Friday, November 5, 2010

On selling out and cashing in: Why DIY publishing may be the right choice

As of 12:00 pm, November 4th, our remaining stock of Volume One sold out completely. Unfortunately, the proposed second printing that was planned is probably not gong to happen anytime soon.

See, when the first printer screwed up, I had to go with another printer at the last minute, which kind of ate up our entire printing budget for the first issue. Previously, I had set aside enough reserves for a second run if we needed it, but the new printer was much more expensive than the first guys we used. Keep in mind, we had NO paid advertisers for the first issue, so that kind of limited us to how many issues we could print the first time around. This left us with a much smaller run than originally anticipated, and I had just enough to mail out to everyone on our list.

So, here are the things that we plan on increasing within the Ephemeris:
1. Readership (and by extension, circulation) 
2. Ad revenue
3. Page count (80 pages is pretty thick, but I'd like to eventually hit triple digit territory)
4. Distribution, both online and brick and mortar
5. Advertising on our part
   and most importantly:
6. Production values.

I was somewhat underwhelmed by the final product that we ended up shipping out. Most of these issues were beyond our control, but I'm still taken aback by the wretched ink and photo reproduction that our printer turned out.

I'm still looking for a local print shop that can deliver the goods and not cost a fortune to work with, and if I can't find the right team, I'll start looking online and overseas. Our indica states that the Ephemeris is "proudly printed in the USA" and I want to keep it that way, but if there aren't any Americans that are willing to do a decent job at a competitive rate, I have no qualms about getting some communist heathens to do it for me instead. It shouldn't cost thousands of dollars to print a smallish run of an independent magazine, but in America, it does.

Why is this? Who is getting over on the customer: the print shop, the paper manufacturers, or the ink companies? At times, all three are. Sometimes, none of them. It all depends on the cost of raw goods, which can fluctuate wildly depending on the economy.

I know that right now the cost of paper is at an all-time low, yet the printers are still charging top dollar for it. Why? Well, when the cost of wood pulp increased a few years ago, the paper industry passed the increase on to printers, who in turn raised their prices. Yet when the cost of paper plummeted last summer, the printers jacked up their rates yet again even though their margins were wider than they had been in years. Why? The print shops were crying about all the lost revenue that desktop publishing and affordable laser ink printers had cut into their bottom line.

The reason that desktop publishing and home printers cut into the print shop market is that print shop quality was on the decline, while the quality of home office printers was on the rise. Many printers reverted to cheaper digital printing (basically printing things on a giant Xerox machine) as opposed to traditional offset printing. Yet the quality of digital printing doesn't often justify the price, which is why the average print customer began looking for alternatives.

Put yourself in the consumer's shoes: you have to print up 5,000 color flyers for your office party. You call local Joe's print shop, and he quotes you a rate of 800.00. You go and look at a mock-up of the flyer, and it looks like something that you printed at home on a laser printer. In fact, the paper it's printed on isn't even as good as the nice card stock that you buy at Staples or Office Max.

So then you calculate the cost of the flyer if you printed it at home. A round of toner for 5,000 color pages? About 400 bucks. 5,000 sheets of quality gloss stock? around 150.00. Time it takes to print? Maybe an hour. So, for a couple of hundred bucks less, you can have better results without having ever left your house.

THIS is why print shops are hurting. Don't charge me 800.00 for something I can do better at home for 500.00. Charge me 500.00 for something I can't do at home (offset printing) and do it correctly, and you'll have a customer for life. It's literally like paying a hundred bucks to send a plain telegram when you can send an elaborate email for free.

Print shops are going to have to learn to change and adapt to the times, or they're going to find themselves going the way of the dodo. Get away from the digital press while you still can and go back to being a REAL printer.

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