a new print brokering project: an offset-printed adult-education print catalog for a local nonprofit. It’s a catalog of classes for people interested in various subjects for their own sake, just for the love of learning. Having been out of college for 40 years, I liked the idea.

The Backstory

Based on the page count (64 pages of an 8.5” x 11” saddle-stitched booklet, with 70# gloss text for the cover and 50# white offset for the text, with black-only interior printing and a 4/4 cover–color on both the inside and outside covers) and the press run (1,100; 1,200; or 1,340 copies), it seemed that offset printing was the way to go.

That is, without sending the job out for bid yet, at the time I assumed the overall printed page count (64 pages x 1,340 copies) would exceed the ideal, economical level for digital custom printing (although I was willing to have the printers tell me otherwise).

So I bid out the print book and waited. Pricing, exclusive of mailshop and postage, ranged from about $1,400 to $3,400, exclusive of my commission. Fortunately, I had had a long relationship with the low-bidding vendor. Also, he had equipment providing multiple ways to run the job (digital, offset, and even newspaper printing).

Meeting the Client’s Board of Directors on Zoom

The next step was to meet with my client’s organization’s eight-member board of directors on Zoom. (With the Zoom gallery view and each member in a different window, it did feel a little bit like the opening sequence of the 1960’s show, The Brady Bunch.)

We discussed options. I explained the printing processes and noted that I could probably come in at about 30 to 50 percent less than their current unit cost ($2.70-$2.90 per catalog, exclusive of mailshop and postage costs). That said, the group was also interested in increasing the press run (a lot) without increasing the overall expense for commercial printing (by very much).

So we discussed newsprint alternatives. My client suggested a tabloid newspaper and showed me a sample from another adult education (post graduate) group.

Newspaper Options

One of the board members (one of the nine windows on Zoom, fortunately displayed on a 72” TV) held up a sample tabloid. I knew it had been printed on a newspaper press because the paper was so thin. (My client noted this as well.) So I also asked him the following questions:

  1. Was the paper somewhat dingy (less than bright white)? He said yes.
  2. Were the pages in the front half of the book all slightly shorter or longer than those in the back (a press “lip,” or “lap”)? He said yes.
  3. Was the edge of the paper jagged (even, but with a bit of a saw-tooth edge)? He said yes.
  4. Was it stitched or just nested (one four-page tabloid signature nested inside the next but without any staples)? He said it was not stitched.

So I told him it had definitely been produced on a newspaper press. I also suggested that we approach the low-bid printer from the first option and ask for a second option of 5,000 copies, 8.5” x 11” page size, with color on the outer four pages. My client also noted that the paper was coated. (I said it was actually supercalendered, or rolled to a hard surface between stacks of metal rollers after being made into paper. It was thin, and it could take 4-color commercial printing work, just like the inserts in the Sunday paper.)

What The Printer Said

First of all, the printer couldn’t do the job on that particular paper. His newspaper press only printed on newsprint, not supercalendered paper. However, the press could print color on selected pages, although it would be more expensive to print color on both sides of the 4-page cover.

He could also produce the job without saddle stitching it, and as long as it was tabbed (wafer seal tabs to keep the catalog from opening up on the automated US Postal Service machinery, it could be mailed “as is”).

However, the page size wouldn’t work on this printer’s press. The tabloid would have to be based on a 9.5” x 11” printed page size (as opposed to my client’s current 8.5” x 11” page size).

I told the printer that it would still be worth my client’s taking a look at the pricing and the specific parameters for the job. Fortunately this printer also produces another newspaper course listing exactly like this for a local college. The very same product. At that point I not only knew they could do the job, but I also knew I could have the printer send a relevant printed sample to my client.

Implications of the Printer’s Newspaper Press Requirements

My 20-minute phone call to the printer yielded a wealth of information.

  1. First of all, if nothing else, we now have a low bid (compared to about six others) from a trusted vendor. We have a baseline that’s 30 to 50 percent lower than what my client is now paying.
  2. If my client wants to increase the press run from 1,340 to 5,000 copies, chances are that this particular printer will be very competitive based on his other pricing, his pricing history over the years, and the fact that he has digital, offset, and newspaper custom printing capabilities that are all (probably) commensurately priced.
  3. That said, we know that there will be compromises. If the client accepts these, the overall price may not be that much higher than the overall price for the offset-printed job at 1,340 copies (how much, I don’t yet know). But the unit cost will drop significantly, because the make-ready costs will be distributed over 5,000 copies rather than 1,340 copies.
  4. These are the compromises: The tabloid would have a 9.5” x 11” page size instead of an 8.5” x 11” page size. Color could only be placed in specific locations, maybe not even on the interior covers (based on price), as has been the case until now. And we would have to use newsprint paper rather than the supercalendered, hard-surfaced paper my client had hoped for. So the key is compromise, and the big question is whether the cost savings will eclipse the limitations. If not, I can always approach other newspaper printers. After all, different newspaper presses print color on different pages, press signature configurations differ, and page sizes are different, depending on the specific newspaper press.
  5. If this works, my client will have oodles of newspapers he can drop off in stacks (of, say, 50 copies) everywhere: grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. There will be an abundance. This is a catalog of classes, so the information it contains is more important than whether the overall look is crisp and sexy. It’s a short-lived, purely functional product. If it generates 10, 20, 100 more paid members of my client’s organization and sells some classes to more people, it will have been worth it. And who knows, my client might even opt for a hybrid approach. He might print some copies for current members in the initial, slick version of the catalog, and then an additional 5,000 on the newspaper press for marketing purposes.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts if you’re in a similar position, looking at newspaper printing as an option for one of your jobs:

  1. Research newspaper printers online. There will only be a limited number, since newspapers are becoming increasingly rare.
  2. Check out newspapers on the PIE website. You may find newspaper printers you hadn’t thought of. Of course, always get samples and references. Vet them like you would any other commercial printing vendor.
  3. Ask the newspaper printers about paper options, color placement, and page-size options. These don’t have to be problematic. You just have to know.
  4. If you want a nice bright newspaper stock (an oxymoron), consider 50# Hi-Brite. When you realize that most newspaper stock is 30# to 35#, you understand that 50# Hi-Brite is thick. And when you consider that newspaper stock is approximately 75 bright (as opposed to 92 to 98 for a quality offset sheet), even Hi-Brite paper is still not a brilliant white.
  5. Consider the purpose of the printed product. If it’s a throw-away piece, or if the main purpose is to provide information (not glitz), newspaper printing can give you a lot of bang for the buck.

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