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I work for a US state DOT. We are trying to print our new standard specifications for construction. When we published in 2018, we got 1,000 copies for about $11/book. This time, we advertised for bids and got prices ranging from $100/book to $150/book! We expected prices to be higher due to the book being longer and ongoing supply chain issues, but not that high! Other states are having their books printed for $10 - $30 per book.

Below are our printing requirements. Other than the page count, the preferred options are the same as our 2018 book, and we allowed lots of flexibility. Does anyone see anything that stands out as being the likely driver of the increased cost?

  • Size - 8.5" x 11"
  • No. of copies - option to bid on printing 1, 50, 100, 500, or 1,000 copies
  • No. of pages - 1,376 plus cover (2018 book was 800)
  • Cover - Kivar 3-17 white cover stock preferred, alternative paper type option will be considered but shall be durable, able to withstand the elements, and be comparable to the current book. 4 color cover.
  • Paper - 40 pound preferred, substitutions allowed
  • Content - black and white text with bleeds (thumb tabs)
  • Binding - soft cover preferred, hard cover acceptable, any suitably durable binding, one volume strongly preferred, but will do two volumes if we have no choice

Ultimately, we just want a durable printed book, and have relatively few "must-have" elements. If anyone sees an obvious driver of the high cost, we would greatly appreciate you pointing it out!

Edit: Regarding the length, we certainly know that's a factor, but that can't be helped or changed. However, we don't think it can be the sole driving factor behind how much the printing bids are simply because of how many similar large books there are. Think of old phone books from major cities (https://images.app.goo.gl/ur4HDYQiU7c1mbgEA), catalogs like the MSC Big Book (https://images.app.goo.gl/ZvBdHuA344MvUWRf6), books like the Krause World Coins catalog (https://images.app.goo.gl/6NSqZ87r6jddYYpVA), and numerous other long books. These are all significantly larger than our book in both page count and spine thickness, and are (or were) either distributed free or for a nominal fee, or sold (presumably at a profit) for far less than our printing costs (~ $50 for various versions of Krause World Coins). Obviously they are printing a higher volume, but probably not hundreds of thousands, and they are companies that want to make a profit.

Also, it's worth emphasizing that the printer we used in 2018 printed the 800 page book for $11/book. The exact same printer bid this time as well, and because of the length they could only bid on doing it in two volumes, each 688 pages long, for $150/book. Even if you assume that costs have tripled since 2018, and that each volume of the new book will cost 3 times what our whole book did in 2018 (i.e. $33/volume for the new book), that still only gets you to $66/book. We just aren't seeing how they get to such a high price.

3 Answers 3

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While you might get some ideas from this forum, consider looking to your state's government for answers. Most States' governments have groups that provide or manage printing.

In Colorado, where I live, Integrated Document Services is part of Central Services and provides printing solutions for every state agency -- from books to posters.

I dug around and found that Wisconsin and Michigan also have similar offices. In fact, every state I researched had some kind of similar service provider.

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  • The DOT has a reprographics department, but they only print things like plans and contracts. The state as a whole has a small printing department, but they only do things like envelopes, forms, brochures, posters, etc. A 1,376 page book is totally and completely out of their scope. And the universities in our state and the neighboring state have closed down/outsourced their publishing, so we can't really go to them as a resource. And due to contracting rules, we can't just call up a printer, ask for a quote, and then ask why it's so expensive, we have to do everything through competitive bid.
    – Jack
    Aug 3, 2023 at 14:43
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Too Big?

The new book is 60% longer than the old version, and the old version wasn't short. My guess is that you passed over some length threshold where it became much harder to bind a book that size.

I'd request a quote for an 800 pages to see if that brings the price back down again. If the price does decrease significantly, then you have to decide how much having it all in one volume is worth to you.

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  • I certainly believe the length is a factor, but I don't think it's all of it. The printer we used in 2018 printed the 800 page book for $11/book. The exact same printer bid this time as well, and because of the length they could only bid on doing it in two volumes, each 688 pages long, for $150/book. Even if you assume that costs have tripled since 2018, and that each volume will cost 3 times what our whole book did in 2018, that still only gets you to $66/book. We just aren't seeing how they get to such a high price.
    – Jack
    Aug 6, 2023 at 4:00
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Interesting situation. As a retired Lithographer, prior to computers, I learned all aspects of estimating printed projects from artboard to finished product. That was back in the days of film work, craftsmanship, material, hours...etc. The first thing I would notice if this job came to my desk, I'd see 'Government' all over it. I would recommend if you were not in a rush for this job, quote out the same exact job you had done already to see how it compares. Ask for a line-item quote breaking down each aspect to create the book, down to the cost of paper. See where their increases are at. This sounds like a simple print job. I would recommend doing a two-volume set due to binding issues. Also, consider the 3-quote option. Are you regulated to use certain printing companies? Think like a printer who knows he has a solid fish hooked. I know I did when estimating, they'll be back...and they were. Modern technology has wiped out so many hands in creating a final product. Also, keep in mind when you had it done last time, people were earning a lot less per hour than now. It freaks me out to think in 1992 I was making $24 an hour as a skilled craftsman, and now, a burger flipper is making $15 an hour and gets the order wrong! So, it is feasible that rates in every part of creating your book have skyrocketed. I'd be interested to hear how things work out for you.

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  • Thank you for your input, that's a really helpful perspective. I just talked to my boss and this decision got pushed all the way up to the Chief Engineer. They decided to just eat the cost and buy the high quality two-volume version. In order to get a slightly lower cost, they decided to buy 1,000 books instead of the 500 we originally planned on, so that reduced the unit cost to "only" $106/book. If it was me, I think I would have re-advertised and notified some printers we had identified as having printed books for other states to at least take a look, but I don't make the decisions.
    – Jack
    Aug 8, 2023 at 15:58

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