The Paper Purchasing Decision:
Merchants or Brokers or Printers or Mills?

Along with printing and distribution, paper is one of the biggest expenses in print production. Several different types of suppliers can advise you on paper choices, including merchants, brokers, printers, and mills. But which channel is the best choice for you? There is no right or wrong paper advisor, and no scientific calculation exists to determine the most appropriate paper supplier for a particular type of print job -- each channel adds different strengths and values to the paper purchasing decision. By understanding the role of each, you can look for those suppliers who understand your business and can ultimately reduce supply chain costs.

Purchasing Channels
Merchants/Brokers - Authorized dealers for a number of paper mills, merchants and brokers are knowledgeable about a wide array of paper products and can help educate print buyers on the brands and types of papers available on the market. Especially when considering a change in paper, merchants and brokers can be immensely helpful in the problem solving process.

Merchants usually serve a regional market and have a local warehouse where they stock papers. Most often, merchants service commercial printers. Brokers specialize in higher volume jobs, typically selling to publication printers, catalogers, and magazine publishers. Since they do not stock or warehouse paper, brokers are not geographically restricted and tend to pursue national customers.

Printers -- For buyers who want to minimize the time and energy spent on specifying papers, printers can simplify the process by selecting paper as part of the overall print/distribution job, literally offering one-stop shopping. A printer's expertise in how paper interacts in the printing process can add another level of expertise.

Paper Mills -- Paper mills can provide print buyers with in-depth knowledge of their own papers, services, and equipment. High volume buyers may purchase direct from a mill; but any buying company of any size can establish relationship with the mill. In these relationships, mills offer value added assistance and service, particularly in terms of new product developments and technical service. Smaller volume buyers can work with their printer or merchant/broker to purchase paper, but contact the mill directly for technical service and educational issues.

In addition to direct technical service relationships with print buyers, high quality mills have ongoing working relationships with printers' pressrooms to ensure that on-press issues and innovations such as new papers, printing technology, presses, and inks are smoothly incorporated.

Working Together
Regardless of the channel of paper procurement, to achieve the greatest paper value at the best price, print buyers should get involved in the paper buying decision. Any business relationship that reduces your personal time investment usually comes at the expense of knowledge, control, or power. A relatively small investment of time spent gaining knowledge about paper choices and getting to know the paper supplier, will afford you an opportunity to maximize your image and minimize paper costs.

Merchants, brokers, printers, and mills all have strong areas of expertise, but the buying company will not benefit substantially unless all players work together in the best interest of the buying company. At the very least a high volume print buyer should expect from their paper source annual paper quality/performance reviews where communication about past and future issues and plans for continuous improvement can be shared. Know the representatives of your distribution channels personally, as these people represent you at their companies. Finally, to ensure that you truly understand the impact paper costs can have on bottom line production expenses, ask for accounting and cost breakdowns for your selected papers rather than accepting packaged production costs.
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