Printer selection is one of the most important decisions for a magazine publisher. This is the vendor that handles what is the largest (or second-largest, after events) and most expensive product for most publishers, not to mention one that plays an increasing role in other publishing services, from database management to online content management systems.
As manufacturing and production staffs decrease at publishers, the printer role becomes even more important. “I used to be a production director, and recently I was at a social gathering with other former production directors and we’re all doing different things because we’ve chosen to leave or been asked to leave,” says Rob Brai, partner and COO at Superior Media Solutions. “Because no one is there anymore, CFOs and others have said, ‘Let the printer handle it, we don’t want to deal with the hassle.’”
Vendor Selection: Beyond Price
Let’s face it, price is probably the number one factor when evaluating printers. “Like on a job interview, it is something never discussed, as if it does not matter, and then somehow you always wind up going to the vendor with the best price,” says one b-to-b manufacturing and production executive.
“The more volume that can be consolidated to one preferred printer, the better the process, and more opportunity to reduce cost,” says Phil Graham, senior vice president of operations at F+W Media. “The printer that currently handles our magazine and book printing is now producing all our subscription, promotional, and ancillary materials. Consolidating all that under one roof simplifies much of the logistics that you encounter when using multiple printers, and again you have the pricing benefit from the volume consolidation.”
That workflow efficiency is key to attractive pricing. “Due to the reduction in ad pages, cost control is very important, so competitive pricing is very important,” says Keith Hammerbeck, corporate director of media operations at Advanstar Communications. “But along with this is making sure that printers are ‘efficient’. By this I mean do they have a short cut-off press to save paper, can they deliver large signatures to keep the cost per page down, have their paper spoilage percentages gone down over time, etc.”
Scheduling: Are Printers and Publishers On the Same Page?
Flexible scheduling is another critical area. “We are also looking for printers to be flexible with their schedules. If we need to hold an ad close open, the printer needs to work with us and still get us out in the number of days we expected,” says Hammerbeck.
“I usually want to know their schedule, are they open 24/7, closed on certain holidays?” says another manufacturing and production executive. “At the end of the year, things can get hairy. Printers often close down several days because they are ‘not busy’, but then we still have a lot of things going at the end of the year.”
Co-Mailing: Not Always a Given
While they may seem obvious, co-mailing and distribution services are not always provided. “Co-mail and other postage reducing services are very important,” says Hammerbeck. “Postage is now by far our largest mechanical expense, so offering postal savings is very important. This also applies to things such as tabloids, polybagged issues, etc. Not every printer can offer postal savings for these type of things.”
Different publishers have different rules. “We use a couple different printers and with one, they do not have any major fulfillment, it is always handled by an outside partner in another state,” says a b-to-b manufacturing executive who wishes to remain nameless. “We used another printer for something, and they couldn’t send UPS out of the plant, just FedEx. When it comes to co-mail, we want to know what the discount is, what are the typical pool sizes and how many runs are done weekly?”
Training and Customer Service
Staff turnover at a printer can have a significant impact on relations. “I always ask about the customer service rep, their background and experience, their work volume and who their back-up is,” says a production executive at a major publisher. “I also want to know if the salesperson remains active on the account or do they walk away and leave someone else in charge?”
Printers offering training for magazine manufacturing and production staffs is becoming increasingly important, especially with new digital services. “We don’t use our printer for most of these services because we have other suppliers we use, however we do want our printer to be proactive in regards to being able to offer training as needed, and work with us on making sure our instructions are being supplied properly,” says Hammerbeck.
“When I worked for a major consumer publisher, informative trips to the printer were regularly offered to production staff,” adds another production executive. “For all I know, major publishing firms still continue this practice and the printers still accommodate such sessions. On the other hand, most of the problems that I’ve seen surfacing within the last 10 years have been directly related to a LACK of printing knowledge and production savvy on the part of the publication’s staff.”