Who is this print buyer you are speaking of?

Frank Romano
Thursday, April 14, 2011

The print procurement function is rarely formalised and often more random than you might expect, as Frank Romano explains.

A print buyer has to be a jack-of-all-trades, balancing a knowledge of paper, printing processes,

mailing regulations, colour reproduction, and proofreading with social and communication skills. It also helps if they can read minds. No matter how many people are involved in the print acquisition process, the last domino is the print buyer. That's who you go to get your print (or if you don't get your print).

It is said that anywhere from 1% to as much as 15% of a company's revenues involve print. The number is higher if you include all costs to create documents, no matter how they are distributed, and all costs to store and retrieve those documents. Companies used to have had purchasing departments with specialists in various areas; today they are mostly generalists. Marketing departments buy direct where they can, or lump the printing in with the design purchase. More creative professionals buy printing than ever before.

Information about print buying is still scant, because buyers, like designers, do not congregate. There is no publication or association a mass of them use. Those who can be found tend to be the larger print buyers and their data may not be representative of the entire market.

Print buying is scattered throughout organisations. There's a perception it is centralised in the purchasing department, but that is not always true. Sales and marketing departments buy almost half of all print (53%), and after that, it gets murky.

A large portion of the print businesses buy is promotional in nature. The purchasing department does not initiate print jobs - except for re-orders of forms, stationery, envelopes, and other utilitarian items. Sales and marketing departments are the primary initiators of print projects.

With the trend to shorter runs, there are now more repeat jobs than ever before and we project that repeat jobs will reach almost two-thirds of all jobs within a few years. This is why online ordering is popular: it allows repeat jobs to be listed for re-printing and ordered with a few clicks.

The majority of job files have problems with them, from a technical point-of-view, as well as a content issue (changes and corrections). Print specs change at least two times, and some up to five times, before the job is actually submitted, or even after the job is submitted. The printer must be flexible about changes, and often find their bid for the job was very different than the finished product.

Schedule is a powerful reason to choose a printer, a service that can meet the last-minute demands of a print buyer. Unique capabilities are also important and long-term relationships count as well. Printing is the last part of a long process. Documents may have long gestation periods but printing (and finishing) are given very tight schedules.

In the late 1990s, spurred on by the dotcom boom, companies that purchased large volumes of print began to consolidate their print buying. Large banks reduced more than 300 printers to fewer than 30. These large print buyers selected and pre-qualified printing services and categorised them by the products they could produce. They also automated the print buy and reduced the need for bidding through contractual relationships.

The number of printers that companies deal with is based on the size of the company. In the US, the overall average is 7.3 print suppliers per print buying company.

A sales or customer service rep's knowledge of the printing industry ranked as one of the most important factors in a print buyer's purchasing decision. Print buyers expect their sales and customer service representatives to understand printing, and often look to their representatives to clarify what they do not comprehend.

Lastly, few print buyers have that title.

This article first appeared in PrintWeek's sister title ProPrint magazine.


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