Shipping Impacts Profit. Pay Attention
The biggest surprise I had when I began book printing had nothing to do with printing. It was an obvious fact that I overlooked but it impacts profitability as much as any printing process.
Books are heavy.
I completely overlooked this fact. The weight of the books impacts shipping, storage and fulfillment. When setting up the business, I did not pay enough attention to the details of shipping and storing books. As a result, I scrambled to “beef up” the shipping department to improve profitability.
My background was in printing centers that served the local community. Fulfillment consisted of local pick up and delivery. When I began printing books, however, I had customers from all over the United States. Most of the customers were from California where the plant was located, however. This was a function of two dynamics. First, California has more publishers than any other state. By the last count in a book published by the Publishers’ Marketing Association entitled, The Rest of Us, there are 55,000 publishers in the United States—12,000 of which are located in California. Second, books are heavy and shipping costs are high. When competing with book printers in other parts of the country, factoring in the shipping costs from California often made my books more expensive.
At first, the shipping department consisted of a loading dock and a delivery vehicle. Shortly after opening, we added Fed EX and UPS delivery. We also added common carriers to ship long distances. And, finally, we added an overnight shipping company to delivery proofs and finished products within the state. Each shipping company had its own paperwork and, often times, its own computer system. After we added all the shipping options, the shipping desk resembled Mission Control at Cape Canaveral rather than a shipping department.
To compound matters, not only did we have a variety of shipping options, but we had a variety of delivery options depending on where the publisher wanted the books delivered. The easiest situation is when the publisher wanted the books shipped to one central location such as their warehouse. Often it wasn’t that simple. If the publisher wanted the books shipped to a wholesaler such as Ingram or Baker & Taylor, we had to know the delivery code for each of the warehouses around the country. Furthermore, we had to know how to prepare the shipping documents and shipping labels. If the publisher wanted the books shipped to a distributor, they often times split the delivery between a wholesaler and their own warehouse. We had to know the delivery codes for each. If the publisher was shipping to a fulfillment house, such as Book Clearing House, we not only had to know the delivery codes, but we also had to telephone to notify them of delivery 24 hours in advance of the shipment arriving.
Each of these nuances added to the cost of doing business. Mistakes in shipping were absorbed by our company and negatively impacted profitability.
There were lessons we learned the hard way, too. We had one title that was an erotica novel by a female publisher. We were sending the printed books to a distributor and we made the mistake of printing the exact title on the shipping label. When the books arrived at the distributor, the shipment was short one carton. We know we sent all the cartons. The shipping company shows they delivered all the cartons. As best as we can tell, someone at the distributor read the label and decided these books may be of interest and intercepted one carton. After that, we learned to abbreviate the title so no one receiving the books would decide to keep them for themselves.
So, if you are considering entering into book printing, or if you are already in book printing and are looking for ways to improve profitability, pay attention to the shipping department.