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How to stop worrying and learn to love the click charge: Print21 magazine article

Monday, 19 July 2010
By Print 21 Online Article

The click charge on digital print engines remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks for commercial printers looking to get into digital print. For many, it runs counter to long-held beliefs that good printers can always make more money on a job by being more efficient. So why is the click charge so prevalent in the digital market and does it actually benefit users? Warren Davey lifts the lid on this sensitive topic.

When the commercial litho print market first saw digital printing introduced in the early 90s, it was also introduced to the concept of click charges. This was a business model that came out of the photocopying and laser printing world which spawned, predominantly, the ancestors of today’s digital printing equipment suppliers (with a few exceptions that came from the electronic prepress world).

At first, there was a solid resistance to click charges by printers. I can recall some customers vowing that they would never submit to having a click charge, citing that they wanted to be in charge of their own destiny rather than be at its mercy. And yet, over the years, so many have succumbed. Why is this?

It’s simple really. It’s just easier. Why? Well, most would say because it allows the user to know the fixed cost of every page produced, meaning that the costing of jobs and thus the sale price is a no-brainer. But isn’t this what every printer does with their conventional machinery without a click charge? Of course it is. So what has changed?

In a nutshell, what has changed is that printers today don’t have the knowledge needed to calculate the running costs of a digital press well enough. Digital machines are perceived as enigmas that are beyond the capability of most printers to calculate a running cost.

I was once dealing with a client who was in the process of replacing his existing digital machine with a new one. I asked him to ask the company that he was going to buy from if he could buy the machine without a click charge. Interestingly, the answer was no, he could not. When he asked why, he was told it was because a click charge was better for him. Really? The reason why he was buying a new machine in the first place was that his current click charge was causing him to be uncompetitive. Indeed, he was sold on the idea of buying a new machine in order to reduce his click charge. One wonders how, in this case, a click charge was better for him.

Knowledge is lacking
So where does this leave us? Well, the truth of why click charges are better for us is because it makes digital machines easier to sell. If you want to run any machine based on its raw running cost, then you will need to understand what goes into running it. We do this with our cars every day and, of course, printers do it with their litho presses as well. A click charge is not ever considered to be applicable in these cases.

With digital however, this is not the case. The knowledge needed is very much lacking among printers and, what is more, it is often not offered to printers should they want to know, leaving them little choice. Obviously running a machine without understanding its raw running costs is a road to ruin. The result is that printers take the easy way out and accept a click charge.

Consequently we then see an environment in which printers are locked into a production cost that cannot be improved on by good work practices. They are at the mercy of their supplier for any cost improvement, and that can only be gained by renegotiation of contracts, achieving higher volumes of print or normally, as a last resort, buying a new machine.

At the end of the day, a click charge is just a numbers game. It is based on the lifetime of parts, the amount of consumables and then the cost to supply service. Mix these things together, add a margin and stir and what you have is a click charge.

Next time you are looking at digital, ask the supplier to explain how their click is calculated and why it is the best choice for you. The answer could be very interesting.

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