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Shopping for a printer

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Pfingsten Publishing currently has three printers vying for its attention. In the next few weeks, one will win the publishing company's hand, at least for the next few years.

Printing contracts are getting shorter and shorter due to publisher demands, and so movement from printer to printer is starting to be more common. Finding the right one to transition to isn't always so easy.

Nick Mlachak, director of operations at Pfingsten, said his team has taken months to gather information before making its final decision. One of the main issues was to find a vendor that had multiple sites in the event of a natural disaster, so that issues would keep coming out.

To create apples-to-apples comparisons, Mlachak's team took recent print orders and blocked out all the pertinent prices. It then had each bidder fill in what it would charge and note any potential problem areas it saw.

Three of the four initial bidders were then called in to present. Pfingsten participants at the meetings were later surveyed about their thoughts on the vendors. Mlachak and his team then sliced and diced everything from postal counts to signing bonuses and put it all on one master grid.

This year, CMP Technology sent out a print bid package for about a dozen of its titles. Marie Myers, senior VP-manufacturing, suggested that publishers considering a similar move should check samples of page files, print instructions, print orders, sub files and copies of issues the printer produced. "There should be no surprises," she said.

One thing Myers does is to "ghost" an issue, meaning CMP sends files to the printer and goes through the entire process short of actual manufacturing and distributing. This provides a good idea of how the relationship will work and what the prices would be compared with the existing vendor.

Rich Zweiback, corporate director of manufacturing at Lebhar-Friedman, has overseen printer changes a few times. "Most major printers will do a good job with regard to print and bind," he said. "However, while the lure of monetary savings can be very enticing, it's important to balance that with customer service.

"A good customer service rep, who has worked with you for a number of years, is priceless and can save a lot of money serving as the `last line of defense' for your publication."

Mlachak said customer service ranks extremely high on Pfingsten's list of areas to focus on before making the decision.

"The publisher is taking on more and more of the responsibility, and it's critical that you can communicate with the printer," he said. "Whoever that [customer service] person is is a key member of your staff, essentially."

Distribution is another key area where printers differentiate themselves, through such processes as co-palletization and co-mailing. Zweiback encourages publishers to investigate is the potential pool schedules at a new printer. "Does that one day late in delivering files cost you an extra three to four days in mailing?" he said.

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