Today in our ongoing series “Questions which should have a simple answer, but do not have a simple answer and actually could do with a blog post of tips and hints” I’ll be looking at the cost of printing comics, factors to consider, and ways to reduce your costs.
Tomorrow, of course, I’ll be working on my title writing skills…
First off, a little bit about how we work out prices (I can’t speak for other comic printers, but that doesn’t really matter, because you’re not going to them, are you? ARE YOU?)
How we work out pricing
There’s a reason we don’t have a fixed price list published on the site & have instead constructed everything to try and drive you to the quote page. It is, of course, because
this is the easiest way to make loads of money off you with unscrupulous pric… *ahem* Start that one again… It’s because fixed pricing, while convenient, doesn’t really suit comic printing, which is by nature a complex project. We want to get talking to you as soon as possible, really, because the sooner we’re talking the sooner we’re going to catch potential problems with bleeds & clearance, or budget issues, or resolution and colour snafus, or any of the other thousand natural shocks that comic printing is heir to. There’s nothing worse, from our point of view, than getting a job land in the inbox that we’ve not heard anything about before – the likelihood is it’s going to need some serious work to make it print ready (especially if it’s perfect bound) and that there’s not going to be enough time to do said work right before the due date. It’s all very stressful, I’m sure you understand.
So that’s why it’s better from our point of view to price everything bespoke – why’s it better for you? That’s what you really want to know, isn’t it? Jeez… you’re so selfish…
Our costs of printing vary pretty much daily – we might have a lot of the type of paper you want to use kicking around that we’ve already paid for & want rid of; it might look like a quiet week coming up that we need to fill with jobs; hell, maybe I’m just having a really good day and I’m feeling generous – it’s happened. With one-size-fits-all pricing none of these factors will be in play: the prices are fixed according to a formula that basically boils down to:
Price = Generic Cost of Production + Profit Margin + Contingency
Whereas when everything’s quoted bespoke there’s no contingency (because we know the exact circumstances at the moment), and the profit margin is negotiable (depending on how good your pitch is…) Bespoke quoting takes a little longer, but everyone wins when we do it, which is why you’ll never see a fixed price list round these parts.
Factors which influence comic printing costs
Go take a look at the quote form for me. I’ll wait here.
Hello again. Did you notice what we asked for? Those are the variables that go into a quote and result in a price. In order of impact they generally go:
- Size & Colour Option
- Number of pages
- Binding type
- Paper types
- Turnaround needed
That’s not an order of precedence that’s etched in stone or anything, but it’s a good general rule to keep in mind. If you find yourself wanting to bring costs down from an initial quote it’s probably not worth asking for the next paper weight down – that’s going to have an impact of 1-2% in most cases. Compare that to switching from A4 to A5, which will generally save 20-40%, or dropping to monotone from full colour, which has about the same impact; if you can stomach big changes like that you’re going to get where you want to be on price much faster. There are also some big savings to be made by cutting pages, although it’s worth noting that you’ll usually have to do some fairly major surgery to take advantage: cutting 4 sides out of a 56pp comic is not going to have a life-changing impact most of the time…
A brief digression on the subject of quantity
Quantity of order has a huge impact on costs – it’s arguably the most important factor at play, which is why it’s worth dealing with separately.
We generally advise against printing fewer than 50 copies of a comic if you’re planning on selling it. To be honest, 50 is a pretty uncomfortable number as well – you’re unlikely to get a price that’s going to leave you much scope for profit. “Why is that?” I hear you cry. Well, it’s to do with the way that things are set up – with the majority of costs front-loaded into the setups of the pages, rather than the cost of printing each individual sheet. On shorter runs, the time taken to physically print, bind & box 10 copies is pretty much the same as the time taken to do 50 or 100 – processing the lower quantity doesn’t save us time (or by extension, money), so there’s no saving for us to pass to you. What’s costing us time & money on the majority of comic printing jobs is working on the files to get them ready for print, which takes just the same time however many copies we’ll be pumping out at the end of the day. These costs of setup are fixed on a page-rate – all you can really practically do is mitigate them by spreading them across a larger print run, which will increase your headline cost, but do wonders for your cost per unit.
