Sunday, 18 August 2013

Print or Skint - part one, paper and print

This is the first part in an ongoing series which will deal with getting comic books printed.

I've been self-publishing for nearly 5 years now, but, to date, have not put together an off-set print of a book.

Off-set printing normally means printing a larger batch of comics in one go. The cost per book goes down the more you print. In the past I have relied on smaller runs using Print on Demand services (such as Ka-Blam, RA Comics Direct, and the now-sadly out of business IC Geeks - more on POD and pros and cons at the end).

Throughout this series of posts I will be giving you all process reports and pointers as I go about undertaking getting my comic printed.

I will probably make mistakes (hopefully not many!), which, in turn may help others to avoid those same mistakes.

The book

Last year I put out, together with Andrew MacLean and Heather Breckel, the first issue of the book Department O.

Art by Andrew MacLean
As well as selling it digitally (through Gum Road, my own store, Andrew's own store and Comixology) I offered the book up for pre-order to various stores around the world.

The total number of books ordered through stores was 143, plus another 10 which I hand sold to my local store, House of Secrets (which is an excellent store, by the way!).

I used IC Geeks to print off the initial run of the series, getting these books to the stores, and the books pre-ordered through me to the buyers.

Andrew, I believe, used Ka-Blam for his print run.

Andrew is about to start work on the second issue of the series (which will conclude as a three part story - the third issue is an over-sized issue, issue one are two are 23 pages and 22 pages respectively).

Issue two will be the book which I will be printing off-set.

The printers

I have been recommended two printers for this endevour.

The first is Printninja, the second Keness.

I have samples from both of them, but for my purposes (a standard sized, full colour 24 page comic book) Printninja wins out on the price front. I should, however, point out that Keness win hands down on the expediency of their completion. They can get a batch of books to you in around a week - Printninja will see you waiting around seven weeks.

Keness actually seem like more of a POD service, with their online quote form only going as high as 1000 copies. Printninja will give you online quotes up to 10,000 copies.

If we compare Keness to the other POD services, it's pretty good. Price wise it sits between Ka-Blam and RA Comics. Again, I will give you a quick run down of POD services at the end.

The samples sent to me by Printninja were very good. Printed well, held together well, didn't bend or buckle on the covers.

One major factor in all this is that I really like online quote generators, which means I get to see what different sizes, page counts and shipping will all do in real time, without having to wait for email quotes to come back. Purely a convenience thing.

Keness seem like a better option for collected books or graphic novels, especially as a POD service (with an entry point at 100 books), so I will be going with Printninja (unless someone recommends otherwise!).

The paper

This may all change, of course, but for the sake of this first posting I wanted to run down what the paper stock being used would probably be, and what that would mean for the cost.

I, for one, really like matte paper on interiors, and glossy on covers (unless it's a graphic novel, then sometimes I like matte on both).

Matte paper, especially light-weight, for me has a really old nostalgic feel, closer to newsprint. It also seems to help the blacks live a little longer on the page.

Going over the swatch and sample booklet from Printninja, I came up with the following for the book;

Quantity: 1000
Size: 6.625x10.25 (standard comic book size - personally I like 6x9, which I may do for the collected edition)
Page count: 28 (including cover - I don't really need more than 24 interior pages, the inside front cover would be the credits page, 22 story pages, I have a pin up to run, and then one other page (ad or editorial page) with perhaps a coming next on the inside front cover or an ad)
Inside paper: 70lb matte coated (light weight)
Cover paper: 10pt gloss coated (light weight)
I like the light weight options, as they give the book a real "floppy" feel.
Full colour, no cover finish, saddle stiched.

With the standard delivery (the 7 week option) the total order comes to $1,083.41

This may change a little once I get to placing the order (you can lock in for 30 days).

*An interesting note at this point, is that to increase the order to 1500 would bring the price up to $1293.00 - increasing it to 2000 would see the price go to $1454.29.

Or, to put it another way, the cost per book would be a) $1.09 b) $0.87 c) $0.73

With POD I often set a price at a little over double what print per issue costs were - which allowed for a small amount of profit if I sold to stores. Sadly, this meant that most times I was stuck with a price tag of around $5 per book (ICGeeks), if not more, or I would be running at a loss selling to stores.

With off-set, I will be able to set a price comfortably at around 4x the print costs, which would allow for profit as well as keeping the cover price within the realms of reasonability for fans and casual readers alike.

So, with this in mind the cover prices would be as follows - a) $4.50 b) $3.50 c) $2.99

In this instance the first price isn't as attractive as I would like. The second is a good price, and the number of books I'll be printing isn't as daunting as the last. The last price is obviously the best, but it would mean being out of pocket upfront and having to store more books.

Perhaps 1,500 would be the best bet?

Thoughts on POD

All POD's have their pros and cons. The biggest con, their costliness, is offset by their biggest pro, the low risk model of only ordering what you need.

Ka-Blam I think may be the longest running POD comic service around at the moment (again, correct me if I'm wrong). They print good books, have a fairly standard price (there is a discount for running their ad on your book, but I am not a fan of the ad, even though it brings the price down considerably) and are fairly user friendly. I've never had problems using them, but I know some people have complained about their communication in the past.

RA Comics also do decent books. They have a lot more to offer in terms of paper stocks, and some fun other items (they've just added lunchboxes, for example). Their prices are a little higher than others, and they have a minimum order entry point at 25, but the cost does drop the more you order. Their biggest strength is their turn around time. Their standard time is 3-4 days (Ka-Blam's is 3-4 weeks). They are also great social media users, with a very helpful twitter presence.

I was also recommended a service called Greko Printing as another POD service. I haven't used them, but have seen a book printed by them (Reed Gunther - before it went to Image) and that was pretty comparable to other POD books I've seen. Their prices look pretty good too.

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