How to Deal with Problems at Your Printer
The author has turned in the final manuscript. The editorial and design work are complete. Marketing efforts are under way. The proofs looked great, and the book has gone to the printer.
The F&G's (folded and gathered signatures) of your new title arrive in the morning overnight package. That's when the real fun begins. You discover, to your horror, that all the pages slant downhill away from the spine. And the halftones didn't reproduce properly! Now what?
No matter how careful we are or how thoroughly we plan, occasional printing problems are inevitable. As print buyers, we're tasked (indeed, challenged) to deal with these shortcomings.
And we have to do it in such a way as to minimize the impact to our publishing company, customers, and printer partners. This can be quite a balancing act.
The first thing to do when a problem crops up is to notify your printer. Do this immediately. This puts the printer on notice that a quality issue exists, and lets them know you're unhappy with some aspects of the final product.
More important, this gives the printer a chance to initiate an evaluation of the problem while the printing and binding are still fresh in everyone's mind. Depending on the production schedule and size of the run, early reporting can let the printer intercede and correct the balance of the press run.
During the initial conversations with the printer, don't let deadline pressures and your stress level hit the red zone. Avoid the instinct to affix blame or accuse the printer of wrongdoing. You might find the problem is with your people, organization, process, or technology.
Perhaps a file was prepared incorrectly, or something was missed at the proofing stage. Maybe the files became garbled in transmission. If the problem is internal, blaming the printer might not be the answer.
That said, if the printer points the finger at your organization, don't accept responsibility until you have thoroughly researched the matter.
Once the problems have been identified, define the minimum acceptable corrective measures, regardless of who is at fault or who will pay for it. This enables consistent negotiations, while swiftly resolving the problems.
For example, don't press the printer to reprint the cover of a book unless you're willing to absorb the cost, because it might turn out that your organization caused the errors.
If you open the negotiations by demanding a reprint, it can be embarrassing at best if it's later discovered that a bug in your files was missed during proofing. If you adopt a strong position before all the facts are in, it can damage your professional relationship.
Likewise, how the printer manages conflict resolution indicates how much they value your business and are willing to invest in the relationship.
Different problems require different resolutions. These range from a complete reprinting of a book, to an open discussion with the printer and your design staff regarding how things could have been handled differently.
The approach has to be determined by how the product will be used, and the problem's severity. The tolerances for a case-bound four-color coffee table book are far less flexible than those applied to a black & white instruction manual.
Further, the printers tasked with producing these radically different products should have been chosen based on their core competencies and proven experience, not on cost and delivery alone.
How editorial integrity, customer perception, and sales will be affected should also be considered when attempting to resolve a production problem. Before kicking off negotiations, define what the ideal outcome should be, keeping your minimum acceptable resolution in mind.
If reprinting is the only acceptable resolution, that should be clearly and firmly communicated early on. Further, a problem not significant enough to justify reprinting does not mean the publisher shouldn't be compensated.
When a production error results in a book that is saleable, but falls below the publisher's established quality standard and the printer is at fault, a discount to the publisher is justified and should be expected.
Conversely, some problems annoy only the editor and artists, but have zero impact on the quality of the product. A production credit might still be warranted, but it should be in proportion to the scope of the error.
Steve Johnston is purchasing manager for The National Underwriter Company, Erlanger, Ky. He can be reached at SJohnston@NUCO.com