When deciding to outsource printing

April 2, 2015

By Ken Blum
Black Ink 

Do you use an outside printer?

If so, does this company do quality work?

Does it provide the services your newspaper needs?

Are its charges reasonable?

How long has it been since you’ve solicited quotes from other printers to compare with the factors above?

It’s surprising how many publishers haven’t bothered to check out prices and services from other printers for five or 10 or 20 years.

Maybe the current printer is still the berries. If so, the proposals from other printers will verify it.

But maybe you’re throwing thousands of dollars down the drain and accepting mediocre quality and service when there’s a better option available.

It doesn’t cost a penny to find out.

And if you decide to do so, here’s a checklist of questions to ask.

I’ll also tack on the typical charges outside printers charge; an average gleaned from the newspapers I’ve worked with in recent years.

First retrieve a selection of invoices from your current printer along with any other pricing information about other services handled, such as inserting and mail labeling.

Then, compare with the quotes you solicit.

The ideal is to find a printer that handles everything including printing, inserting, bundling, mail labeling and delivery to post offices.

Then, all the newspaper staff has to worry about is uploading PDFs of the pages.

1. What’s the cost of basic printing?

Ask for quotes in four-page increments, from the smallest to largest newspapers you publish—i.e., 12-16-20-24.

One note—the page capacity of the press will play a major role in the pricing for the larger newspapers. For example, if the press can only handle 16 pages, two separate pressruns would be required for, say, a 20-pager, plus the cost of inserting one section into the other. Both factors will increase the cost significantly.

So check the pricing for both smaller and larger papers.

Here’s a formula I’ve developed for average basic printing charges.

In this case, let’s say it’s a 20-page broadsheet, 5,000 pressrun.

Make-ready—20 pages x $20 = $400

Printing—$7 per page per thousand—20 x $7 = $140 per thousand x 5,000 = $700.

Total basic printing: $1,100

2. How many pages of process color can the press handle per page count, and how much will that color cost?

Ample process color is a necessity in this day and age.

Typical charge is $150 per two broadsheet pages of process color (four tabloid pages), but I’m seeing prices go down, sometimes as low as $50 per two broadsheet pages.

Many printers include a certain number of process color pages as part of the basic cost. If so, factor in this amenity and by all means, use the color for photos and advertising.

3. Can the printer handle preprint inserting? If so, what is the charge?

Typical charge is a $30 set-up fee that includes all inserts (not just one) and $10 per thousand inserted. (Preprints are almost always sent directly to the printing plant.)

4. Can the printer handle bundling and labeling papers for the mail?

If so, what’s the charge?

Typical is $30 per thousand for labeling; more if the printer handles the mail list (i.e., entering new, renewal and expired subscriptions and outputting the postal report.)

5. Can the printer deliver the paper to the post office(s) in time for prompt delivery to subscribers?

Typical delivery charge is $1 per mile from the plant to the post office, single-copy bundles to the newspaper office, and back to the plant.

Typically, someone at the newspaper handles delivery of papers to single copy outlets.

6. Does the printer offer high quality?

Ask the company to send samples of every paper it prints.

7. Will we have to change web width, and thus our column sizes?

The trend is for a smaller web, and often new customers have to change templates, re-do standing ads, etc., and that’s no easy task.

The printer should offer all the technical help the paper needs at no cost. Also, tech support should be available at all times.

Another factor—if the web width is significantly smaller than current, keep in mind more pages will be required, unless you decide to cut the volume of news content.

Consider this—if you convert from, say, a six-column format to a five-column format, advertising rates will need to be recalculated.

Another factor—if the number of columns on the page remain the same, but the columns are smaller (i.e., 2.06 inches down to 1.75 inches) should advertising rates be reduced because ads will be smaller? Most papers keep the rates the same, pointing out that the percentage of space an ad claims on a page will remain the same—i.e., a quarter page will still be a quarter page.

8. Can the printer accommodate our schedule?

If your paper cannot meet the deadline—for example, the computer system goes down—can the printer still get the paper to press if it’s late?

9. Can the printer handle special sections and specialty publications? Again, check if support will be needed for a different page size than currently used.

10. How long will the quoted prices be guaranteed?

Make sure the printer won’t offer attractive prices for a year or two, and then hit you with a 20 percent increase. (Very few would stoop this low.)

As part of the quote, ask for the formula that will be used to determine any future price increase.

Miscellaneous tips:

• Let the printing company know you are soliciting quotes from several printers. Competition sharpens pencils.

• Inform your current printer that you are in the process of soliciting bids. Don’t be surprised if his pencil sharpens.

I recommend soliciting new quotes for printing every five years.

And, once again, keep in mind it’s not all about price.

Always factor in quality and service. © Ken Blum 2015


Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a monthly free e-mail newsletter titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail him at blummer@aol.com; or phone at 330-682-3416.

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