When choosing a printer, you’re choosing a business partner. And you want to be sure to choose the right one. Lots of printers have the staff and equipment to process your work efficiently and within budget. Many also provide excellent quality and support. A printer that works well for one publisher, however, may or may not be the best choice for another.

So how do you select the best printer to meet your needs, to grow with you, and to help you in times of stress? It’s all in the fit!

Here are some tips for choosing a printer:

Identify your needs.
The first step in evaluating and ultimately selecting a printer is to identify your needs and then analyze which shop is best suited to fulfilling them. A publishing company with only one or two titles, for example, may find that a small or mid-size printer dedicated to handling short-run books will provide better service and more scheduling flexibility. Multi-title publishers, however, may see an advantage in concentrating their business in one place and, therefore, would prefer a large printing plant.

Consider your budget.
You’re aiming for the most reasonable possible pricing for your printing needs that doesn’t compromise quality, so select a printer that can meet your budget. Keep in mind that printers are always concerned about operating their plants at full capacity. The ability to adapt your printing schedule to utilize a printer’s underutilized, off-peak times ; a system called "slot selling" ; may allow you to negotiate a better contract.

Look for synergy
Look for a printer that focuses on your market ; a company that can hone its core competencies to your business and, as an expert in the field, can offer you the best solutions. Diverse services and products work well only when you have synergy between your business and the printer’s expertise. Products and services that are unrelated to the printer’s core capabilities may distract from good service.

Check the scope of service.
Although all printers try to stay competitive in terms of their capabilities and technological advances, larger printers usually have the most resources for research and development and, therefore, are often early adapters of the latest technology. Smaller shops may outsource certain services ; e.g., gate-fold covers or insert preparation ; to a vendor, which may or may not affect pricing competitiveness. To ensure that a prospective printer has the necessary equipment to complete your jobs, ask for a current equipment list ; one that identifies the age of the equipment and the standard maintenance and upgrade routine. Also, request a list of current clients with requirements similar to yours ; e.g., magazines that are similar in size. And if outside vendors are involved, find out who they are and what services they provide. If an outsourced service is routine to your jobs, opt instead for a printer that can provide that service in-house.

Know your competitive advantage.
Select a printer that wants and values your business. Knowing ahead of time whether your business will be a priority will predict the treatment you receive. At the same time, the printer will size up your reputation in terms of your professionalism, expertise, and credit rating. If you don’t prepare materials efficiently, communicate clearly to minimize problems, and pay your bills on time, expect extra charges and penalties.

Evaluate customer service and support.
Select a printer that will communicate regularly with you, make suggestions, and offer alternatives. Visit the plant and ask questions. Meet the management team to make sure you’re on the same page and talking the same language. Meet the customer service representatives to make sure you’re comfortable with their knowledge and ability to get your job done. Be wary if the shop experiences excessive turnover of CSRs. Be sure you and the printer understand what procedures require approvals and who will make those decisions. You should never be surprised by the finished product!

Get references.
When selecting a printer for your publication, nothing tops experience and past performance. Top candidates should have at least two years of experience working in the format and quantity ranges of your magazine. Ask for client references to find out if they have had any quality, service, scheduling, or other issues with the printer. Ask for supplier references to determine any financial problems. The viability of your business may very well depend on the viability of your printer. References reduce your risk.

What about extras?
Some publishers look for a printer to alleviate some of their nonprinting cost pressures such as co-mailing, co-palletization, or other mail-entry distribution schemes. Some larger printers own their own truck fleets and drop shipments deeper into the mail system, while smaller printers contract local delivery companies for the same purpose. Be sure you’re actually beating higher postal rates, though, as some printers pass on the additional costs for these services to the publishers.

Don’t forget the intangibles.
When you sit across the table from the printer to discuss your goals, your priorities, and what you’re trying to achieve, do you get the feeling that the printer’s team will be just as enthusiastic, supportive, and eager to help you at 3 a.m. as they are at 2 p.m.? Printing is a round-the-clock business, and stuff happens. You’re looking for a proactive printing partner for your business ; someone to suggest opportunities and help you make informed decisions ; and not simply a printing vendor.

Define printing as a business goal.
Clearly define your printing needs and wishes to your printer as a business goal. A good printing partner will consider your goal to be part of its business plan ; whether that involves schedule improvements, a shift to new technology, better service in support of your key clients, or whatever else is important to your success.

Make a smart business judgment.
Finally, you want a superior provider of printing services in your market, but you also want one with economic stability. Make sure the printer you select has a proven track record of sales growth and has made a continuous investment in its plant, equipment, and technology. Competitive manufacturing requires printers to be on the mark and up to speed with new quality-enhancing tools and productivity improvements.

Thinking Outside the Box in Editorial Management
Check out this related session at The Folio: Show, November 1-2 in NYC!

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