By Sabine Lenz

"I bought 12 truck loads of paper and saved a lot of money!" The panelist was obviously very proud and excited about the deal she struck. But for the rest of the audience at a recent print buying conference, the "12 truck loads" seemed like a humongous amount of paper. We would never use that much, not even in two years. Would we?

I spoke to a merchant friend who brought it into perspective for me. "If you are based in the middle of Iowa (no offense intended, Iowans) 12 truckloads, which amounts to about 480 tons of paper, is a nice piece of business for the local paper merchant," he said. "But if you are based in one of the top buying markets in the U.S., like New York, Chicago or LA, it is hardly worth mentioning."

So should you consider buying your own paper for the average size print jobs you run throughout the year? Well, ask yourself: Would you bring your own flour when you go out for pizza?

This is not as far fetched as you might think. For any mid- to large-size design studio, and even mid-size advertising agency, it is not worth buying their own paper. Never, nada, forget about it.

One less thing to worry about

My main reason for not providing my own paper in more than 15 years of buying print is that I don't want to be held responsible if anything goes wrong. Let the printer worry about it. If the delivery is late --not my problem. The wrong color is delivered-- again, not my problem.

And if something turns out to be wrong with the paper on press, the mill, paper merchant and printer combined will make sure it is fixed faster than you can get your favorite nonfat soy mocha frappuccino.

See, a printer buys a lot of paper and therefore has much more clout than a designer or ad agency.

And if the problem is not fixable right away, a printer will substitute another paper that's in stock, usually a better quality than you ordered in the first place, at no extra cost. Just to make you a happy customer.

Better ways to save

Paper cost amounts to 20-50 percent of the overall cost of a print job and I understand that with rising paper prices, buying your own paper seems like a very tempting way save money. But there are better ways to do this.

Just think about the volume of paper your printer buys every year. Though 20,000 lbs. (20 tons) might be a lot of paper for you, for the merchant delivering day in day out, half a truckload is not even worth getting excited about. They deliver around 100 tons a day.

As with everything, the more you buy, the better your price per unit will be. And so your printer will usually get a much better price than you can, because of sheer volume.

Price break for volume

Naturally, for all the trouble your printer goes through, ordering the paper, accepting delivery and stocking it, he will charge a small markup on the paper price.

One or two cartons of paper are more hassle for the printer than when he buys skids (think pallets). As a rule of thumb, the lower the print quantity, the higher the markup --anywhere between 10-25% percent.

But as I have mentioned, the printer also gets the better price break in the first place. So, including the markup, there is a very good chance that you still get a better price buying from your printer, than buying paper yourself.

And don't forget, it takes your time, staff and skills to handle your own buying and providing paper to your printer's doorstep.

Are there no exceptions?

Of course there are. There would be no rules without exceptions. If you are working on a low quantity project that asks for a specialty paper (think wedding invitations, etc.) there is room to break the rules.

Your printer might not have access to a specific paper line or can only buy it in full cartons and your job needs only half of that.

A number of mills and online stores are happy to sell small quantities of mainly specialty or Writing, Text and Cover sheets to you directly. Several paper merchants also have retail locations that offer these papers on the spot.

Always, always, always make sure that your printer is comfortable printing on this specific paper and that you have bought enough to accommodate your printer's press setup.

Direct to buy

So what happened to our panelist with the 12 truckloads of paper? Did she really buy her own paper? Most likely she didn't.

She was probably part of a merchant's paper buying program. Nope, this does not mean that she buys the paper herself. The merchant and buyer sit down and evaluate the quantity and kind of paper used in the last year and set up a "direct to buy" program. (Several merchants offer these programs under different names.)

Under these programs, when specking a paper, you advise your printer to buy the paper from a specific merchant. The invoicing and delivery, etc. are still in the hands of your printer. But because you ensure the merchant a certain amount of business, you often can get more stable and predictable prices.

These programs are not for everyone. The minimum amount of paper you buy should be around 500 tons a year. This can be based on core grades (one or two specific brands) or mixed grades (from coated to opaque to Writing, Text and Cover sheets).

As you can see, for most of us, it is absolutely feasible and economically viable to have our printer buy the paper. And don't underestimate that it's one less thing you have to worry about in you're already too busy day.