Production horror stories

This month’s question

What was your worst production nightmare?

Unlike their larger counterparts, small catalogers often have limited time and resources to devote to production and printing responsibilities. Not surprisingly, all of the catalogers we spoke to this month have at least one production nightmare that sticks out vividly in their minds. While one cataloger experienced color separation problems that ruined the presentation, another had a printer threaten to bill her for not being at the press check – after he repeatedly changed the time. And one cataloger even had an irate printer pull a gun on her because he was owed money!

Cynthia Riggs is the president of Making It Big, a Cotati, CA-based cataloger of natural-fiber clothing for large women. Annual sales, $2.5 million; annual circulation, 120,000.

Our worst catalog production incident occurred about five years ago. The color separator we were working with at the time used a pixel format that was incompatible with the press – which wasn’t apparent until the job was being printed.

At that point, there was no way to get accurate color, and the colors we did get were too muddy. The printer said there was no solution to the problem, short of doing the whole job over again. But time was of the essence, since we had to get the book in the mail, so reprinting was not an option. It also didn’t help that the company that did the color work wouldn’t take any responsibility for its error.

We were forced to bite the proverbial bullet, mail the catalog “as was,” and hope for the best. The good news was that our sales were not hurt by the muddy colors, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why not.

Michael Johnston is co-owner/ art director of Centreville, VA-based Around the Corner Fine Art, a catalog of fine art replicas. Annual sales, less than $1 million; annual circulation, 500,000-1 million.

The way I see it, we encounter a problem every time we go to print. It just depends on the magnitude – kind of like an earthquake.

About 10 years ago, when we printed our first catalog, we made some rookie mistakes. We had seen proofs only very quickly with that first printing, and we had no opportunity to make any corrections. We learned that once a book has gone to press, you really can’t try to adjust color. We kindly refer to the first book as the “pink catalog” because the whole book was a pinkish color when printed. It probably doesn’t look that bad to someone who doesn’t know our catalog, but it looks pink to us.

We’ve printed about seven catalogs in the last 10 years, and at least two of them had borders that never printed or some other problem with a background element. We even had one catalog that we had to completely redesign to overcome the raw edges that were showing on at least five pages.

Carushka Jarecka is president of Carushka, a Van Nuys, CA-based catalog of dance and yoga apparel and other activewear for women. Annual sales, $4 million; annual circulation, 300,000.

About eight years ago, we were using a freelancer to do the catalog artwork, design, layout, and color separations, and he sourced out the printing to another company. We had been in business for only about four years then, and we were a little naive about advancing him money for the jobs to be done. But having worked with him for a few years and never encountering any problems before, we trusted him.

In the last year that we worked with him, we noticed he was late with a few jobs, and he was asking us for more money up front than usual. Then, after we had advanced him $80,000 for our print job, our catalogs never arrived, and we couldn’t locate him.

So we went down to the printer to get our art back, and the printer refused to give it to us, claiming that he was still owed $10,000 for previous work he had done for us. He even held a shotgun as we talked to him.

We eventually paid the printer the $10,000 just to get our artwork back, but we never located the freelance guy we were working with. We’ve learned our lesson, though. Now we work with a woman who came highly recommended by people in the industry, and we look at all the invoices ourselves to make sure everything adds up.

Erika Judd is the president of Eclectic Junction, a Chicago-based cataloger/retailer of high-end, handcrafted home furnishings and gifts. Annual sales, $150,000; annual circulation, 200,000.

My biggest production problem is with press checks. I like to see the catalog proofs before I give the okay, but that’s not always possible. In most cases, the press checks are hours later than the printer says they will be, which can really affect my scheduling if I’m trying to fit it around work. In fact, I often use out-of-town printers just so I can plan a whole day around the press check and make sure that I’m available.

In one case, I was using a local printer who had told me that the press check would take place sometime between 9 a.m. and noon. When I hadn’t heard anything by noon, I called the printer, and he told me that the check wouldn’t be until at least 2 p.m. that afternoon. About 10 minutes later I got another call from the printer saying that the press check would be at 1 p.m. When I said that I wouldn’t be able to make it at 1 p.m., the printer told me I would be charged $100 for every hour I was not there at the print shop!

I argued with him for a bit, and then I just decided to give the okay over the phone. I had seen the digital proofs, though I wanted to get to the print shop and see the actual proofs. Later I wished I had. One of the images was inverted, and the printer didn’t catch it, since printers pay more attention to things like color. Needless to say, I no longer use that printer.

Lette Birn is the president of Form & Function, a Santa Fe, NM-based cataloger/retailer of Southwestern-style lighting. Annual sales, $400,000; annual circulation, approximately 15,000.

About three or four years ago, we had the wrong telephone number printed on 10,000 catalogs. It was actually my home phone number, which the graphic designer had used to contact me a few times. We didn’t realize the mistake until the first catalog calls started coming in. Eventually we had to reroute my home telephone number to the store, and I had to get a new home number altogether. We’re now very careful about checking the phone numbers before printing!

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