If only I had a dollar for every time I've interviewed someone and they've said, "we offer quality and service for the cheapest price." Karl Renwanz of Video Transfer Inc. and Tom O'Reilly of College Sports Media have the same reaction to that statement. You might be able to offer two of those promises, they say, but it is not possible to offer both. "Pick any two promises and call the appropriate media manufacturer," says Renwanz.
The problem is that when replicators have open capacity, they give away the farm. Many commit to short turnarounds when they're not busy, but customers come to assume those turnarounds will be the standard all year round. "You'll never hear anyone quote less than 7-10 business days for a project. Sometimes that timing is not that easy to accomplish," says O'Reilly.
Two content providers told me stories of recent nightmarish experiences with media manufacturers. One producer talked about a DVD-9 set disaster. CD titles other than his own got mixed in with his DVD artwork and were sent out to the customer. Perhaps there wasn't enough time to check the work before sending it out. While there is equipment out there that can almost guarantee that won't happen, some replicators are just cutting corners wherever they can, particularly, some say, in the mid-tier and ultimately the lower-end plants that promise the lowest cost.
DaTARIUS has developed both code and label readers that would have avoided such a mix-up. The code inspection systems check the disc's codes before they are printed or packed to ensure that the right disc gets the right printing and goes in the right box. Since this is a completely automated process, DaTARIUS group marketing manager Tim Frost says the process does not add production costs. "There is a capital cost of course," Frost says, "but this becomes relatively insignificant compared to the cost of losing a customer or paying substantial compensation." Replicators need to consider that balance.
Another content provider, Stephen Parr of Oddball Film + Video, recently told me, "DVD manufacturing is not really perfected in any kind of meaningful way as far as I'm concerned. We've had problems recently. First, we had to send 500 DVDs back to the manufacturer because they wouldn't lock into the cases correctly. Some companies that may do the replication send out everything else," Parr continues. "I've found that they may farm out printing to a place where there is a $7/hour an hour guy cutting it. Printing should be the last reason to send a disc order back. But why should one disc be red and the other orange after we OK'd a proof?"
In defense of replicators, I recently did a story on printing, and how the disc and the paper packaging often don't match. This problem seems to be of particular concern to replicators who say clients just don't understand the technical challenges involved, nor do they recognize their own accountability when it comes to quality control; they make too many assumptions. After talking to some of these clients, I agree with the replicators, for the most part. Content providers don't understand, it's true; but replicators need to remember: it's their job to explain it. If they don't, they will pay the price for their own wrong assumptions.
Several sources have agreed that inexperienced staffing is one of the biggest problems the plants face. The customer service people who typically have the most client contact are often the newest and lowest paid. In the plant, a less experienced staff means the increased risk for technical mistakes. "Good service requires properly trained personnel who look out for their customers' needs," Renwanz says, "with an eye on long-term relationships."
Renwanz adds that content providers can avoid being burned simply by visiting the manufacturing plant to see for themselves where and how their product will be manufactured. He also tells content providers to check a replicator's references by consulting other clients with needs similar to their own.