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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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The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) staff are experienced individuals within the printing industry that are dedicated to helping and maintaining a high standard of ethics in this business. We are a privately owned company with principals in the business having a combined total of 103 years experience in the printing industry.

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A Commercial Printing Match Made in Heaven

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A professional relationship with your key custom printing suppliers can and should be like a marriage, a non-zero-sum game in which both partners win (rather than having one win at the expense of the other).

Checking the Bill for a Direct Reprint of My Client’s Print Book

Here’s an example of a good vendor relationship. I recently received an invoice for a print brokering client’s job for approval prior to my forwarding it to her for payment. She and her husband, a publishing team, had just completed a 1,500-copy run of a print book and had immediately ordered a direct reprint of the text with an updated cover. It’s a 5.5” x 8.5” book of poetry, perfect bound with French flaps. She and her husband had ordered 500 more digital copies.

As is my habit, I checked the base price on the bill, about $2,100 for 500 copies, or $4.20 each. That part was correct, along with the 5 percent overage at the same per-unit rate. The unit cost was about $.50 higher than in the first print run, but that didn’t surprise me. After all, the preparation work amortized over a 500-copy press run vs. the initial 1,500-copy press run would explain the higher unit cost.

The overage didn’t surprise me either, since I know that up to 10 percent is industry standard, so I thought that 5 percent (or 25 extra copies) was very reasonable.

However, the next line item confused me. There was a $145.00 line item for cover corrections. Now I knew that my client had uploaded a revised cover for this print book, but it seemed that this cost would have been included in the quoted base price. Why? Because when asking for the initial reprint cost, I had stated that the text would be a direct reprint and the cover would have one alteration. So seeing a separate line item for the cover made me wonder.

In addition, the shipping cost on the bill noted a single delivery to my client’s print book distributor. That made sense, but the bill also noted that 895 copies would be shipped to the book distributor, and the total press run for the reprint was only 500 copies (plus or minus overage/underage). My assumption was that the printer had used the invoice from the original book print run (as a template) and had typed in changes for the reprint of the same book, forgetting to update the number of copies shipped. Furthermore, I assumed the $180.00 for shipping 895 copies of the first run and the same total of $180.00 for shipping 525 copies of the second (reprinted) run just reflected a minimum shipping/handling cost.

But since I don’t believe in making assumptions, I queried all of these concerns.

Now this particular printer has become a go-to vendor over the past several years, so I knew the representative I contacted would research every question and provide an explanation. He did exactly that, and removed the cost for the revised cover. He is still checking into the shipping information and cost. He stepped up.

This is an example of why it pays to nurture a good working partnership with one’s commercial printing vendors.

Interestingly enough, in spite of my client’s having requested a direct reprint of the text, with no text proof needed, the printer sent a PDF copy of the art file from which the first printing of the book had been done. My client actually did find one minor text correction on one page. My client’s book designer uploaded a revised PDF file of the book page, and all was good. Had the printer not provided a text proof, even for this direct reprint, my client would have missed the opportunity to correct an error.

So, again, it doesn’t hurt to have a printer who looks out for a client’s best interest, and this comes from repeat jobs over time. As with a successful marriage, mutual trust develops gradually.

What Can We Learn From This Case Study?

There are a number of object lessons within this simple interaction:

  1. Of course, the largest one is the benefit of developing mutually advantageous working relationships with a handful of vendors who produce the kind of print jobs you need.
  2. Trust, but verify. Look closely at the invoice. If anything looks the least bit odd, ask your printer about it.
  3. Pay particular attention to shipping addresses and costs. Compare these to the printer’s estimates and even consider comparing them to freight estimates from prior, similar jobs.
  4. It’s usually wise to review a proof even for a direct reprint. You want to make sure the printer is working from the most recent, most accurate version of your art files.
  5. As you can see, if you develop a working relationship with your print vendors, they will look out for your best interests as well as their own. A good printer can often bring to your attention something you would have otherwise missed.

Round Two: Another Example with the Same Book Printer

Immediately after this particular print brokering client had taken delivery of the first printing of the book I described and had ordered the 500-copy reprint, they (the husband and wife publishing team) requested pricing and a schedule for a new print book. The specifications were to be the same (a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book with French flaps) except for the page count and press run (longer book; longer press run).

Due to their book distributor’s schedule and the date the books would need to be delivered to the fulfillment house, the schedule was as important as the price and quality of the new print book.

The printer provided pricing that was commensurate with prior book estimates (as a baseline, I compared the total costs and unit costs to other, similar books my clients had produced with similar press runs and page counts). These new books were to be produced via web-offset lithography.

That said, the printer did not confirm the schedule I had requested. So I asked again. A few weeks passed, and the projected deadline for submitting the art files was approaching (I had drafted my own projected schedule based on the 5-week print window for the most recent book printing).

When I finally heard back from the printer, I learned that due to the increased workload (and Covid-19), the 5-week schedule had increased to 8.5 weeks. I knew this would create problems for my client, since their book distributor had strict requirements for delivery schedules.

Again, based on this particular printer’s long-standing professional relationship with my client, he offered a potential solution: printing the book via sheetfed offset lithography rather than web-fed offset lithography. He also provided prices for sheetfed work. They were higher than for web-based offset, but the printer could meet the schedule. Moreover, they were still better prices than any of the other printers I work with could offer.

Now my clients have two book printing options from which to choose (sheetfed vs. web-fed offset), and they understand the pricing ramifications. I even asked my client whether the schedule for delivery to the print book distributor could be renegotiated or whether the art file could be uploaded earlier. My client is considering these options as well.

What Can We Learn From This Case Study?

Here are a few more object lessons:

  1. Don’t make assumptions about print schedules. The date the custom printing project will be delivered is as important as the price and quality of the job. Tell the printer your required delivery date early, preferably when you request a bid for the print job. You can also provide your own projected schedule (based on prior work with the same vendor) and ask for feedback. However, don’t assume a printer will be busier or less busy than before (as in my client’s case of 5 weeks vs. 8.5 weeks).
  2. Consider sheetfed vs. web-fed offset lithography. Depending on the equipment your printer has on the pressroom floor, the schedules might well be different. Sheetfed usually provides better quality. It may also be more expensive. So don’t make assumptions, but do ask your printer about these options and their pricing and scheduling ramifications.
  3. All of this works better when you have developed a good working relationship with your print vendor over time. Your supplier will be far more likely to suggest alternatives.

A good printer seeks to understand your commercial printing needs, quality expectations, budget, and scheduling requirements, and to help you get exactly what you want and expect. This kind of working relationship develops over time. A printer like this is a “keeper.”

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