Monday, January 09, 2006

Super Real notes - Printing (overseas)

The last, and actually first, installment of the new Super Real notes, touched on some aspects of printing as one of the many topics. Fellow blogger Cary brought up the question regarding why I chose to print overseas, and that's actually a great question to cover in this here section, so I'll go ahead and answer that here, at length (cause I'm a long-winded muther-f'er)...

Here's the story,
Late 2004 (I was gonna say last year, but that would be wrong, as it's now ought-six), I had the good fortune of being a guest at a New England comic show, and the promoter wanted to have a 1000 print-run Super Real show exclusive book. Well, he'd worked with a couple other independent publishers for similar promotions, Super Real Graphics friends Arcana and Viper, and they were able to get him a full color book for a certain sum of money. So the promoter asked if I could get him a similar deal. Well, the price he was looking to spend was wayyyy low for a color book, and was actually low for black and white, low run, from what I'd seen. I suspected the companies he'd worked with were doing higher print runs, and piggy-backing their variants for him off existing print jobs, to save moola. Turns out they were, but in talking to them, I got hooked up with an overseas printer, LampPost.

LampPost had offices in LA but printed out of Korea, the uh, good Korea...
They actually quoted low-run, 2 to 3k, full color books in the neighborhood of like .60 cents each. A great price. The only catch was their leadtimes were longer, since, well, they were printing on the other side of the Pacific, about 6 weeks at the time.

So anyway, couldn't get the books turned around in time, so he settled for black and white, and we did 1k via Quebecor. This is the Super Real - Larry's Comics Preview, that even made a price listing in Wizard last year (ought-five).

Thing was, we paid the same for 1k black and white as we could've for 2k color with LampPost.

So time goes by and I hang on to my quotes for color books via LampPost, and meantime I'm wrangling distribution with Diamond.
Now Diamond distribution is a whole 'nother never-ending story, so we'll leave that be for now.
Like I was saying, time goes by, and we're into early summer of 05, and on the eve of San Diego Comic Con, while on vacation in Disneyland, I get the approval from Diamond. However, to solicit for November, I need to get them my solicit info for issue one ASAP. By mid July.
Now I'd been in limbo for a release date, and didn't want to hold things back so I shot for that scenario. Based on the numbers I'd received a few months prior from LampPost, I thought I could make a go at full color, so that's how I solicited in Previews.

I'd always wanted to do full color, for many reasons (again could fill a column on that), so I went ahead. Fully knowing my margins, brutal as they are on a low print book (once more, another column here folks), would be slim to none, even at the LampPost prices. My hopes were that I could find some other printers that could compete with their quote, and I'd be fine.

Well, I quickly found out LampPost's prices had gone up, and there wasn't really any North American comic printers who could come close to their numbers, not even remotely. However, while at Comic Con I'd heard rumors of a Chinese printer who had possibly even better pricing, and then towards the end of the show, I'd received a packet from their rep that was left with my lovely wife while I was away. This was Regent Publishing Services.

After getting back from the con I contacted Regent, and found out their prices, for the numbers I was looking at, 3 to 5000, were comparable to LampPost. At the time however, buzz was that LampPost was having problems with leadtimes, something I was already concerned about with overseas printing.

The rep at Regent was a nice guy, and I hadn't heard anything bothersome about their leadtimes (which they quoted as 6 to 8 weeks), so I decided to go with them for issue one.

Overall, I'm satisfied with the decision (especially in light of the way things played out with LampPost), and how the books turned out. Regent offers quality at good prices, and they got the job done in a timely fashion. There were certainly plenty of headaches along the way, but again, that's another story...

So, bottom line, if you want to print low run, entry level Diamond numbers - 1 to 5k, and print in color, you pretty much have to print overseas (or perhaps negotiate gang run prices if you're a larger/intermediate level publisher) to have the printing costs be under your net per book from Diamond. You see, Diamond pays 40% at most for your books, as they turn around and offer them at roughly 50% discount to retailers. Even at overseas prices, color printing leaves very little margin for books in that range. So, between the changing landscape of printers, and the continuing shrinkage of the small press market from bigger publishers squeezing more and more sales via marketing stunts, small press books that try to offer color are in a precarious state.

As touched on earlier, in light of LampPost discontinuing comic printing (except for Alias Comics, which has the same co-owner), everyone is switching to Regent, the printer I used, making them rather popular, and subsequently rather busy at the moment.

As I'd already listed issue two as full color via Previews/Diamond, I've gone through Regent again for it as well. So in the next few days I'll be FTPing them my files and the book will print and ship from China, via boat. Yes, boat. Kinda crazy hunh? (Although I should note, their offices are in New York.)

So, if anyone's heard of a lower-run comic book printer with competitive color pricing, be sure and let me know, otherwise, I may be looking at black and white for future issues...
I'd really like to continue in color though, as it's key to my artistic process, so who knows. Not to mention, as I continue to build business with Regent, I may wind up staying with them. They've treated me well so far.

So that's the story of how Super Real is printed, and why the books must first sail the pacific prior to reaching comic shops, hopefully with some helpful information along the way.



eDuke said...

Hey, Jason -- are you selling copies of #1 direct? ie; Can I pick one up and pay using PayPal? Lemme know.

Jason Martin said...

You bet you can buy them direct!

Just check out my store page, I have a PayPal cart there...