Managing Book Printing Estimates: Part 3, Assess What the Printer Is Promising

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July 2011
by Joel Friedlander

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Part 1 of this series (May) looked at the specific items included in a typical book-printing estimate from an offset printer. Part 2 (June) focused on using that language to get accurate estimates from book printers. What follows here explains how this all comes together in the printer’s quotation.

A printer’s response to your Request for Estimate (or RFQ) embodies all the specifications for the physical manufacture of your book and functions as a contract between you and the printer. After you sign the quotation you will be bound by what’s in it, as well as by the printer’s terms and conditions (see “Printers’ Terms: What the Boilerplate Means and Where There’s Wiggle Room” by Steve Gillen from the March issue for details).

 Thomson-Shore Letter Of Quote

The example I’m using is a quote provided by the good people at Thomson-Shore in Dexter, MI, which they gave me permission to use as a sample. I have a long association with Thomson-Shore and continue to print books there because of its outstanding quality and excellent customer service.

You’ll notice that the form has a place at the bottom where the publisher has to sign, and you should remember that when you sign an estimate from a printer, you will be signing on behalf of your publishing company and committing to the project exactly as it’s outlined.

Do the Specs Match?

Look carefully at every printer’s quote you get to see if it accurately reflects everything you outlined in your request for estimate.

Sometimes changes are necessary. In this sample, for instance, the cover stock is specified as 10-point C1S (coated-one-side) instead of the 12 point, which is what I specified. That’s because the printer has standardized its book quotes, using the 10-point stock as the default.

But at the bottom of the quote, where the estimator typed in several items, one is:

12 pt C1S COVERS ADD $.08/EA

This tells me that the estimator read my instructions and provided a price for this upgrade. I’ll just have to work out the unit cost myself.

And I have more math to do. Since the price grid at the bottom of the quote doesn’t provide unit prices, I’m going to have to figure them out by using the rest of the “options” added to the quote.

The only other discrepancy I can see on this sample quote has to do with the packing. Although I specified “HD” or heavy-duty (double-wall) cartons, it specifies single-wall cartons.

Everything else is fine, and the difference in the cartons is a minor one.

Getting to the Price

The quotation provides prices on quantities of 1,500 and 2,500 books printed on a natural white paper with a recycled component, as I specified. This is not the least expensive paper available. Raising or lowering the quality of the paper would have a marked effect on the price.

The quote says that 1,500 books will cost $2,310, which means $1.54 each plus the cost of the heavier cover stock (+$.02) and the matte lamination I requested (+$.08). Because we’re using the heavier stock, the estimator has thoughtfully included the cost of scoring the covers (scoring puts a crease in the paper at the hinge of the spine), which will make them easier to handle and less stiff.

So here are the quoted costs for two different press runs:

1,500 copies

$2,310 + 35 = $2,345

$2,345 / 1,500 = $1.56

$1.56 + .02 + .08 = $1.66

2,500 copies

$3,110 + 35 = $3,145

$3,145 / 2,500 = $1.26

$1.26 + .02 + .08 = $1.36

As you can see, raising the quantity brings the unit price down by about 20 percent, a significant difference. The price would continue to drop as the quantity increases. But unless you can sell more books, the lower unit price will be illusory.

(For the curious, the unit cost for this book printed digitally at Lightning Source would be $4.23.)

Of course, you have to pay freight too, so you’ll want to factor shipping costs into your calculations about the book. And you’ll also want to bear in mind that costs can change because of “overs/unders,” terms that allow the printer to deliver up to 10 percent more or fewer books than you ordered.

Here you can see that overs/unders are priced at $0.99 each. This allows me to calculate what the price would be if, for instance, I ordered 1,500 copies and got 10 percent more, or 1,650:

1,500 books = $2,345 (from above)

150 books @ $0.99 each = $148.50

Total cost excluding shipping = $2,493.50

Summing Up

All the information a publisher needs to arrive at any particular quantity is in this quotation, an important document that should represent all the thought and planning that must go into printing of a particular book by offset. By comparing your request with the printer’s quote, you can assure that you get the book you want for a price you’re prepared to pay.

Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, CA, that has launched many self-publishers. An award-winning book designer and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion, he blogs about book design and the indie publishing life at theBookDesigner.com.

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