9 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Magazine Printer

Printing may be one of the final steps in the magazine production process, but selecting a printer should be one of the first things you do when you launch your association magazine. Your choice can be the difference between a smoothly executed process and a logistical nightmare. 

When sourcing printers, be on the lookout for a true partner — someone who can be in the trenches with you and cares as much about the quality of your magazine as you and your members do. 

“It’s about building a relationship where they are seriously committed to doing their best to make sure you’re happy,” says Ben Carpenter, m3Magazines director of print strategy. 

How do you find this type of symbiotic relationship? It starts with knowing the right questions to ask. 

9 Questions to Ask a Prospective Magazine Printer

  1. “Do you have experience printing magazines?” 

This question should top your list. You want a printer with experience doing the thing that you want to do. 

“You need to make sure you’re working with a printer who knows magazines,” says Carpenter. From making sure pages are even, neat and lined up to understanding the importance of color consistency across issues, “it’s details like those that require a printer who has experience and is well-versed in the magazine process.”

  1. “What is your pricing structure?” 

Price is typically top of mind when it comes to finding printing services for your magazine. Your printer should have a wide variety of pricing options based on the quantity of magazines you’re printing, the number of pages, the type of paper, ink and binding, and any other services such as coating or inserts. A good printer will walk you through the options and help you develop the most cost-effective solution for your association. 

And while you certainly need to know what it will cost to produce each issue of your magazine, price should not be your sole consideration. 

“As with a lot of things, you don’t want to just go with the cheapest. You want to evaluate the price in relation to value,” says Carpenter. 

  1. “Can you help me select the right paper?” 

The quality of the paper you choose speaks volumes to your members. Choosing the cheapest, thinnest paper may save a few bucks, but it doesn’t offer the look and feel of quality your members expect. On the other hand, opting for the finest European, Vogue-quality paper may bust your budget with very little payoff. Your printer will help you find a middle ground. 

“Your printer should be able to show you different options and even create mock-ups to help you visualize how it will look,” says Carpenter. 

  1. “Do you have in-house mailing services?” 

Commercial printers will often offer in-house mailing services that include labeling, sorting, packaging and delivering magazines to the post office. This can alleviate the logistical headaches of handling your distribution list, labeling and shipping yourself. Your printer may also be able to take advantage of bulk mailing discounts at the post office and pass those savings on to you.

  1. “What are your printing timelines?” 

The magazine world runs on deadlines. You need to know your printer takes your production schedule as seriously as you do. Delays in printing can have a domino effect that impacts distribution and harms relationships with your members and advertisers. They should have clear answers about timelines and scheduling. 

  1. “What’s the proofing process like?” 

Some printers will provide digital proofs, others will mail you a hard copy, and some do both at different stages of the proofing process. Digital proofs are faster, but a hard copy will allow you to see precisely how your magazine looks in print rather than on screen. Talk to your printer about their typical process, and then ask if it can be customized based on your proofing needs. 

  1. “How do you handle changes?” 

Mistakes are bound to happen at some point. Maybe you didn’t catch a name misspelling or used a photo of the wrong person. Ask how your printer handles last-minute changes and what costs are involved. 

  1. “What if the error is on your end?” 

Printers will mess up, too. Your printer should have a process in place for handling errors. Having an honest conversation upfront about what happens if there are printer-caused delays or mistakes not only gives you insight into the printer’s policy, but it also offers a glimpse into how transparent and upfront they are as an organization.

  1. “Can I see samples of your work?” 

A printer should always be willing to send you samples of their previous work. To get the best idea of what they can do, ask for samples specifically related to the type of magazine you want to produce. If a printer balks at the idea of handing over samples, Carpenter considers that a bad sign. “If there’s a reluctance to be transparent or to share samples with you, or if they give you some kind of excuse about why they can’t, that’s a red flag,” he says. 

Find a Full-Service Partner

There is a lot of nuance that goes into hiring a printer and managing an ongoing relationship. Even if you go in with all the right questions, hear all the right responses and decide to move forward, hiring a new printer is “always a roll of the dice to some degree,” says Carpenter. 

It may be that communication or customer service is lacking. Or, maybe it’s just too much work to manage the relationship from issue to issue. Teaming up with a full-service publishing partner like m3Magazines can alleviate that stress.  

“When associations come to us, they know we have the experience; we know the things to look out for,” says Carpenter. “We have those relationships with trustworthy printers in place. That’s part of working with a publisher like m3Magazines; you’re working with people who already have that experience and knowledge — you get all that rolled in.”

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