Which Printer Is Best for You? (1,131 words)
by Jack Schmid
In almost every survey taken during the past decade, catalogers have consistently mentioned the rising cost of paper, printing and mailing (including postage) as a major area of concern. And we see no trend that will lessen this concern. If it isn't postage cost increases, it's paper.
Catalogers are forced to find innovative ways to reduce the cost of their catalogs in the mail—or any cost increase will come right out of the bottom line. What is the right answer? Should you:
• Raise your prices to reflect the cost increase?
• Find a new printer who can print for less?
• Select a printer who is an expert at mailing and postal savings?
• Cut the heart out of your paper budget by printing on tissue or low-cost newsprint?
In today's competitive world, catalogers must study their printing options from every angle. Printing projects are driven by a number of key variables such as size of the run, need for cost control, tightness of the timeline, amount of flexibility required and the relationship with the printer. Smart catalogers work hard in determining where the job is "best fitted."
Basically, you have two ways to go: Print with a large printing house or choose a smaller printer.
Who are the big guys? Let's do some name dropping. R.R. Donnelley, World Color, Quad, Quebecor, Graphic Arts Center and Banta rank right up there in total sales, annual impressions, catalogs mailed, etc. They can offer a cataloger the luxury of doing it all! Each of these larger printers can receive a creative file with scans, show proofs, produce film, prepare plates, provide direct-to-plate capability, print, bind, address, sort files for postal discounts and drop ship the mail. These companies are expert at getting the mail there quicker and in delivering the mail in a two or three day in-home or in-office window requested by the mailer.
12 advantages to Choosing the Big Guys
1. They can do it all from creative to mail.
2. They can handle only one part of the process only—print and mail or color and print, etc.
3. They have multiple plants in which to schedule the job, many with international locations.
4. They produce a massive number of catalogs daily or weekly from 1,000,000 to 20,000,000.
5. Prices are competitive—the larger the quantity, the more competitive they become.
6. They offer good paper prices because of the size of their paper orders.
7. They have paper on the floor and ready for printing. All have ample supplies of house stocks in the event that there is an increase in print quantities.
8. They are pros in postal sortation and in maximizing postal discounts. All have postal reps in their plants.
9. They ship catalogs directly from their plants to bulk mail centers.
10. Many offer direct-to-plate technology, saving mailers money and time.
11. Most offer the choice of web-offset or gravure printing options.
12. They offer personalization, specialized ink or laser imprinting and a variety of specialized services not typically available with their smaller counterparts.
But they have some disadvantages, too. Here are five cons to examine:
*The minimum orders are usually 300,000 or more.
*Scheduling can be difficult, especially at the busy season (July-November).
*Getting time on a big guys schedule can be difficult. Regular clients have contracts and that means first priority.
*Bindery is usually packed in the busy seasons. A printed catalog may may sit for four to seven days for a bindery slot to open.
*Multiple plants equals multiple contacts. Your sales rep may not change but your customer service rep will change depending where you print.
What ARE the Benefits of Smaller Printers?
There are always two sides to every story. Here, as Paul Harvey says, "is the rest of the story."
First of all, the "little guys" are not necessarily little! They are the balance of the printers that have full or half-web presses and are capable of handling catalog printing, bindery, postal sortation and mailing. Many times the smaller and medium-sized printers are very capable of handling the printing but will outsource some of those "extra" services like bindery, addressing, postal preparation, etc.
Here are seven advantages to using a smaller printer.
1. They focus on what they do best, great color and great printing.
2. Scheduling is typically more flexible: Most of their clients print smaller runs of 300,000 to 1,000,000.
3. Prices can be more negotiable. Because of the competition at this level, the printers are more flexible with pricing.
4. They usually have some house paper available and good relationships with the paper merchants, in the event that additional stock is needed.
5. Good customer service—the cataloger will always communicate with the same sales rep and customer service rep.
6. Some have postal sortation and mailing capabilities available in house or have an outside source to provide that service.
7. Usually they drop ship to the closest Bulk Mail Center or will have it trucked to the nearest facility to process.
But there must be disadvantages! Consider these six:
*There might not do the whole job in house. Often one aspect of the printing and mailing process is done at an outside facility. List/tape work, stitching or ink jet printing are the most commonly outsourced.
*They have fewer plants. The best catalog plant may not be conveniently located for catalog client.
*They may not have multiple plants. This can cause scheduling conflicts.
*Maximum print runs are typically in the 1,000,000 range. This can be a problem if the cataloger wants to rollout its catalog production.
*Scheduling fills up due to the overload from larger printers, especially at the busy season (July-November).
*The bindery is often limited. This is both a capacity and scheduling problem.
How to Decide
The advantages and disadvantages of each type of printer are fairly obvious. It comes down to the cost versus flexibility question in most cases. If the planned printing job is less than 500,000 and flexibility in schedule is important, then a smaller printer is probably better. If the catalogers have higher numbers and want everything done in one plant with minimal outsourcing, then the larger printer is the choice. Postal sortation, postal discounts and shorter, controlled delivery time are becoming more important to most mailers.
Our recommendation is that catalogers bid each job with both larger and smaller printers and weigh the key issues of cost in the home or office, delivery time, scheduling flexibility and control of the entire process.
Usually the answer will become apparent.
Jack Schmid is president and Cindy Sims is vice president, account service & production, of J. Schmid & Associates, Shawnee Mission, KS. They can be reached at (913) 385-0220; Fax: (913) 385-0221, or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.