Updated: Dec 22, 2020
This blog post is a bit of a vent, but I'm also writing it to hopefully help other indie designers who are like me, just getting started and trying to figure out how to get your games out there. I want to describe my experience using Mixam, considered the go-to printer for a large section of the indie RPG scene.
What started out as a really positive experience at the beginning of the year has turned into a series of nightmares that has confirmed that I will never be using Mixam again.
I'm all about transparency with my stuff. Throughout 2020 I have placed 15 orders with Mixam, which totaled to just above $7500 worth of printing.
10 orders were zines, 2 were single sheets, and then 3 orders for books. So a bit of experience with a number of different products they print.
Of those 15 orders, 11 were fulfilled without any issues. That's a 73% success rate. Interesting to note is that those successes all happened during the first half of the year. Once we moved into July and beyond, the inconsistencies kicked in. I want to highlight two orders that had major issues, and they happen to be my biggest orders from Mixam.
Slayers Book Issue
Slayers was printed with Mixam because I didn't have a big enough order to justify off-set printing, which was substantially more expensive unless I had a very large order. I planned on order 800 books from Mixam, but wanted to make sure that the book looked ok before! I payed for a single sample, obviously not super cost effective, but worth the price to make sure the book looked ok.
The order was placed, and eventually updated to shipped. After about a week of saying the label was made, but not actually shipped, I reached out. Eventually they tracked down that it had been shipped, but must have been lost. So they reprinted it, and sent me another. An unfortunate delay, but they got the book to me!
After confirming it looked good, I placed the order. 800 books arrived, and I was super excited. Until I started opening some of them. A percentage of the books were poorly bound, and would rip and tear the moment the cover was opened. Unless I slowly opened up each book to confirm it wouldn't tear, I had no idea if I was sending folks books that would tear or not.
I reached out to Mixam about this, and after sending them video evidence of the tearing, they agreed to reprint a percentage of the order (10%). The new books eventually arrived, and they were great! When I asked what they did different, they said they made sure the glue was correct. So, not something they did with the normal order, but only after they messed something up.
At the end of the day, the communication was extremely slow, and they seemed not-too-thrilled to have to fix their mistake. But, some percentage of the books were replaced. However, this lack of communication and unwillingness to make up for mistakes would come up in a far worse way with my latest order, Dust.
Dust Zines Issues
Dust was recently funded on Kickstarter, and my best friend Mike and I were really excited about the project. The best part was that the zine was complete, all the graphic design and writing was done, and we were ready to submit it to the printers once the campaign ended. And that's what we did.
The Dust zine was submitted as an order of 250 zines on November 13. The estimated delivery date was November 23. On the 23rd, I reached out asking for a shipping update, since I hadn't received any information about tracking. The next day I was told that the first print run didn't "meet their quality check" and so they had to reprint. I was told it would ship that day (24th) or the next day (25th).
Jump to November 26th, and I ask again for an update since I hadn't received confirmation or tracking information. I got a response saying they would look into it and get back to me. On the 27th, 28th, and 29th I reached out asking for an update, and got no responses. 3 days of no communication from them. No idea what was happening with my order.
On the 30th, they said they were still looking into it. When I asked about possibly expediting the shipping to make up for the delay, they offered me to pay for it (over $100), which I opted not to do. While I wanted the zines ASAP to fulfill for the KS, I wasn't about to pay $100 for expedited shipping on an order that was already 1 week late. I eventually got a tracking number from them, and the package arrived on December 3rd, 10 days after the estimated delivery date. Late, but you know, these things happen...Sure the communication was non-existent, but they arrived!
Here is what I saw when I opened up my box. 250 zines loosely thrown into a box with a little packing paper to fill in the box. These zines were folded, bent, and in a jumbled mess. Every single order I've had from Mixam in the past has arrived bubble wrapped, or at the very least the zines were bound together rather than thrown loosely in the box.
By this point I was talking with Mike about what we can do. Mike is a professional graphic designer, and has extensive experience working with printers when there are issues, so he took the lead on finding a solution. However, as that was going on, I realized something terrible about the zines.
They were missing two pages.
The front and back inner covers were just not there, not printed at all. These are the credits/dedication page, and the hexmap for the zine. The map is so important, and it just wasn't there! These pages were part of the PDF proof that we received, so this was a printing error. So now not only do I have a bunch of damaged zines shipped in an incredible unprofessional way, but now I have 250 useless zines. They can't be shipped to backers obviously.
At this point, Mike is trying to call them and get a solution. Over 10 calls were made before Mike was finally able to get a hold of someone willing to work with us. Initially they had offered us $100 as an apology for the shipping, but that was before we realized that every zine was missing two pages. Now we needed a real solution. A full reprint.
Ultimately, we submitted a complaint using the website, because the messaging and calling services were getting us nowhere. Mixam offered us two options:
- A "full" refund of $530
- A reprint, and the $100 they offered earlier
Here's the problem with the "full" refund. It's not a full refund. I paid $630 for the zines. But they weren't going to reimburse the taxes and shipping costs, just the quoted $530 that was the printing costs. So if I took that option, I'd be losing $100, and would have no zines.
The second option at least would get us our zines, but is a huge slap in the face. This was a series of terrible events. Horrible communication, gaps of time with no response, 250 zines thrown loose into a box, and every single one of them is useless. And all this with a shipment that arrived 10 days late!
But, these are for a Kickstarter, and I don't want to delay fulfilling with our backers. So, on December 4th, we took the reprint, and the $100 "apology". After three days, December 7th now, they confirmed that request...once again we're dealing with big gaps in communication. As of the time I'm writing this, I'm still waiting for confirmation of the reprint being shipped to me. I'll update this once the reprinted zines arrive.
UPDATE: The reprinted zines arrived today. They were properly packaged, and had all the pages printed this time. It is almost 1 month to the day late. Obviously I won't be getting them out before the holidays as I had hoped, and so will have to wait until the holidays are over before I can get them completely packed up and shipped out. While the zines are correct this time, it hasn't really changed my mind on never using Mixam again, and continuing to use alternative and local printers.
For me, this recent order has convinced me that Mixam is not going to get my business anymore. The quality control, lack of communication, and a huge reluctance to want to make things right (Mike described it as if they always wanted to just get off the phone with him) has shown that they just don't care.
I'll be using other companies in the future. Which will be more expensive. That's why we use Mixam, right? Great price, intuitive ordering process, how could you not? But I'm willing to pay the extra cost to a printer that actually gives a shit, and will make sure they put out a great product and help their customer along the way. In fact, I think I've already found a wonderful local printer to use for future work!
Many of you reading this also print your games, or maybe you're thinking about it. With Zine Quest 3 almost certainly coming up, you'll be looking for options to get your zine printed and might look to Mixam as the well known provider. I'm offering this as a cautionary tale of my experience with Mixam this year. What started out great, quickly deteriorated and I cannot see myself ever using them again, and I certainly wouldn't recommend using them.
I hope this was helpful or enlightening. If you know of any printers that you'd recommend, reach out on Twitter and let me know!