"The Other Side of the Coin: Why Trade Binders Dislike Printers"
[Column #30, 6/97]

Why do trade binders hate printers?

I recently attended the BIA (Binding Industries of America) annual convention in San Antonio, Texas. Since we didn't get much sun, I spent a lot of time talking about business with my colleagues. The subject of my recent articles about why printers hate/love trade binderies came up and I received several requests urging me to write one from the trade binders point of view. Just what is it about printers that makes trade binders absolutely nuts? I decided to take these people up on their idea and ask them to give me their input. Our survey sample also included several printers in-house binderies. Our intent was to see if the complaints were similar to traditional trade binders and, therefore, inherent to the industry. Two things before I begin: (1) I swore everyone complete anonymity, and (2) I share none of these views with my colleagues.

I should start by saying that all the people we contacted were quick to point out that they love printers and that they would be unemployed without them. Blah. Blah. Blah. When we got to the heart of the conversation, this is what we heard.

Specifications on some requests for estimates are ridiculous. Here's an example: a request for 1M, 5M, 10M, 30M, 50M, 75M, and 100M copies, or a page count of 96, 116, 128, 144, 160, 176, and 192, or different trim sizes like 81/2" x 11" and 9" x 12", upright or album style, or multiple binding styles such as perfect, OTABIND®, Wire-O®, spiral, and plastic comb-all in one estimate! Why should any binder have to estimate an order with these kind of specs? Estimating is very time consuming and, besides, the job will probably never happen. Another problem with estimating is that most fax requests binders receive do not have complete specs. Because of this, binders would rather the printer call so the binder can ask proper questions, offer alternatives, and learn the level of urgency for the request or the job. To make matters worse, some printers want the binder to leave prices in their voice mail systems. Binders want feedback. Are they in or out of the ballpark pricewise? In addition, they often need to clarify certain things. Some printers use quotes from several binders for pricing only. They either have a favorite bindery that will always get the job or they have no intention of sending the job out. They are merely getting a market price and keeping the job in-house. Potential for another irritant develops when the binder blows an estimate through its own error and the price comes in low. The binder expects the printer to extend the same respect they would want if the tables were turned and not push it back in the binder's face.

Our respondents also mentioned this problem: A binder quotes $10.50 per thousand copies and their competition is $10.25 per thousand. The binder loses the job based on $0.25 per thousand on a copy job of 10,000-that's $2.50! This all occurs just after we (Oops! I mean "they") worked overtime to save the same printer's neck on a job the previous week. Another frustrating situation happens when a printer wins a large job based on a particular binder's numbers and planning suggestions received during the estimating process, and then turns around and trolls the job all over the place-paper, prep, finishing-trying to squeeze more money out. Tension can also build up when the binder wants $25 per thousand and ends up negotiating the price down to $18 per thousand with the promise of making it up on another job-that never happens. Or better yet, when the binder quotes a job and it finally develops (say two months later), and the same binder gets another estimate request for the same job. They are not told they already quoted on the job, and the printer uses the lowest price.

Whew! That covers some of the comments I heard regarding estimating. Now let's get to production-related problems. Pickup. The printer tells the binder they will have pickup ready at 9:00 a.m. The driver arrives at 8:55 a.m. and the job is not ready. The driver is told that if he helps to repile skids and band them, he will get the load. Obviously, this delay messes up the balance of his scheduled pickups and deliveries. Another favorite scenario occurs when the binder sends a truck to pick up a load and brings it back to the plant only to discover that the job is incomplete. The binder calls and the printer responds by saying, "Oh, your driver forgot a skid." Drivers are drivers and have no idea when they are shorted. Another common response is, "Oh yeah, the covers were too wet to band. Please send your truck back tomorrow." This results in double trucking when the estimate included only one pickup. Binders also love to be told they are getting a job only to discover that the printer decided to do the job in-house. Thanks for the notice! Or worse yet, they are told, "Oh, we found a better price!"

Wet ink is a frequent complication for binders. Sometimes the top sheets in a load are dry enough to cut, but once the binder gets into the load, set-off occurs. According to trade customs, binders are not responsible for wet ink! Even if the job is dry enough to cut, it might not get through subsequent machine operations. When will printers learn that coated stock requires at least one coat of varnish for protection? With extensive makeready time (taping rollers, covering various surfaces with moleskin, etc.), the binder might be able to process the product. But, woe is the binder who inadvertently moves wet ink!

Among the binders we surveyed, scheduling was a huge issue. This sentiment is shared by binders everywhere. No one disputed that tight deadlines are inherent to the business, but everyone agreed that it happens far too frequently-and unnecessarily. Binders hate for a job to be promised to them on a particular date and then receive it late. They never receive an extension on the deadline-or even a sympathetic ear. One respondent summed up his feelings by saying, "The designers are allowed to make corrections and delays and the printers are allowed to have problems on press, but when it gets to the bindery, we're the end of the line and nothing budges for us. If a job comes in a day late and a customer tells us that the schedule can't change-if we're even one hour late-they go crazy. What's worse is that we also take the blame when the job is late. No one on the outside ever knows the truth." At Bindagraphics, one of our customers actually had the gall to tell their customer that a job was late because we ran late at the bindery-and we hadn't even done the job! The printer did it in-house! Another common problem is that printers often confuse ship dates with delivery dates and the binder ends up with an even worse scheduling problem than they anticipated.

Printers often whine that binders are inflexible. If binders were to be as flexible as printers wanted them to be to accommodate their everyday emergencies, it would be a "going-out-of-business" strategy for binders. Ironically, this lack of flexibility exists because 85% of the work that is promised to binders at a certain time is late. This means that the binder must constantly juggle the schedule to handle the late jobs.

Another favorite-the binder turns the plant upside down to make a delivery date, and the printer doesn't pick up the job for three days.

Our respondents all stated, in their own way, that printers have a knack for making them feel degraded. Binders have a reputation for being the least important link in the chain, and therefore, it is unnecessary to treat them with respect. One training manual for people in the printing industry says, "Binderies are often at the back of the plant physically as well as socially and financially. Bindery workers are typically the least skilled and are at the bottom of the pay scale." (This makes me wonder why printers are so quick to steal both our office and plant personnel. Of course, it is totally unacceptable to solicit printers' employees to come to the bindery.)

But, by far, the biggest insult--printers can add bindery equipment at will, but binders are dead meat if they add a printing press.

Shew! I hope I've accurately expressed my colleagues' thoughts. They had a lot they wanted to say.