Don't Be a Flyaway Paper Buyer; We're in the Middle of One of the Publishing Industry's Cyclical Paper Crunches. So What You Need Is a Short Course in Buying Paper
Parnau, Jeff, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management
Don't be a flyaway paper buyer
How would you feel about flying with an airline captain who said the following:
"That gizmo? I don't know. I never used that. My job is just to fly this thing. I'm not a mechanic. I'm not sure how the engines work. I think they run on kerosene or something, but whatever it is, they have a lot of it when we land. The wings have something to do with keeping us from falling down. That part there, I believe it turns the whole thing left and right, but you can't see it from where I sit. Anyhow, my job is to get this thing from A to B on a schedule, and I'm damn good at that. When I push on these, we go fast, and when I pull them back, we stop flying, and if I pull them back real far, they stop the whole plane. I know one heck of a lot about navigation, though."
Well, what's wrong with that? As long as the guy knows how to fly the plane, why should he have to know how it works? Why clutter his mind with a knowledge of petroleum products, or the way the hydraulics drive the flaps? What you want up there in the cockpit is a person who can get you up and down, right?
But in reality, you could never fly with a captain like the one just described. The airlines insist that captains go to systems school. In addition to knowing how to fly a plane, they must demonstrate a knowledge of why an airplane flies. They must fully comprehend the medium of their profession: the airplane itself.
Not so in publishing. Lots of publishers and editors think like this:
"Paper? Oh, I don't know much about that stuff, but they got plenty of it whenever we go to press. Some of it is shiny, and some of it is real dull. It can be thick or thin. When we get done with writing, they convert the words into ink, and put them on the paper. They can even do it in color. But what the heck. I'm a publisher. My job is just to get the words and pictures in the right order. I know a heck of a lot about thermoconductivity, though."
On the other hand, there are a certain few publishers out there who actually understand their medium. They know enough about putting ink on paper to make intelligent decisions about the two. So when ink became expensive a few years ago (because of the oil embargo), they knew what it cost, if not where to get it. Paper is a dfferent story. Unlike ink, publishers can purchase, own, contract for and inventory their own paper.
Today, we're in the middle of one of the publishing industry's cyclical paper crises. The stuff is more expensive than it should be, and hard to come by in many cases. Because availability of paper may dictate who gets to print a job, the situation backs up like a clogged sewer. Publishers are forced to plan a project further in advance, and to negotiate a printing contract months before they would expect. Printers, in turn, pressure their customers to make long-term commitments, so that they can solidly plan for paper purchases.
And all of this has taken our unwary publisher off guard: "What? You don't have enough paper? It will cost what? You want a decision when? Why?"
Knowing how to stay ahead
As I have said in the past, and now say again, there's no time like right now to learn what you need to know about being sure you have enough paper. Pilots need airplanes to get from A to B. Publishers need paper. Printers need neither. …