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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: Book-Schedule Case Study

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The Printing Industry Exchange Blog is #12 of the best 40 digital printing blogs, as selected by FEEDSPOT.

In the 1990’s I was an art director/production manager for a non-profit government education foundation. We produced just under 150 projects each year ranging from textbooks to brochures to forms. Sometimes the jobs would stack up, since many of them came due at specific times during the year (such as the beginning of the school year).

I spent a lot of time planning. I made Gantt charts religiously (horizontal bar charts, representing periods of time, with concurrent projects stacked one above the another). Ideally, not too many projects would be in production at once, since we only had three graphic designers (plus me) to do all the work.

The horizontal lines on the Gantt charts were further broken down (by color) to distinguish between the production phase of each job (which we did) and the custom printing phase (which a selection of maybe 15 printers did).

This chart was something I composed each year prior to budget time. At this point in the year, I also worked out target estimates for each project with detailed specifications. To get to this point I had to envision everything, talk with printers, and crunch numbers. What I was given initially was just a list of projects, press runs, and due dates.

It’s a truism—but it’s also very true and worth repeating–that you can only achieve what you can first picture in your mind’s eye. I have carried this approach to scheduling (which I did as part of my job for about seven years in the ‘90s) into the 24 years since that time during which I’ve been brokering commercial printing.

My Current Print Brokering Client’s Print Books

With this approach to scheduling in mind, I want to share a case study with you. A print brokering client of mine produces books of fiction and poetry. These have to be in the print book distributor’s warehouse by the agreed-upon date (whenever that might be), or they will not be accepted. So keeping to the schedule is always vital with this client.

Moreover, since the onset of Covid several years ago and the shortages of various kinds of commercial printing paper since about that time, scheduling larger jobs like print books has been dicey. In terms of price stability, one printer will only hold pricing on an estimate for 24 hours. In terms of scheduling, another printer will need eight to twelve weeks from proof approval to shipping (when six weeks had been the norm in the 1990s).

It’s a different world. But the main point is that I need to get serious—and realistic—when this particular client comes to me to produce one of their (a husband and wife team of publishers) print books.

This happened to me just this past week. My client came to me with specs for both a “galley version” (or reader’s version) of a particular title and a final version. Both were to be 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound books with a length of 256 pages. The galley copy would have only a 10pt cover. The final version would have a 12pt cover, French flaps, a hinge score, and better text paper. My client charges a premium for print books with outstanding tactile qualities you just can’t get on an e-reader. So the books have to be good.

Moreover, the reason for the two versions is to allow for reader comments from select reviewers. These comments will find their way into the final (produced shortly after the galley) version. So it’s really one super-long schedule with 50 copies of the reader galley printed and distributed, then corrections made and a new text file uploaded to the book printer, then the final version proofed and corrected and printed, then boxed, then shipped. And no delays of any kind (including a traffic jam on the final day of shipping) can be allowed to push the final delivery to the book distributor past the agreed-upon date.

The Schedule

In this particular case–again with the post-Covid, paper-shortage rules in play–I approached both printers (one for the galley proof and one for the final version) and asked for their current schedules, from art file upload to proof, and from proof approval to shipping. The digital printing of 50 galley copies would take three weeks from proof approval to ship date, and the final version with French flaps would take five weeks for offset printing.

To these estimates I added an extra two weeks at the onset, so my client could make changes to the proofs and then review corrected PDFs for final approval.

Then I added one full week for shipping, based on prior years’ experience that the books usually were delivered within two or three days.

When I added up the required times for all of these print book manufacturing components on a calendar, starting with the date my client said the galley-version files would be ready to upload to the book printer, and ending with the drop-dead delivery date at the book distributor’s shop, I noticed that I could only fit about two weeks in between the two books (between the “galley” book delivery and the upload of the final-version art files). This would be the entire available time for readers to review the books and the book designer to make all text corrections and prepare final files.

It would be a bit like trying to fit Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters’ feet into the prince’s proverbial tiny glass slipper.

The Options

There are always options. My client has, in the past, renegotiated the drop-dead delivery date, usually by a number of weeks or months. However, it means that sales would be lost, but it is possible.

Not requesting hard-copy proofs (and not requiring the extra days for their delivery and return) would be possible, but confirming accurate color for an important book cover on a computer monitor without physical proofs really is a crap shoot.

The third option, which my client actually suggested, would be to send the selected readers an online, PDF version of the galley. This would decouple the two versions (galley and final copy), save the cost of printing 50 copies of the galley books, and sidestep the possible shipping delays inherent in physical proofing.

After all, the reader galleys have only one purpose. They are for reading and commenting on. They are physical proofs in one of the very few aspects of print book publishing that doesn’t need to be physical.

Hence, we have a plan. Either the galley books go to press earlier (still an option), or the galley proofs get decoupled from the final version with French flaps and become a completely virtual proofing tool.

The Takeaway

There are a number of things I’d like you to consider when you apply this case study to your own design and print buying work:

  1. Printers’ schedules are often longer than they used to be, or the printers can’t commit to schedules until the art files and upfront cash are in their hands. So start by requesting a conservative, prospective schedule (the longest the printers think they might need). Make your schedule based on this estimate, and then tighten it up as the print book gets closer to the art file upload date.
  2. Consider all aspects of the schedule: editorial, proofing, printing, binding, packing, and shipping—and anything else I’ve missed that pertains to your specific needs.
  3. Assume that something will be a problem. It’s like leaving for an important meeting fifteen minutes early to account for the broken traffic light and two emergency vehicles that just might be between you and your office.
  4. Understand that printers have busy seasons and slow seasons. Ask about your printers’ schedules.
  5. Ask about sourcing paper. Will your specific paper needs be a problem? If so, ask about options. Be open to substitutions.
  6. If all of this means your book printing project gets delivered two weeks early instead of on the exact date you need it, consider that to be very good fortune, not an error.
  7. Apply the preceding list to all commercial printing jobs, not just print books.

We can’t control everything, but we can have a good idea of what might go wrong and plan for contingencies.

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