Misfired signatures in three print jobs: What should I do?

Answered by Suzanne Morgan, founder, Print Buyers Online.com

My company produces seven monthly titles, some of which co-mail together. On three separate occasions, a batch of signatures misfired into the wrong book during the bindery process at our printer. This happened a few times in the past but those occurrences were not as severe as what we are currently experiencing.

My printer’s remedy was to simply have new books generated and mailed. In the past we agreed on a financial discount based on unusable/useless books for compensation and lived with it from there. However, this time the problem is worse and may have a greater impact. My printer and I spoke about preventative measures when this problem first occurred but apparently they are failing. Therefore, we need assurance that the problem is actually solved. The printer now checks the time stamps on our projects and tries to figure out the quantity of bad books once we spot the problem but this seems more like a Band-aid rather than a true "fix."

As you can imagine, recovery from something like this is very time consuming. This is causing total chaos for our customer and I don't think the stress level this mishap creates can be adequately described.

Can you give me some advice or feedback about these problems? Are there any suggestions you can give me regarding handling the compensation I should receive from my printer? There has to be more to the consequences than just monetary compensation. We have a contract with them so I would like to try to work it out before 'pulling the plug'.


Based on what you have described, it sounds like there are two possible problems. It could be that your printer is using a smart inserter that pulls different material to correspond with the mailing address. They may be experiencing a quality control issue with that equipment. If the caliper is set properly for your job, it should catch the problem and reject the book each time a signature is missing. Or, if the problem is that the same signature is going in two different pockets, your printer should be able to identify that problem very quickly because they will come up short on one signature and have an unequal number of overs on the missing signature.

Not knowing your printer, I can’t say exactly why this happened. What concerns me is that they either don’t know why this has happened or are not sharing the reason with you. If you don’t know why the problem keeps happening, how can you ever have confidence that they’ve fixed the issue?

I think your printer is on the right track with time stamping the samples but I would recommend that they check the time stamps before the product is delivered, not after you receive the product and discover the problem yourself. In either case, better quality control measures in place should enable them to catch these problems and fix them at the print shop long before the product ships out to you.

You’ve used the words “total chaos” to describe this situation – that may put you in jeopardy with your client. You’ve also said that the stress level cannot be adequately described. I could give you some feedback about discounts that you should negotiate, but frankly, based on what you’ve said, I just don’t feel confident that this problem will be resolved without further penalty to your company. I think it is past time to look for a new supplier and I don’t take leaving a supplier lightly. I advise you to find a new supplier for the following reasons: 1) the problem is getting worse, 2) the problem has occurred three separate times, 3) I’m not clear that the supplier knows why this is happening or is not able to control it, and 4) the level of risk and frustration is too high.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

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