Survey: Magazine Printing Quotes Vary by 300%
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.
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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 www.bmw.com 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:
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...