I hate when the financial or purchasing people decide to get involved in selecting a magazine’s printer without first bothering to understand what a printer does.
“It’s simple: Just figure out which printer has the lowest price,” they’ll state blithely.
Never mind that the typical magazine printing contract has scores, if not hundreds, of prices. Or that many magazines spend less on printing than on two costs that the printer influences: postage and paper. A low-priced printer may be a high-cost option if it uses paper or mails copies inefficiently.
But even knowledgeable consultants can miss the mark. They can tell you the relative cost of producing a magazine at several different printers, all things being equal. But all things are never quite equal.
For a straightforward printing job—like, say, business-reply cards—cost really is the deciding factor, assuming all of the bidders can meet the schedule and a few basic specifications. But when you’re working with a company that prints, binds, presorts, addresses, mails, ships, stores, converts, posts, tweets, and archives multiple issues of your magazine, you want a trusting long-term relationship, not an el cheapo one-night stand.
Whether you’re in the midst of a multi-year printing contract or are in the thick of negotiations for a new printer, here are 10 questions to ask your printer that could spur a more cooperative—and profitable—relationship.
1. What things do we do that unnecessarily increase your costs or cause you other problems?
This is a great way to signal that you are interested in cooperation and not just price negotiations. You might learn about ways to streamline your own operation. And reducing the printer’s pain points could help you when it’s time to ask for a favor or to renew the contract.
Tip: Although you won’t see it on your price list, providing proofs or approving color on press generally increases costs for both printer and publisher and may actually hurt quality. Talk to your printer about “printing by the numbers” instead.
2. What additional services can you provide us?
Publication printers aren’t stupid. They recognized years ago that magazine printing was a declining field but that “magazine media” had a growing need for new services. You’ll find “printing companies” managing publishers’ email and social media marketing, taking photos, processing ads, building web sites, building and managing databases, creating digital editions, and even translating publishers’ content into other languages.
You might get a better deal on such services by bundling them with your printing contract. And outsourcing additional functions to the printer could reduce your labor costs and give you access to greater expertise. You should of course look at other potential suppliers as well, but the advantage of using your printer is that you’re working with a vendor that already understands the needs of magazine publishers in general and your company in particular.
3. How can we mail our magazines more cost effectively?
Publication printers often help publishers find significant postal savings by providing co-mailing, selective binding, and dropshipping. Even if you have those bases covered, the printer might have other tricks up its sleeve or insights into simple changes you could make that would help your mailings.
Tip: If postage is a significant portion of your costs, stick with printers that do lots of mailing and are on top of postal regulations. A general commercial printer might save you a bit on printing but cost you a bundle on postage.
4. Can you help us get better value for the paper we use?
Between turbulence in the paper market and the U.S. Postal Service charging a lower premium for heavier paper, it’s a good time to reconsider your paper selections.
If you use coated groundwood paper, ask the printer about switching to supercalendered paper as a way to lower your costs or to get a heavier or brighter sheet. The printer may have legitimate concerns about using “supercal” for offset printing, so you don’t want to make this move unilaterally.
If you use coated freesheet paper, the printer may be able to suggest coated groundwood papers of similar weight and brightness that are more economical. Even if you buy your own paper, see what the printer has to offer because it may know about special deals and opportunities.
5. What special inserts and formats can you offer for advertisers that want—and are willing to pay for—something more visible than a single-page ad?
Your contract pricing probably doesn’t include gatefolds, inserts, belly bands, and other special offerings that could catch an advertiser’s eye or bring needed attention to a special section.
6. What can we do to jazz up our covers?
Seeing what your printer has to offer in the way of coatings, metallic and fluorescent inks, and even exotic effects like foil stamping and glitter could get your creative juices flowing. Think about how these tools could highlight a special issue or edition and how they could be used in an ad on the back cover.
7. Can your recommend ways to recruit and retain subscribers?
The printer has seen plenty of other publishers’ cover wraps, reply cards, and other subscription efforts—and probably knows which ones are working. And you never know what it might be able to offer in the way of direct mail, social media, or mailing lists.
8. What is working for other customers that might be relevant to us?
Here’s a chance to tap into the printer’s experience and relationships for new ideas to bolster your products and to find new opportunities.
9. What are typically the busiest periods at the printing plant, and when do the slack times usually occur?
The pace at some plants varies by the time of year, while other printers have busy and slow times of the month or even days of the week. Having such information could help your own scheduling—and perhaps lead to the printer offering an incentive to print during slack times.
10. What equipment often runs at capacity, and which machines are underutilized?
Gaining or losing major customers can really knock a printing plant’s schedule out of whack. But the printer’s pain can be your gain.
If everyone else is clamoring to print on the big shiny new press, you might get better pricing or a more flexible schedule by using an old workhorse. Don’t suddenly commit to polybagging an entire issue without knowing how that will fit into the plant’s schedule. And that fancy inkjetting equipment sitting idle might present an opportunity to do something really special for a particular audience or advertiser at minimal cost.