Ellen Million (ellenmillion) wrote,
Ellen Million

The Problem with Coloring Books


So, I've been printing coloring books since... hm... 1996? Maybe '97 - I'd have to check. (See a partial history of my coloring book adventures from the Chopping Block post I did two years ago.)

I love putting coloring books together. They are fun to compile, simple to ship (slip them in a bag, piece of cardboard in a flat-rate priority mailer, done!) and when I started making them, they were totally unique in the market. Since then, a lot of major artists have released coloring books. It's still a bit of a niche market making them for grownups, but not the only-game-in-town that it was when I started with them.

Over time, my biggest problems with coloring books has been twofold: getting work and getting them printed.

Artists love to commit to things. "Oh, that sounds fun! I will do that!" a few dozen of them will promise me. But the deadline rolls around (and is pushed back and rolls around and is pushed back...) and the selection I have to choose from is still pretty slim. As much as I hate rejecting work, I would really prefer to have 100 submissions and make a REALLY kickass coloring book to having just 20 and having to go forward with something good enough. This is becoming less of a problem as my 'reach' extends, but it's still a frustration.

The second problem is printing.

I could write a book about my frustrations with printing companies - picking up orders that have been printed double-sided, wrong trim sizes, companies that promise to meet a date that they blow off, shipping costs that are three times the price of the printing, companies that LOSE entire orders and ignore my emails until I open a Paypal dispute, books that vary randomly in size by up to half an inch... it's been an uphill battle most of the way. I have thought about producing them myself, or maybe having someone print them but do the staple-binding and trimming myself, but those are honestly pretty fiddly tasks that add a lot to my workload, and I'm trying to avoid that.

For the last few years, I've been really pleased with Ka-Blam. They specialize in printing comics, they had good prices, good service and while they used to be slow on turnaround (they are QUITE fast now, as long as it's a reprint), they nearly always met the dates they promised. Alas, the last order I placed from them, I was sadly disappointed to find that the covers were no longer cardstock. "An error?" I asked them, but no. They have changed their printing equipment such that they no longer offer cardstock covers. I have been moping about this since early in the month, and trying to decide what to do. They were not particularly apologetic about it. (They just pointed out that it's been that way since March and had been announced on the front page of their site, and that they automatically charged me less because of it, and where have I been anyway? I did not point out in return that I had not ordered since then, what with the new BABY and all, and always went directly to my account page, not their front page. Marvel at my restraint.)

The floppy covers look CHEAP. They don't match any of my existing copies. There is bleedthrough on the front from the printing on the inside cover. The color isn't quite as vibrant as it was. I can't wholesale these. I can't even SELL them, honestly (certainly not at full price), but I'm not going to get my money back, either. Buh-bye, Ka-Blam. (At least for coloring books. I may still have them do perfect binding.)

So, after pouting for a week or two, I called Dateline.

Dateline and I go way, way, WAY back. They were not my very first printing service, but they were my second, and I started using their services in 1994, when I was still having them print my stationery and cards. I've had some really awful experiences with them, and some really excellent experiences. I moved away from having them do coloring books for financial reasons more than anything - even with shipping (GUH, shipping...), they could not compete with the pricing I could find online. Especially when it came to color covers, which the companies I moved to offered as a default. Since I was paying for it ANYWAY, I switched to almost entirely color covers.

Dateline has three major advantages for me:

They are local. I like supporting local and locally owned. It makes sense, and I don't have to pay for shipping. It's not as wasteful when it comes to packaging.

I like the people. MAN, I like the people. Geoff and Travis and Melissa and.. I can't remember the name of the previous owner... they are GOOD people. There have been a few surly or foolish counter-twits over the years (you know the type...), but for the most part, they've been really good about making up for their mistakes, and they are always friendly and helpful and cheerful and they know their stuff. When I called up to get a current quote for having them do my future reprints, Melissa actually remembered who I was and commented that I hadn't been in for a long while. Warm fuzzies!

Fast turnaround. No shipping means no shipping time to wait for. And these guys are built around a reasonable turnaround, where reasonable is not a week (or a month, or 6 weeks, as I've had to deal with in the past), but a day, because they serve local businesses that need stuff NOW. I would basically never be out of a title, once they had my files; I'd just call them and say, I need another 50 of this and so, and they'd say, tomorrow by noon. Or maybe, if they're really busy, the next day.

Dateline has two major disadvantages:

Price. This is the big one. The giant one. Melissa and I went around in a few circles trying to get to a per-copy price that I could still afford to pay royalties and offer wholesale, and concessions had to be made. Keeping the color covers, I needed to change my format to a full 8.5 x 11 with no bleed, AND order 50 copies of each. I've been spoiled, being able to order 5 or 10 copies of something at a time if I wanted, and I haven't had to STORE that many copies. 50 of each is a lot. Most of my titles do eventually sell 50 copies, but not that fast.

Which leads us to the second disadvantage. In order to get to THAT pricing, I have to layout EVERY title I offer again for the slightly larger size and no bleed. On TOP of ordering 50 copies of each.

So, moving back to Dateline is a significant upfront investment in money and time. Neither of which I am rolling in.

What am I planning to do? I still don't know.

The idea of discontinuing ALL my coloring books and getting out of that business too... that has occurred to me. With the LAST issue of EMG-Zine going up on Saturday, it seems like a lot of things are ending right now. I've been thinking an awful lot about decisions to end things in a big-picture abstract kind of way, so the timing of this shakeup is rather interesting and thought-provoking.

Now, I hear baby wookie noises from upstairs and need to move laundry to the dryer.
Tags: coloring books

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