"Whatever Happened to Trade Customs for Binders and Finishers?"
[Column #42, 6/98]

Anyone who's been in this industry for a while knows there is not a lot of consistency when it comes to doing business. Many of the trade customs that used to exist have been abandoned and everybody just kind of does their own thing changing the rules along the way to suit their own needs. But why not? It certainly seems reasonable as long as no one else is getting hurt. (I realize printers are faced with a similar challenge on their end of the business, too.)

The problem with this philosophy has little to do with hurting the other guy. It's about missing out on the potential benefits of working as a team and satisfying the end customer. I know this can be a hard sell for those of us who thrive on beating out the competition, but sometimes working together can make everyone a winner.

I am associated with two organizations made up solely of Binders and Finishers: the Binding Industries of America (BIA) and the Binders and Finishers Group of the Printing Industries of Maryland (PIM). Membership in such organizations has many benefits, from swapping war stories with people who can really empathize (and laugh) with you to providing a sounding board when a member has problems or questions but most of all, these organizations set the tone for how the industry will be run. They create both spoken and unspoken rules for acceptable ways of doing business. These trade customs, when used consistently, enable companies to avoid potential disputes by setting standards for issues commonly encountered in the industry.

Recently, the Binders and Finishers Group (of the PIM) decided to pool their knowledge and draft a list of suggested terms and conditions for binders and finishers contracts. The contract is based on a number of trade customs familiar (all too familiar!) to those in the printing and binding industry. (The PIM has also compiled and published a list of all the binders and finishers in their organization along with each company's overage allowances.) In many cases, these customs, over time, have gone by the wayside and what was once the unspoken rule is often broken or ignored. This document protects binders and finishers from potential problems and liabilities.

The following terms and conditions have been included in the contract. (The actual contract is more detailed. This merely highlights some of the issues associated with each term or condition.) If you would like a copy of the contract, contact me and I'll send you one:

Quotation - Unless otherwise stated, quotations are subject to acceptance in 30 days and, if they are not, are subject to change without notice. Quotes are based on the accuracy of the specifications given by the customer. (Problems often occur in the quotation process because, initially, we receive inaccurate information and the job does not arrive as it was quoted you can imagine the chaos this creates.)
Agreements - The customer shall furnish a written purchase order, lineup sheet, and sample copy with the order. No verbal agreement or representation shall be binding unless confirmed in writing. (This is necessary because, for example, we are often given wrong head trims or items are left off purchase orders causing us to make mistakes and hold up production.)
Cutting - Jobs requiring any register shall be furnished with stock squared prior to printing, together with cutting layout or workable dummy. (Many times grippers and guides are not marked or, when we are working with webs, there's no registration at all.)
Materials - Following acceptance of bindery quotation, and before production, both parties shall agree on layouts and imposition. Ink must be dried, printing sheets must be furnished properly jogged and securely wrapped or skidded, and guide and gripper edges must be marked. (The key here is to cover all of this prior to printing and stripping the job!)
Customer Property - All customer property, whether in storage or in production is at the customer's risk. The binder is not liable for loss or damage from fire, water leakage, theft, negligence, insects, rodents, or any cause beyond their control. A monthly storage charge will be made for customer property held more than 30 days. (Printers should always check that they are insured for all of the materials they are handling.)
Counts - The binder shall make no hand count on receipt of sheets or other material unless separate and distinct agreement is made. The regular basis of count shall be the folding, gathering, or other machine counts recorded after production of said terms. (Everyone knows that whatever their pressmen mark on their skid tags is accurate, right?!?)
Quantities - The quotation covers only the specified quantity stated to be bound or completed as in the initial order. Partial lots may add labor and material costs. Overruns or underruns, not to exceed 10% of the bound or printed sheets ordered, shall constitute acceptable delivery. Any excess or deficiency shall be charged or credited proportionately. (I highly recommend attention to detail in this area. It is a topic of hot dispute because we're often told we can bill for overs and later find out we cannot.)
Damage during Shipping - When the customer reasonably should have known, or has been made aware by the binder of potential shipping problems if certain precautions are not taken, and the customer refuses such services, the binder shall not be held liable for damage. (Always alert your binder of specific requirements necessary for the job, particularly if it will be shipped long distances. We've seen many cowboy truck drivers who can't make it around the block without doing damage to a shipment.)
Delays - The binder is not responsible for delays caused by accidents, fire, strikes, water, or other causes beyond his control. (This protects our most famous excuses for late delivery!)
Indemnification - The customer shall indemnify and hold harmless the binder from any and all loss, cost, expense, and damages occurring as a result of copyright violations or proprietary rights, libelous or scandalous material, or violation of a person's right to privacy or other personal rights. (This is pretty standard stuff.)
Arbitration - All claims, demands, disputes, differences or controversies and misunderstandings between the binder and the customer shall be handled by the American Arbitration Association through binding arbitration for the proper parties. (In the face of disputes, we suggest this to our customers and find that often it works very well.)
Limited Liability - The binder shall not be liable to the customer, or any other party for loss of profit, loss of use, labor, or material. Damages of any kind shall be limited to the contract price agreed upon between the two parties. (Once lawyers get involved, if the books are not completed, things can get out of hand.)
While not all of these issues affect every single binder or finisher, they represent universal complications in the postpress world. Why not create a united front?