Digital Original: Industry Standards Build Profitability

Are printers their own worst enemies? A recent essay in the July issue of Printing Industries of New England’s Printer & Publisher looked at why printers constantly self inflict damage on their businesses. In the essay, industry consultant Jack Epstein took the industry to task about not billing customers for valuable services.

According to Epstein, the industry is its “own worst enemy” when it comes to being treated fairly by customers. “Who else makes custom products under extreme deadlines and doesn’t collect full or partial payments along the way?” asks Epstein. “We are more lackadaisical about getting paid than cobblers, dry cleaners, and the building trades.”

Epstein also believes there is a lack of respect for printing and that printers have low self esteem. They will use any excuse to rationalize away the need to charge for a service. Printers will think they can’t charge because “nobody else charges extra for that” or “we’ll make it up on the next order.” They think giving away a service for free will be “relationship building.” Some don’t add extra charges because they think it will raise quality issues in the minds of customers.

Epstein does have recommendations to help printers. He suggests instant notification to customers whenever specifications change or author alterations occur. He also suggests printers have a clear understanding with customers about which services are included in the base price and those that will incur additional charges. He believes printers should have tighter coordination of effort between estimating and sales.

Epstein argues that a printer’s survival might depend on being able to collect for justified expenses. If he is not willing to charge a fair price and collect the charges, the printer won’t have the cash to stay in business.

Learn to Survive

It is harder to stay in business than it used to be. According to the experts, the nation’s economy has bottomed out. While no one is expecting an immediate turnaround, things should start looking up for all parts of the economy, including printing. We’re not out of the woods yet, but printing companies that continued sales activities should start to see a rebound sooner than their competitors who hunkered down and did nothing.

Printers give the store away when it comes to customer created files. Printers have constantly rationalized about charging for fixing customer files. “Others do it for free” and “It will keep my presses running” are getting to be tired excuses. Finally, this attitude is starting to change, thanks to trade printers.

There are low cost print providers for the trade who use technology to keep their costs down. Many quick and small commercial printers are finding it is less expensive to job out work, especially full-color printing, to these specialty firms. The trade printers have limited their product lines and automated production so they can keep their margins high. This allows them to offer a product at prices that let printers resell for a profit.

With automation comes strict standards as to how files will be accepted. Trade printers don’t deal with problem files. Working on narrow margins, they eliminate issues that will add costs to the job. If a printer submits a bad customer file to a trade printer, the job is either rejected until a good file can be obtained or the printer pays a stiff penalty to have the file corrected. The printer has to pass on the additional charges to the customer or eat them.

Printers are finally waking up to the fact that you can charge for fixing customer files, and that this service has a value. They have to pay trade printers, so why don’t they charge their own customers? The trade printers aren’t fixing files for free, and a commercial printer shouldn’t fix them for free either.

Standard Procedure

Why can’t printers tell their customers the standards and hold them to those standards? It is because the printers don’t know the standards. Are trade printers using some magical formula to tell customers how to set up files? No. They are using standards that the printing industry has adopted over the last decade. IDEAlliance has promoted GRACoL since 1996. These guidelines are now the foundation for improving communications between printers and customers.

The Ghent Workgroup is another organization that has published process specifications for the best practices that have been adopted by the print industry. Ghent focuses on PDF workflows. All a printer has to do is teach his customers to follow the standards for submitting files. A correct file can be placed into a workflow, produced the most efficient way, and rendered exactly as the customer expected, every time.

Printers must educate themselves and their staffs about the standards if they expect to stop getting bad files. The primary reason that customers create bad files is that they have never been told how to do it correctly. Once the standards are set and followed, printers should see their profits increase. If the customer isn’t following the standards, then it is easy for the printer to justify the additional cost to the customer.

Printers have to know how to use the tools they have. Just getting a PDF from a customer doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly. The PDF file has to be created to a certain standard. The PDF editing tools don’t really work if the PDF file isn’t created correctly. They can fix common problems, but if the original PDF file is not correct, even the most sophisticated software isn’t going to help.

Printers must learn the industry standards, train their staff, and then publish the standards so the customers can know them. The printer then must enforce the standards by charging to fix incorrect files. Most printers don’t complain when their vendor adds an additional charge for a bad file. They just add it to the cost of the job. Most customers won’t complain either, especially if the printer uses it as a training opportunity.

Times are too tough to rationalize away profits. Printers, like other companies, have to look for every opportunity for making money. They have to quit thinking that giving away work or using steep discounting wins customer loyalty. Author and advertising expert Steve McKee says if you play the discount card too much, it will send a signal you don’t believe your services are worth it. If you don’t believe, who will?

Quick Notes

Adobe has updated its website. A redesigned Adobe TV is faster and more feature filled, so the visitor can get more out of it. Visit to see the latest posting from developers and designers as well series such as Everyday Timesavers. There is some good information to help train the prepress staff.

And did you know has a number of videos on how to use the different features of popular programs such as InDesign, Quark, Illustrator, and Photoshop? Just search for the software you use and learn about the hidden tricks that can increase productivity in the print shop. The short videos are another excellent way to get the prepress staff trained.

Can Paper Add Value?

Finch Paper thinks its new Value Guide will be interesting reading for printers and customers alike. In the new Finch Value Guide, the company covers the variables that add up to “value” in a simple, brief, and engaging manner. Real data and colorful graphics combine to bring print customers and clients a complete understanding of factors that influence value-based paper buying decisions.

The Guide covers five facets of value: choice of weights, natural look and feel, sustainability, high quality, and cost savings. The 12-page publication offers in-depth information, facts, and illustrations on these key points to help clients discern the best value and options available in paper. It is free at Scroll down to the bottom left of the webpage for the Finch Value Guide.

John Giles is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList.” He is technology director for CPrint International. He can be reached at 954/224-1942 or You can also find John on (Search for JohnG247) and Visit his website at www. and link to his blog.