It’s obviously possible for publishers to buy board for case making, or ink, or cloth, but I’ve not worked for any who do. Maybe some of the big boys do it. Paper is however often bought by publishers. Once that was the norm, but now it’s becoming less common.

If you decide to buy paper yourself, you immediately face the task of managing the inventory. The best pricing is available for carload quantities — the notional railroad car holds 40,000lbs of paper — and that’s the level at which you will get the lowest per pound price.  If you can’t buy in carload quantities it’s probably not worth buying your own paper. Let’s say you want a white sheet and a cream sheet, and you normally do books which are either 6-1/8″ x 9-1/4″ or 5-1/2″ x 8-1/4″.  So right away you need four different inventories of paper. Can you use a carload of each in a reasonable length of time?  Maybe your designers and editors want to have a bulking sheet for very short books — add two more varieties to your inventory by deciding that bulking will only be available on the cream sheet.  What about a high bulk sheet for very long books: let’s just add it on the 6-1/8″ x 9-1/4″ option in white only: so now you have seven lots you are going to inventory. Do you use more than one printer?  Does this mean you have to inventory seven different papers and two or three different plants? Maybe you can concentrate the thin books in one plant and the fat ones in another, so at least you don’t have to carry three of your papers in more than one plant. So let’s say there are three printers each with four different paper inventories, one of whom has your two bulking sheets and another of whom has your thin paper: that’s 15 different paper inventories you are going to manage.

Assuming your employer is willing to finance this outlay, you place your orders with a paper merchant, and sit back and wait to use up the various papers before ordering more.  To do this you have to create a system: in my time I’ve made a fairly sophisticated database system in FileMaker Pro — actually three linked databases — to handle this, but just as effective, and a lot simpler to create, is the time-tried card index system. For each paper you need to record purchases, allocations, and actual usage. These need to be recorded in lbs. and dollars.  This means that if you are using sheets you’ll need to do your M weight calculation (see Basis weight below). You’ll need to keep a running balance of both allocations and actual inventory — your allocations will go against the balance you have on hand, and will indicate when you need to reorder.  Your actual usage will tell a similar story, but as the actual usage will always be different from the allocation, it will be a record of your inventory value. Allocations will always be off — things happen, and the amount predicted to be used will differ from the amount actually used. When estimating how much paper they will need, printers allow for standard amounts of spoilage for each step in the manufacturing process, but these are estimates and actuality is going to be different.  Occasionally less paper than allocated will be used, but more often there will be extra spoilage. You have to carry the can for this spoilage, though if it really is excessive on a particular job, you may get your printer to credit you. But even negotiating such a charge is costing you time, which equals money. Whose fault is it if a forklift truck damages a roll? What if the roof leaks? What if the paper has been stored for too long? These inventory shrinkages need to be negotiated, and covered by some sort of insurance. The extras can add up.

Whether at the end of the year you are likely to have saved money by maintaining your own paper inventory is an open question.  You might, but then again it’s easy to see the initial savings in cost fritter away. I suspect that, unless you are working for a gigantic operation, the savings from running your own paper inventory are going to be small at best. Probably that’s why fewer people are doing it nowadays. Buying paper as needed from the printer makes a lot of sense (prescheduling becomes even more important).  There are still consignment programs in places (where the paper merchant maintains an inventory at the printing plant which publishers can draw on when they need it, buying the paper from the paper merchant, not the printer).

Keeping a paper inventory is actually a lot of fun, and in my mind that’s the single best reason for doing it. Good luck getting your employer to agree.