Must-Watch Areas in Printer Contracts: Have Publishers Lost the In-House Expertise to Understand the Fine Print?

Article excerpt

PRODUCTION DEPARTMENTS HAVE BEEN among the areas most ravaged by lay-offs, and some observers say that loss of expertise leaves publishers at a disadvantage when negotiating printer contracts.

"When publishers got rid of the production manager, they got rid of people who understood contracts," says publishing consultant Steve Frye. "Now you have people negotiating printing contracts who are editors, art directors, publishers, who don't really know anything about what the terms should be. Many standard clauses that protected publishers from increases have been eliminated."

Frye cites paper pricing as an example. "Publishers used to buy specific paper, say Chocktaw 40 pound, and the printer would say, 'OK, if you buy this, your price is $42.50/100 weight.' If Chocktaw raises rates, you'll have to pay more for paper. Fair enough."

But, Frye, says, the trend over the last few years has many printers selling generic grades rather than specific brands. "If you've got a 40 pound paper groundwood, it might be Chocktaw or it might not," he says. "Publishers used to be very specific about whiteness, brightness, etc. As an industry we don't have that luxury anymore. Now printers say, 'We will sell you 40 pound groundwood at $42.50' and when 40 pound groundwood goes up, prices go up. But when it goes down, prices are supposed to go down. It was easy to track when you were tied to specific brand or mill. But when you're tied to a grade, it's based on rumor."

But if that's the case, then you're at the wrong printer, according to one former publishing executive turned printer rep. "Printers should be able to disseminate information in a timely manner to customers," says the source.

POTENTIAL TROUBLE SPOTS

For Blood-Horse Publications, key contract expectations include a clear understanding of the contract timeline; any allowances with fixed pricing or payment terms; the insurance statement in case of fire, flooding, etc; and a paper pricing agreement, which covers whether price is set for a specific period of time of if the price will fluctuate.

"In our situation our contract is very straightforward and clear," says production director Lisa Coots. "If paper prices increase or decrease, we receive proper notification in writing before the new price goes into effect. We also look for bundle prices since we publish multiple publications. …