In honor of Oct. 23, which was originally scheduled to be National No-Print Day but turned into Yes Print Day!, Dead Tree Edition offers this update on printing-related technology and what it means for print buyers. (If you’re not familiar with Toshiba’s ill-fated National No-Print Day gimmick, see Toshiba's No-Print Day As Popular As a Turd in the Punchbowl):
Recent developments in postpress technology underscore the importance of looking beyond price when choosing a printer. After all, when an organization buys printing, it isn't just paying to put ink on paper; it's paying
to have the right message delivered to the right person on time.
The recent Graph Expo 2012 printing-industry trade show included an impressive array of machine-vision systems on binders, stitchers, and other finishing equipment, reports Don Piontek for Printing Impressions.
In the bindery, “vision systems have become more common over the years ... to verify that the correct signature has been loaded into the feeder by the operator,” he notes.
“On co-mailing machines, cameras will verify that the correct mailing address has been applied to the right publication for that recipient.”
To understand the significance of these advances in cameras, processors, and software, let me relate a couple of war stories:
I worked at a publishing company where an advertiser asked about including a personalized insert in magazine copies going to certain VIP subscribers. So I checked with our printer’s customer service rep whether the printer could ensure that, for example, the insert targeted to Dr. Emily Williams went into the copy addressed to Dr. Emily Williams.
“Sure,” said the CSR. “We just print the inserts so that they are delivered to the bindery in the same sequence as the address file.”
“What happens if someone in the bindery drops a stack of inserts or picks up a bundle out of sequence?” I asked.
“Then you’re screwed,” came the reply.
Another printer tried to show off its new digital-printing capabilities but ended up demonstrating how badly it needed to invest in machine vision.
The printer sent a fancy mailing to its clients with lots of personalized messages.
Unfortunately, the brochure I received began with “Dear Alice.” The pre-personalized pieces fell out of synch with the address file, resulting in many other clients getting a similarly mis-addressed message.
Cameras mounted on production equipment, calipers that check each piece’s thickness, and other automated inspection systems can ensure that the correct piece is bound into each publication or inserted into each envelope. But the level of investment in such quality control varies from printer to printer.
If you selectively (AKA demographically) bind your publication at a printing plant that skimps on postpress quality-control systems, that expensive perfume insert targeted to young women may end up going only to your male customers.
A direct-mail printer may keep its capital-investment costs -- and its prices -- low by not buying vision systems. But will unseen errors at the plant depress your response rates?
Is printing a commodity?
Printing is not purely a commodity, especially when “printing” includes such other activities as binding, presort, co-mail, packaging, and shipping. Low printing prices can’t save enough to cover the costs of losing a major customer, significantly depressed response rates, or even mailing the printed piece inefficiently.
A print buyer’s goal should not be to get the lowest price but to figure out how to meet a set of specifications most efficiently.
Final thought: Even the best printing plant can’t overcome a flawed database. To promote a printing trade show, beautiful four-color postcards of a sports car were mailed to print enthusiasts, with the recipient’s name “painted” on the sports car. Unfortunately, my name appeared in the mailer’s database as “Mr. Publishing Company”.
Final note: The headline is a play on the Hebrew proverb, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), which an urban legend says was translated into one language as, “Put on your glasses before you get killed.”
Other articles about printing and print buying include: