I guess it depends who you ask. If you ask a printer, the answer will be a resounding “no”. Others would say that it absolutely is. It all depends upon the bias of whom you ask and what they have at stake in the answer. For example, a printing company owner, the employee of a printing company or anyone whose livelihood comes from a printing company will never admit that what they offer as a company can be bought just about anywhere and is no different or better than any other printer.
If printing is a commodity, a publisher has nothing to look for outside of price when choosing a printer.
What do I think? I think the answer is maybe. Allow me to explain:
There are three general areas within the publisher/printer relationship that can be examined in this regard: 1) the manufacturing process 2) quality, and 3) service. Service can include many different, yet extremely important things to consider which I will cover in more detail below. I should also say that capabilities would be a significant part of this equation as well but most magazine printers have like capabilities. Or at least for the sake of this discussion I am assuming that they do. Also, later in this book I will detail the many ways to assist you in determining whether, or not, a printer is a true magazine printer.
Lets take a look at the manufacturing process that, as you will see, I think automatically includes quality. In the magazine printer world, the manufacturing process has become very “commodity-like”. I say this because I truly believe that there are only a very small number of true magazine printers that should be given real consideration when looking for a partner. Within this small group of viable magazine printers all of them have the most up-to-date technology and equipment needed to serve the short-to-medium run magazine publisher. Keep in mind however that a new printing press does not make it an ideal short-to-medium run magazine press (I say this because there are printers out there who claim that they are magazine printers and that their new presses support this market when this is not necessarily the case)! So, if using the most up-to-date technology and equipment I can pretty much tell you, from experience, that the differences in quality and efficiency levels of the product from printer-to-printer will be unnoticeable. The newest technology and equipment, for the most part, does all of the quality work automatically. So what a technology is capable of - “is what it is”. If a printer has it, quality levels should be the same as the next printer that has it. Again, this is assuming that the operators are reasonably experienced which most are more than capable.
So manufacturing and quality being in the same category, the only thing left to look at would be service. If you ask 100 publishers for a definition of service, as related to magazine printing, you would assuredly get 100 different answers. For the most part, however, some of the general answers might include fast turnaround, quick response to phone calls, looking out for publishers needs, offering money saving suggestions, etc. These are all extremely important! But will you ever find a print salesman whom is trying to get your magazine business that would tell you that they are not magazine printers? Or that turnaround time is slow? Or that they do not look out for your needs or return phone calls quickly? I doubt it very seriously.
So how do you really know if a printer is truly client friendly, even if they are magazine printers? Are they really any different than other magazine printers? If you cant answer a question about what makes Printer A different than Printer B, then I would say that printing is a commodity! So my answer is that printing has “somewhat” become a commodity. HOWEVER, there are a very small number of printers out there who truly are different and, based on their day-to-day policies, show that they are very customer friendly. And it’s not obvious, on the surface, the type of things that will show these major differences. You have to know where to look and what types of things will tell you this.
What do I mean by this? Let me give you just a couple of examples. I think most everyone would agree that printer contracts tend to favor the printer, or at least this is the general assumption. Some would say that they favor a printer just a bit and others would say that they completely favor the printer. In general, once you sign a contract with a printer, you are not leaving that printer unless there is a major error committed by the printer. Also, generally, most all contracts define a price increase to take effect at predefined points within the term of the contract. So these are the two points of a contract that I am concerned about right now – Price and Performance!
What does contract language tell you about a printer? It basically tells you that a printer with the type of contract mentioned above isn’t all that concerned about your general happiness with them once a contract is signed. If you are unhappy, for whatever the reason, it’s too bad unless they have officially violated terms of the performance part of the contract. I should say that there are some printers out there who will allow you to break contract if you are just generally unhappy however its rare and NOT A MATTER OF GENERAL POLICY. I should also say that it’s probably not fair to say that a printer wouldn’t care about you once a contract is signed. This is overly harsh and impractical. What I am saying is that general contract language protects a printer should they fail you or you find that their pricing levels are no longer competitive. It also means that should the market drop, you are locked into a price and not free to take advantage of a falling market. So would a printer with this type of contract sound like a printer with confidence in their abilities to keep you happy long-term, in all areas? I say not.
On the other hand, there are a few printers who, as a matter of day-to-day policy, will lock in initially established prices for the entire term of a contract to include several years if desired. This same contract from these printers will contain a 90 day “out-clause” allowing the publisher to leave FOR ANY REASON with 90 days notice to the printer. So what would this tell you? It tells me that these are printers who have complete confidence in their abilities to keep their clients happy long-term! And also that they will remain price competitive throughout the term of the contract regardless of initially established prices! These printers see no advantage in forcing an unhappy customer to stay with them nor do they have any desire to be uncompetitive in the marketplace. I can tell you, from experience, that I have seen one of these printers lower their manufacturing prices without any prompt from their client! They simply realized that the market had dropped in one particular area and they reacted to it.
Do you see the potential differences in service definitions? It is a huge difference! These printers “put their money where there mouths are”! Outside of these types of unique things, you might as well buy on price! Again, this is assuming that you are choosing a pure and real short-to-medium run magazine printer. If you are choosing a pure magazine printer, you will probably not loose if you do buy on price alone!
Now some might say “I don’t even have a contract with my printer and my printer doesn’t require one”. This is not the point. I am trying to explain an overall mindset and how a normal practice of doing business shows a confidence level about their product and services that seriously differentiate them from competitors. These are the types of things that might not be so obvious on the surface and take them out of the category of “commodity”. Plus, do you want your pride and joy, your magazine, to be as a commodity!
So, to summarize, there are numerous commodity-type printers and only a handful that I consider to be outside of this designation.
What can Making Magazines do for you?
I can help you find these special printers, obtain bids for you from numerous magazine specialty printers, negotiate a contract unlike any you thought possible, continue to monitor your relationship, check your invoices, help you deal with issues, etc. I become an extension of your staff. All at zero cost or obligation to you. No fees or marked-up pricing! Contact me and, within 10 minutes, I will explain how I do this and how I have been 100% successful in saving my clients a significant amount of money on their print, paper and distribution costs and how my continued involvement has benefitted them tremendously. My clients love my service and printers love my service.
You focus on publishing and let me use my experience and expertise to worry about printing and distributing your magazine.
The most common feedback from my clients - “I wish I would’ve contacted you sooner”.