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Survey: Magazine Printing Quotes Vary by 300%

Updated on March 20, 2011

All these printers will supply you the same magazine. The price is the only difference.

What would you think if you had an exact make, model, options, etc. in mind, then went to 10 car dealerships to get your best price on it and found that the price varied from $9,457 to $29,760? Would you think that some of these dealers are completely insane? In the car business you'd probably be right. However if you're in the magazine or book printing business, you'd just call it a normal day's business.

It's hard to believe but when you're getting a printing quote it's a common occurrence to receive estimates that vary as much as 300% from one another. Many moons ago, I was shopping around for a magazine printer and most of my quotes at the time were coming in around the $30,000 to $70,000 range. One printer offered to do the job for just a few dollars under half a million. When I stopped laughing, I told him to just round it up to a nice cool million so that he could buy that McMansion he had his eye on.

The outrageous price spread for exactly the same print job staggers the imagination.
The outrageous price spread for exactly the same print job staggers the imagination.

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What are printing prices based on? Paper costs? Page counts? Press Run? Ink coverage? Binding specifics? No! They mostly center on just how much of a schmuck the salesperson thinks you are. When you call up the printer and your opening sentence is something along the lines of:

"Hi, I've decided to print a magazine, and I know that I want it to look just like Seventeen, with lots of nice bright pictures, and more or less the same type of paper, and more or less the same number of pages, and do you know how many magazines Seventeen prints, 'cuz I'd like to do about the same..." you can bet that while they're talking to you the salesperson is clicking on and obsessing on whether Kalahari Beige Metallic would look better than Titanium Silver Metallic on the new 760Li they're buying with your money.

Therefore, I felt it was necessary to expose these predatory and unconscionable pricing policies. I went on two of the many websites that allow you to fill in your specifications once and have them fired off automatically to a large number of printers not just in North America but around the world. The reason why I didn't pick my own printers was to make the selection fully random. I've dealt with a number of large printers in my career and it would have been unfair to include them, or to exclude them. I was actually surprised to find that one of the printers who submitted a bid was an old familiar name. For several years, I'd be at their plant every second Tuesday at 7 am sharp to press-proof one of our biweekly titles, usually accompanied by our publisher who I literally had to drag out of bed each time.

This old favorite printer didn't make the cut of the printers considered for this study since I had decided to include only the first ten quotes to arrive in my email box to skew it towards the printers that provide fast quotes. Old reliable came in 14th out of a total of 19 to date. I say to date since I know how the printing biz works and you can be assured that I will be receiving more quotes for weeks to come.

The specifications were as follows:

Run: 40,000

Frequency: Monthly

Trim size: 8-1/4 x 10-3/4 inches, text bleed

Signatures: 2 x 32 pg.

Paper, text: 60 lb. #3 Gloss book

Paper, cover: Self

Ink: Four-color process on all pages

Body: CTP at 150-line screen from provided PDF files

Proofs: Low resolution

Press: Rotary offset heat set, press fold

Bindery: Saddle stitch the 10-3/4 inch way, trim to size

Packaging: Carton pack on skid

Delivery: To 90024

If you know anything about printing, you will realize that all that code simply means that you're getting a fully conventional newsstand-type magazine with 64 total pages all in color, on fairly light and borderline-grayish paper. A cheap, but acceptable magazine.

The graph speaks for itself. It is set in chronological order so Printer A was the first to submit their bid and so on. Printer C, G and I came in at well over $20,000 with Printer C deciding to take a nice round $240 off a $30,000 bid to make it sound more appealing: To all the publishers who came out of rehab and are still so dazed by the sight of Lindsay Lohan running around naked that they don't have their wits about them when they sign the contract!

One of the most amazing aspects of this study was that the lowest bidder at $9,457, Printer H is set in the US Midwest, but the second lowest, Printer F is in India! All quotes include shipping right to the door of a hypothetical central Los Angeles address, so once you take out the shipping you can just imagine what the FOB (at the factory door) cost of the magazine from India must be! Likely barely enough to buy you a medium sized plasma TV! Considering that the price of paper is the major contributor to any printer quote and is pretty well the same everywhere in the world, you can certainly see the competitive advantages of being able to pay 50 cents an hour in India to a journeyman pressman vs. their American competitors who have to shell out over $30 an hour plus benefits.

Caveat emptor, emptor and emptor some more. The magazine or book publisher who settles on a printer without doing their homework should just have SUCKER tattooed on their foreheads, and they might as well put that same logo onto their letterhead so printing salespeople can be saved time in sizing them up and can go directly for the jugular.

Well... at least none of these printers decided to bid half a million dollars...


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi Hal,

      Its very interesting and am experiencing the same here in my place also. Really its a challening for Procurement officer to choose the best one.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hay you absulutely correct

      i know

      because i am an executive in printing industry

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      Jamie, although I certainly appreciate your valid comments borne from your experience, my current "lifetime print order" exceeds 10 billion (yes with a B) pages and I have run into more than my share of sheer ripoff printers who come in with absurd high ball figures (even with identical specs, location, etc.) in the expectation that the client is a bozo with a fat checkbook. Like anything else, there are honest printers and scam printers. It's important to be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

    • profile image

      Jamie Bradley 

      9 years ago

      I am a print broker, which means I need to know who the less expensive printers are. I get paid to manage the printing process, yet I still need to keep prices reasonable for my clients. What Hal doesn't seem to know is WHY printers vary so much in price. He thinks it's just because printers want to rip you off, but that's not the case.

      It comes down to equipment, materials and staff. Imagine you wanted to send a small package across your local city. You call a bicycle messenger, a cab company and a 18-wheel trucker and ask for estimates. Guess who's cheaper? The messenger. Now imagine you have 10 cartons each weighing 40 lbs. I'd call the cabbie. What if you had three skids, but now it needed to go to another city 500 miles away? The 18-wheeler.

      Printing is like that. Each company has it's own equipment and processes that impact their cost of production. Also, real estate costs in a major coastal city will be 2-3 times higher that a rural location in the middle of the country, and employee salaries will also reflect that. Two paper stocks may seem identical to a novice buyer, but and inferior grade may have been purchased at a lower cost.

      Most printers will have busy and slow times, and bidding in online auctions is a way to find work to fill in the slack periods. You may not get that price again from that printer. Sometimes that means, like it did in Hal's research, you get printers bidding who have absolutely no business thinking they can offer competitive bids on the open market. Yet, they many very well be reasonably price in the region where they generally compete.

      Hal's research shows that, if you have the time and the expertise, it can pay (greatly) to shop around. His commentary does not reflect that on average, most printers would be happy to end their fiscal year with a 5% profit margin (which in most cases they reinvest in more equipment and software).

    • profile image

      dwaynen alexander 

      11 years ago

      Excellent Printing Variation!

      I Need The Email For The Midwest Printer,

      With $9,457, greatly appreciate it.

      we're printing a startup publication.


    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      11 years ago from Toronto

      My pleasure, Guru-C! I love doing this kind of stuff! :)

    • Guru-C profile image

      Cory Zacharia 

      11 years ago

      So informative, Hal! Thanks so much for all this research!! Great hub!!!!


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