An even briefer digression on a digression on the subject of quantity
Please don’t read the above as to mean we won’t print short runs, or that we don’t put in exactly the same effort to those short runs as we put into everything else. All I’m getting at is that shorter runs aren’t the most bang for your buck. We’ll still totally do them to the same standard as we’ll do anything else if you want us to!
How can I reduce my comic printing costs?
OK, so you just care about the headline cost. Fair enough. At some stage, if you want to turn a profit on this (which you might not! For some people it’s just a hobby, and goodness knows we all chuck money at our hobbies – I’ve somehow spent £300 on running kit this year…) you’ll have to start thinking about your unit prices, but for the time being maybe you just want to get your comic book out there on a fixed budget. So what are your options for lowering that headline figure? Well, you could:
- Drop your quantity, assuming that it’s a reasonably high quantity to begin with. I’ll cry a little inside and have to bite my tongue to avoid telling you how bad an idea this is from the point of view of unit costs, but you’re the boss…
- Cut the colour. Seriously, if you can bear it this will have a dramatic impact on the price.
- Reduce the size. Again, it’s a wrench, but you can save so much money if you’re willing to drop a full size. Take the digital press as an example: that’s SRA3 sized (i.e. each sheet is A3) – there are 2 slots for up to A4 there, or 4 slots for up to A5. Which do you think is going to work out cheaper?
Those are your technical options. They’re pretty straightforward, if rather unpalatable. What about your non-technical options? Are there any of those? You better believe it:
- Ask. Simple, innit? Obviously there’s a right way and a wrong way to ask, but you can probably work out whether you’re in the window or not (protip: asking for a price reduction at the last moment, when all the work on set up and proofing has been done, just before we go to print, after a couple of dozen emails, is both impolite and unlikely to work – also, we totally have flying monkeys on payroll, and I will not hesitate to send them after you).
Comic Printing UK was set up originally, and is still mainly seen as, a bit of a fun sideline to distract from commercial printing, which is boring. It has to be run at a profit, but nobody here is planning on retiring on the proceeds of printing comics… What I’m saying is that the money doesn’t matter as much as the fun we have with it. You make our lives better by being good to work with, or sending us stuff we like to read – we’ll try to make your life better through the awesome power of discounts!
- Give us some feedback: I know we’re not always the cheapest option – no printer can be. Well, they can, but only by cutting corners and relying on sheer volume of customers to make up for those they lose when things go wrong. We do value feedback, though: if you think you can get a better deal (that is: price, quality, and service) than we’re offering please let us know. Can’t be having that! We’re not always going to be able to compete on price (as I say, there’s a bunch of folks out there with crazy low prices – it’s not worth getting into a war with them), but the aim is to be the best option out there on the total package.
- Include our logo in yo… No. Sorry. I know other places do this; I can see the advantages in doing it; I’ve toyed with doing it. It’s not going to happen. I’d rather just give you a discount and rely on you telling people about us than shoehorn advertising into your book. It’s tacky, is what it is. Ugh.
Synopsis! For the busy and important
When all is said (see also: done) there’s really only one silver bullet for managing your comic printing costs while getting the service you need. Would you be surprised to hear that that silver bullet happens to be asking for a quote early on in the process? Like, before you’ve started drawing ideally? You would be surprised to hear that? Yeesh, are you just not reading anything I write?
Getting a quote early on allows you to budget your resources effectively and plan your distribution. It starts the conversation with your printer, which is going to be one of the most crucial conversations you have between now and your launch date. Although I have no hard evidence for this, I can pretty much guarantee it makes you more attractive and better company, with a trove of witty, apposite anecdotes and a ready and urbane wit. Be sure to ask for options, suggestions, hints, tips, and tricks from your chosen printer – they should be more than happy to help you keep your costs under control. As ever, communication is the key.
Most of all: don’t make the mistake of thinking that a minor change in spec, late in the day, is going to cut your costs in half. Once a job is more than halfway on the road to print the costs are pretty much locked down – so it makes sense to have a firm grip on what they’re going to be well before this stage while you still have a chance to affect them.