Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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Your Newsletter: costs and production

The Guild's Newsletter has been around a long time, since June 1978 to be precise, and many changes have occurred since then. Significant changes have occurred in the last two or three years, not least of which have been colour photos and a few more pages — and yes, a change of editor. (I am very proud of the fact that I contributed an article to the very first issue and to the second one, too — but contributing to those issues isn't a necessary qualification to be Editor and I'm still waiting for someone to take the job from me…)

It is, of course, printed as a hardcopy, but it is additionally available via the Guild's web-site. Every member is entitled to receive a copy, although couples who are members get one copy between them. Members may elect not to receive a printed copy, but to view it via the web-site. I can only admire these members, who clearly have the strength to resist cluttering their homes up with lots of paper.…

You will have noticed some of the recent changes, but not others. The format has settled down now (and I hope you like it). I think major changes are unlikely in the foreseeable future, although a minor detail may be tweaked. It's generally in 14-side form, but there has been a 12-side issue and an 18-side issue in the last 12 months. A change you are unlikely to have noticed is the way it is printed. Until about 18 months ago production was by photocopying. We were lucky for a time to have this done at a favourable rate by a member's employer, but unfortunately that arrangement came to an end. The Committee needed to replace this facility with another one very quickly and, after a trial run, settled on an in-house printing arrangement.

The in-house printing arrangement has created lots of change, in that some of the equipment (the printers) are capital costs and therefore are written-off after a period of time, so their cost is spread over a number of printings as an on-cost. Consumables (paper and inks) are directly attributed to a printing run. The actual in-house cost of printing the Newsletter is therefore not a straightforward calculation, initially at least, but after a period of use it becomes clearer.

We started with a new Canon 540 printer, which was a cheap offer at £72 all-in from Argos. This printed OK and fairly quickly on the "fast" or "draft" setting. However, it soon became apparent another printer was required, because it took almost two days to print 200 issues of a 7-page/14-sided document, ie 2800 prints. The printing team are happy to give up one day to produce your favourite publication, but two days was just a bit too much. Two of the team each brought along a printer to the next printing session to boost the production rate, and the printing job was completed in one day. Another printer, an Epson capable of even quicker print rates, was purchased by the Guild, although it cost a little more than the Canon.

As might be imagined, printing almost 3000 pages per issue uses a lot of printer ink. It has been said printer ink is some of the most expensive liquid it is possible to buy. This is true if printer-manufacturer cartridges are purchased, but Stuart Cummings put us on to an internet supplier, whose charges are vastly cheaper and whose service in posting out the goods is absolutely superb. We always print on a printer's fast or draft setting. Firstly, it saves production time, but just as importantly it's more economical on inks. Text is more than reasonable at these settings, although photo quality reduces slightly but is still acceptable.

Paper is another consumable. A single issue of 7 pages requires 1400 sheets for 200 copies, ie almost three reams. We buy in bulk, ie at least 5 reams at a time on special offers, but we've found we must be careful with the quality of the paper, particularly for double-sided printing, as cheap paper tends to "bleed" through, even on the "fast" print setting.

We've settled down for the last couple of issues with the two Guild printers and two borrowed printers. The mode of production is effectively finalised. We manage production, including printing and stapling the pages, in a day; even the marathon 18-side January 2012 issue, which included 200 A5 size subscription renewal forms. That session, at 200 copies, came to almost 4000 printed sheets.

Some questions about Newsletter production costs arising from the 2011 Guild accounts caused a check before the January print run on the number of ink cartridges each printer was using. The results of this were most illuminating and helped to sort out the costs that were truthfully attributable to 2010 and the value of the surplus consumables that should go into the 2012 accounts. In addition this exercise provided indicative costs of printing with each printer. We found that the newer printers, those with multi functions such as a scanner, were more expensive than the quite old printer that has a simple printing function. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the cartridges for the old printer are much cheaper than those for the more-modern printers; and secondly, the older printer's cartridges hold a lot more ink. In the most significant case the old printer's cartridge is twice as large as that of a newer printer. This means the old printer's cost per print is less than a quarter of a newer printer's cost. We also found the old printer's fast speed isn't much less than the newer printer's fast speed. This cost difference was a major discovery, particularly with our amount of printing, and it makes the old printer very valuable. The consumption exercise revealed the average cost of printing double-sided (whether b&w or colour, and including paper and printer write-off cost) is about 9p.

The last area to receive attention has been the number of Newsletters to print for an issue. This number has been unclear for some time and we've had to estimate it and add a few for contingencies. The figure used was 200. Major changes occurred just recently in the Guild's accounting department and a significant outcome of this was a much more accurate list of paid-up members and whom of those is entitled to receive a hard-copy Newsletter. All of a sudden the number of Newsletters required plummeted to 160. All of a sudden, too, there was a big saving in cost over the 200 previously printed: about £100 per year, reducing the yearly cost to about £400; perhaps a little more when additional printing (eg Subs renewal sheets, etc) is taken into account. This is barely more than the totals shown for printing four issues 3 or 4 years back (and which had fewer than 14 sides if I remember correctly). The April 2012 Newsletter was the first printing to meet the lower total number required.

The cost of the Newsletter has been slightly offset by selling some space for advertising. Our local bellhanging company, Whites of Appleton, pay the Guild for their half-yearly adverts. In addition, some printing has been done for the North Cotswolds Branch of the G&B, for which the Branch has made a donation.

The Newsletter is the most expensive item in the Guild's accounts, which the Committee fully realises. I hope this article serves to show that the Committee is making substantial efforts to minimise the cost of producing the Newsletter, while at the same recognising that the finished article needs to be attractive and interesting to readers. The volunteer printing team (of four, plus the Hon Sec who supplies the premises and the coffee) works hard to keep the presses going - although those people would happily devolve this work should anyone show conclusively that the total cost of producing the Newsletter by commercial means is cheaper. They give of their time cheerfully - but none of them is a masochist (as far as Newsletter printing is concerned, that is: don't know about anything else…)!

Chris Povey, (Caretaker) Editor, on behalf of the Committee