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Printed Materials
By: Justine Broome

Printed material will always have a place within the church. Handing a guest or church member printed material has an immediate impact. Printed material also offers you an opportunity to engage with someone face-to-face.

With the proper balance of quality, cost, and usage, printed material can be a vital tool in your church and your mission to reach the world for Christ. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions by churches when it comes to printed materials.

What has happened in the print industry over the last few years?
After a relatively long period of consistent growth, a "perfect storm" of factors has converged on the print industry almost simultaneously. An overabundance of print shops put downward pressure on prices, which forced many companies to cut their margins razor thin. Digital print technology has also allowed companies to produce high-quality material at lower quantities, thus reducing demand for large, offset printing presses and their high-quantity runs. The decreased demand cause by the current economic downturn, digital print technology, competition from Internet-based print shops, and the switch to digital media have forced companies to close their doors, merge with other print shops, or find alternative ways to maintain sales.

There seems to be lots of print companies on the Internet. Should I trust them?
Some print shops have turned to the Internet as a new source of revenue. It allows them to increase sales without having to open new locations in other areas. They can rely on their Web site and customer service staff to assist customers when necessary. Additionally, the Internet has allowed overseas print shops to compete for business here in the United States. It's hard to know what you're getting when you're buying printed material online. There are significant differences in quality based on the equipment being used, so you need to be careful. We recommend you ask for samples to be mailed to you showing their quality. This also gives you an opportunity to experience their customer service and see if they're a company you want to work with.

What should I look for when choosing a print company?
There are many factors you need to consider when choosing a print company. The importance of each will vary based on your needs.

Digital Printing
We recommend choosing a company that is investing in digital printing. Digital printing allows print shops to provide near offset quality printing without having to print thousands of pieces to be cost-effective. The price per piece is higher with digital printing, but that is usually offset by the lower minimum quantities that have to be purchased. Print companies that are investing in digital print technology are most likely positioning themselves for growth in the future.

Quality of Workmanship
Choose a company that will give you samples of their work free of charge. The cheapest price could also mean the lowest quality. Conversely, the highest price doesn't mean the best work, either. Make sure the quality is something you would be proud to showcase in your church and that the price matches the quality of the work.

Company History
If possible, ask the company about their history. Print shops that are new or internationally based may not be around for very long. The print industry is consolidating dramatically, and it can be very frustrating to have something printed, go back for a reprint, and find out the company is no longer in business.

Customer Service
In the age of call centers, online chat customer service, and never-ending on-hold messages, having a live person you can contact and build a relationship with is invaluable. Having a relationship with one print company simplifies your workload and increases the chances of all your printed material matching in design, color, and quality. When a company knows you, and knows what you're looking for, it allows them to make recommendations and potentially catch mistakes that slipped through the proofing process. When typos slip through the proofing process or other errors are found, having a strong relationship with one shop is likely to influence the options they offer you on correcting the job. If they know you're a consistent, repeat customer, they may be more willing to reprint part or all of a job at a lesser cost in order to maintain their relationship with you.

I have a very unique print project. Should I trust my local company or look on the Internet?
Depending on your project, it may be worthwhile to look on the Internet. Most printers specialize in basic print jobs—such as flyers, business cards, and tri-fold brochures—which means they may not be able to properly produce your unique job. Finding a company that has created a niche for producing the product you want is more likely to get you the quality you want at the price you're willing to pay. You may even find that niche companies are willing to print other material upon request. Choosing that niche company for all your printing means your unique job will always be done right, and your other material will match in style, color, and content.

What changes do you foresee in the industry in coming years?
We foresee a continued consolidation of the print industry for at least a few more years. The print industry will revert to a smaller number of larger shops handling the majority of the work. Digital print technology will continue to expand and provide high-quality print at lower prices. Digital media will continue to reduce demand for printed material overall, but the quality of the content and the printed material itself will increase. Printed material that consumers find engaging and offers content, quality, and convenience that can't be found digitally will ultimately survive.

Justin Broome is vice president of J & J Graphics & Design, www.JJGraphics.com

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