Is Price Really ALL That Matters?

Written by Deborah Corn

As Print Producers, the bottom line is part of our jobs. We are charged not only with executing final materials, but staying within budget and finding options where needed. Options may be as simple as switching a Premium paper stock to a Value one, converting PMS colors to 4CP, or in some cases opting to print on a Digital Press when the job will work there. But there is still a cost, and while it might not be a financial, one could argue the quality of your final materials pays that price.

I have been working in the Production arena for 20+ years, in many capacities. When I started, layout was done by paste up, no computer programs even existed other than the typesetting machines. A stat camera and an x-acto knife were your best friends. Some of you reading this have no clue what I’m talking about or remember life without a cell phone or a remote control let alone a wax machine. I only mention this to give you a little reference to my experience in this field, and to point out that as it changes, so must you.

The changes these days for Print Producers don’t revolve so much around leaps in technology as much as they do getting the most bang for your buck. The economy has shrunk budgets and staffing and still we are required to produce award-winning materials and keep clients happy, without sacrificing the quality.

I have bid out a few jobs recently that I expressly asked for offset pricing. I received digital quotes. I had asked for PMS colors and Varnish and yet they had been magically removed in the bids. When I questioned more than one vendor about it, I was told - “this will save you money.” I found that a very interesting response first because I have always assumed that if I spend the time with Art Directors and Designers creating specs that they mean something, and second that Vendors quote what I ask for, as they have always done in the past. But this economy seems to have everyone in a freefall. If they quote as I asked they seemed afraid that their bid would be too high so they redesigned my work to make it cheaper… and I say cheaper vs. less expensive purposely.

We multi-bid jobs for numerous reasons whether dictated by Clients, or Agency/Company policy, or just so we have a feel for general price range. With all being equal, yes, the lowest bid is often chosen to execute. We also use specs to make sure our bids are apples to apples and not apples to Gorgonzola cheese. So not bidding what we have asked for really is of no help at all.

Lets assume you received three bids that followed your specs and all three are over your allotted budget. First, I would turn to the Vendor I had the best relationship with and see if they could come down. More often than not they do as long as you don’t abuse them. If that wasn’t possible, or the price reduction still has you over budget, discuss paper with them and make sure they engage their Paper Rep in finding solutions or alternatives. As well, call your Paper Rep. They know of other sources and vendors who may have something comparable to what you have speced in their shop or warehouse to substitute and are always a helpful resource in my experience. Ask for alternative paper samples to be sent to review with your in-house team. Talk to your vendor about other jobs you have or other jobs they are running. See if you can work out ganging up jobs on press and reducing or splitting set-up costs. Ask about a volume discount if you can send a certain amount of business their way in a time frame you agree upon. Question delivery method, question why their bid is so high, or so low based upon others you have received. Develop relationships that expand beyond customer/client and work with them as a partner in your process. The bottom line is always more than just dollars and cents, and you will get what you pay for if you only focus on that aspect.

Deborah Corn is a Print Production and Project Management Professional and owner/manager of the Print Production Professionals Group on LinkedIn with over 6200 members. She was invited to submit an article as an independent contributor and is not associated with Full Circle, Millcraft Paper, or any of their products or opinions.


  1. The author seemingly answered her own question- and that to her price is the only differntiator.
    Interestingly enough, no where does the author place any value on the relationship with the print provider- instead she chooses to refer to them generically as vendors. Unfortunately, she then finds herself not really helping her cleints becasue she constantly has to reinvent the wheel with new print providers. An established relationship provides infinitely more value than a "bid fest" and I believe that the realtionships my company forges with cleints are based on trust, respect and an appreciattion that we have a job to do too and that job costs money. It's my opinion that this position is far more effective for the end user than "bidding out is our policy"

  2. Deborah you make several points in your article. First that the economy is bad and that causes you to go with the lowest bid. Printers know that, so they do look at suggesting options because they want your work. They can still quote it straight up as requested, but give you some suggestions that might help to stay within your budget.
    Second, staffing has shrunk everywhere, yes. As printers might get short staffed to get through this economy, print buyer positions get eliminated in some cases and taken over by media buyers, or less experienced buyers who are not as clear on quote request which opens up a lot of quoting options.
    Third, you say "there seems to be a freefall attitude". Yes, it won't last though. Everyone is just trying to keep there jobs. So if that causes lowest cost decisions, everyone has to deal with that.
    Fourth, that if all of your quotes are over budget, then you would go to the vender that you have the best relationship with to see if they can get you back in budget. Why would you not go to all three and simply be honest? They might be willing to lower their margins for you or find better paper options. Buyers have to save their companies money to justify their positions. Printers have to make money so they will be around for your next project. It is a long term relationship both in good economic times and bad.

  3. As a printer I agree with your comments. We offer both digital and offset printing and know that there can be a compromise in quality with digital. Also, some designs just aren't ideally suited to digital printing. We have strong relationships with many of our clients and know what will work best for them however we also get a lot of first time callers or bid requests through our website.
    If I feel that someone is shopping only for price I will often offer them estimates for both methods with strong warnings if needed regarding digital quality. That strategy seems to work well, many people understand the difference. However there are just as many who just want the job at the lowest price and don't see or care about any differences in quality.

  4. You've raised some intersting points Deborah...

    I think there's always a balance between relationship and cost. We work extremely hard to ensure that our clients can trust us to make offer pragmatic advice based on our experience... after all - that's what we get paid for!

    Clearly though we need to demonstrate not just added value in terms of guidance and expertise, but real value for money.

    We have no intention of being 'cheap' or the cheapest - but we recognise that cost is always a factor. On the other hand, we pick up lots of work from clients who previously went for 'cheap' under the strict instructions of their supervisor - and when 'cheap' goes wrong, they look for a supplier that's honest and reliable. To us, that's worth so much more than a minimal cost-saving.

    I'm sure we've all been in situations where we would happily have paid a little bit more to get exactly what we wanted, delivered on time.