Do I get better prices by asking my printers to create and commit to rate cards?
This question was answered by Vince Marini. Vince is Director of Operations at Graphography, a print production management company located in New York City. Vince also consults on production and workflow issues and their solutions. You can reach him at or at 212-213-0900.

Do I get better prices by asking my printers to create and commit to rate cards?

Many corporations use a rate card arrangement with their print and lettershop vendors. The name "rate card" comes from the publishing industry, where the rates for ads in a publication are listed on a card.

In this instance, what it refers to is a pre-set listing of costs for projects which the printer can not vary from. Companies that use these rate cards feel they can better budget their yearly costs by locking in their vendors into set pricing.

Now, do these truly work? I would suppose in some instances they benefit both sides of the equation, but more often then not, the print vendors are entering into this arrangement kicking and screaming.

A rate card does not allow for the many variables that occur within the course of producing work. Printing is not a commodities industry. Our work can not be "selected off the shelf" -- it's custom-manufactured.

We purchase custom work in almost all instances. If you produce 8.5" x 11" sales sheets that always have two pieces of artwork, are printed on the same stock, and are always 4 colors, two sides, then perhaps you can ask your vendor-partners to set up a cost sheet for you. If your work is fluid and you do not produce the exact same item over and over, then by bringing a rate card into your life, you could be opening up Pandora's Box.

Most vendor-partners who have been forced into a rate card situation, view it as a partnership hindrance.

All of these partners have been forced to bid the work at it's lowest rate. Their margins are squeezed and there is little room for profit. So, you begin this relationship with a vendor who does not feel like a partner to you. This could result in their not being as proactive as they are with other accounts. It will also cause them to find ways to make a profit where they can.

One vendor-partner of mine gave this example of how they might treat customers differently: If my job were to be hung up in transit to their plant due to late airlines, I am not charged for a waiting press. Where as a customer who has a rate card setup is charged from the moment they are late.

Author's Alterations can also be billed at different rates depending on if you are a normal customer or a rate card customer.

A better alternative to the rate card is a volume discount arrangement. I have personally used these over the years. All of my vendor-partners who have participated in this agreement found it to be much more beneficial.
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