By Ron Pramschufer, President , Self Publishing, Inc. – Helping Authors Become Publishers since 1995
I started my first job in a printing company over 40 years ago. After a short stint in the pressroom, I was moved into the production office where I started dealing with customers. I have been dealing with customers in one way or another, ever since. I moved to New York over thirty years ago. I was employed as an outside salesman for a Baltimore printer. One of my very early printing customers, Dana Cole, is now my business partner at Self Publishing, Inc. Another early customer, Jonathan Gulley, is now the head of the Self Publishing, Inc. design department. Did we build a lasting relationship like this because I always gave them their way, right or wrong, because they were customers? Absolutely not! The relationships we have are built on trust and our concept of fairness established, over time, between a customer and a supplier.
Simply put, the customer is the person who spends the money and the supplier is the one who receives the money, in any transaction, for goods or services. It is obvious that all suppliers need customers. What is not so obvious is that all customers need suppliers. In the case of the relationship between publisher and printer, the printer needs the publisher’s printing to stay in business but the publisher equally needs to have their books printed by the printer. It’s a two way street.
In most relationships, if responsibilities are not shared fairly, and mutual trust is not developed, the relationship will fail. Fair, rarely means that one person is right or gets their way all the time. In the case of the relationship between publisher (customer) and printer (supplier), my personal feeling is that if the customer is right, the customer is right… if the printer is right, the printer is right, in case of tie, it goes to the customer. My earlier employers were not particularly happy with that philosophy, which is one of the reasons I now own my own business. The pressure on me, as a salesperson of a printing company, was to “sell” the job and “back” the printer, no matter what was wrong with the job. The few years I was on the other side of the desk in a purchasing position the pressure was equally strong to “put it” to the printer or paper company, right or wrong. (You know, the customer is always right). Having seen the worst on both sides I came to the conclusion that ultimately, who wins and who loses, boils down to who wins the tie. It doesn’t seem like much but being on the winning end of the tie is huge. Just ask anyone who bets on football games. If the point spread is 3 points and the favored team wins by 3, who is the winner? It’s not you.
How do you come out on the good side of the tie? I believe the key is being fair with your suppliers and acknowledging and taking responsibility when you are wrong. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” works well. Don’t fight it. If you are wrong, you are wrong. This is tough, especially as a novice. Printing and publishing have so many variables and so many opportunities to make a mistake. Nobody likes to make mistakes but mistakes happen. Printers make mistakes. Publishers make mistakes. Some mistakes cost money. Some mistakes cost lots of money. Most mistakes can be avoided by carefully checking proofs and keeping production within the established “guidelines”. The old saying “Haste make waste” holds particularly true with printing. There never seems to be enough time to do the job the first time but always enough time to do it over. I can’t count on two hands how many times that “must have” copies for a “once in a lifetime” book signing or other event has resulted on mistakes not being caught until after books are printed. If you waived a final printer’s proof in order to make your date, you have bought those books. “No proof necessary as long as you make the corrections” is not an option. The reason for the proof is because people do make mistakes.
Most good printers do not believe in making money on customer’s mistakes. Many will even take a loss to help ease the pain of a mistake made by a customer, as long as the customer doesn’t fight it. On the other hand, if the printer makes a mistake and it’s bad enough to make the books unusable, he will have to reprint it. Reputable printers stand behind their work. There is no printer who has been around for more than a week who hasn’t had to reprint a job. In the spirit of “fairness”, don’t make a printer reprint a job that you wouldn’t have reprinted, had the mistake been yours. Believe me, this little act of compassion will pay off in the long run tenfold. Fair people like dealing with other fair people. Some mistakes fall into a little more of a grey area. Sometimes there are mistakes caused by both publisher and printer. This is where you see those “ties” I was talking about. A good printer will normally give the tie to the customer. A not so good printer will insist on keeping the tie for themselves. Which kind of printer would you prefer?
How do you find out which kind of printer you are dealing with? Ask for references. Not for references of customers whose jobs sailed smoothly through the printing plant. Ask them for a problem customer or two. Everyone can seem fair and be a “nice guy” when everything is going well. True character emerges in how problems are handled.
If a printer tells you they don’t have any problem customers, turn the other way. Is the customer always right? No, but they are always the customer.