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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Book Printing: Why Not Print Your Book in Asia?

I believe in synchronicity, or “meaningful coincidences,” as described by psychologist Carl Jung. Sometimes important things just seem to happen simultaneously, and if I’m aware at the time, I can learn from them.

Within this past few weeks I have had three experiences that have pointed me in the direction of actually producing a client’s print book in the Far East, which for me would be a first. (I’ve always felt more secure contracting work to local commercial printing vendors.)

  1. The first event was meeting a prospective client who was in the process of producing an important coffee-table print book at a Chinese printer. She seemed very knowledgeable about book printing, and she had produced a number of books in Asia.
  2. The second was having a Midwest US printer ask me if I and my client wanted them to produce the book in-house or broker it to a Chinese print vendor. On the one hand I was surprised. (I didn’t see a reason, as a broker, to go to another broker.) On the other hand, I was intrigued. I was seeing a pattern.
  3. The third incident actually involved using the Printing Industry Exchange server. I listed a job on the PIE website, and a number of Asian vendors sent me bids—immediately. Faster than printers in the US. I was starting to open my mind. Granted, seeing prices that were dramatically lower than those of the US vendors made a difference.

The Next Steps

I actually received a number of bids from Asia: one from Korea, the rest from China. One of the things that opened my mind to doing business overseas was the immediate follow-up on a bid from the Korean printer.

I’m a night owl, so curiously enough I found myself emailing the printer and receiving immediate answers at 2:00 a.m. (After all, even though it was 2:00 a.m. here, in Korea it was obviously the middle of the business day.) I liked the printer’s (or in this case the printer’s sales rep’s) attentiveness to my needs and questions.

With an especially attractive bid for my client’s project, an associate’s good words about a Chinese printer she was currently working with, and the customer service of the Korean printer I was becoming acquainted with, I felt comfortable moving forward.

So I asked for printed samples, an equipment list, and references from the Korean printer (all standard practices, just the same as if I were becoming acquainted with a local print shop). I was surprised to receive the sample box two days later, along with real-time messaging of exactly when to expect the delivery.

Even without opening the box, I had learned two things:

  1. The Korean printer wanted my business enough to spend a significant amount of money to send about twenty pounds of print books to me in two days, all the way from Korea. Moreover, he wanted me to contact him once I had received the samples to give him feedback. In short, I felt he valued my potential business.
  2. I started to let go of the preconception that Korea was inaccessible, in spite of its being far away. The printer said I would receive all proofs of any live jobs via DHL with the same speed as the samples.

The Samples

When I opened the box, I saw about ten of the nicest sample print books I had ever seen. The case-bound books were all flawlessly bound. The heavy ink coverage on the pages of the three graphic novels he had sent was beautiful. All of the perfect-bound books looked great (both the printing and binding work). I was very pleased. He even sent Korean copies of Allure and Vogue.

This is what I learned from the samples:

  1. Any printer that Vogue and Allure will allow to display their branding must be good. Why? First of all, color-critical work usually includes the following: food, beauty, and automotive imagery. Vogue and Allure fit right into the beauty/cosmetics genre. Moreover, magazines are repeat work. Presumably these were not the first and only issues this printer had produced for Vogue and Allure. Finally, the printer had included magazine issues with foil stamping on the cover (primarily type, and small type with serifs to boot).
  2. The three case-bound graphic novels could have been a mess, given the amount of ink on all pages (four color, full coverage). Instead, they were crisp, evenly inked, gorgeous. And so was the binding.
  3. The printer’s sales rep was clearly knowledgeable, or he would not have selected these specific printed samples to showcase these specific, and challenging, aspects of commercial printing and finishing. This went a long way with me, since I need to know I’m communicating with someone who understands custom printing—thoroughly and in depth.

References

Anyone can give a stellar reference, just as anyone can send someone else’s samples. Granted, most people have integrity, but we’re talking about my advising my clients to spend serious money for print book production.

Since I have known the CEO of the Printing Industry Exchange for 25 years, I asked him outright about this book printer. He told me the printer had been a PIE member since 2001 with no complaints. (I guess it’s like checking with the Better Business Bureau and finding an “A” rating.) I felt completely secure.

What’s Next?

While I’m not always comfortable with change, I will admit that I have sent work to Canada—successfully. So I’m at least keeping an open mind here. These are the issues I will need to address before I encourage my client to buy her print book from a vendor in the Far East:

  1. The schedule will be important. Given the kind of product my client wants (a book that is not time sensitive), this may be an appropriate job for printing in Korea. Then again, I’m hearing from other sources that some Far East printers can even come close to the schedules US printers offer.
  2. Will shipping be prohibitive? Or will it be worth paying more for shipping since I’ll be paying less for printing?
  3. Will language be a barrier? I’m reading the emails closely to make sure I get the answers I need, and the technical specs my client needs.
  4. Will I get enough proofs to avoid any surprises? In my client’s case, for this particular print book, I will need to see high quality proofs of the photos as well as the digital book blues and contract-quality cover proof. I’ll also want to see F&Gs (folded and gathered—but not yet bound—book signatures).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Go slowly. Ask questions. Get samples and references.
  2. Make sure someone you know well and trust gives you the references. Preferably someone who has been doing multiple jobs in the Far East. Find out what the printer does when problems arise.
  3. If you can, start with a small job—as you would with any US printer.
  4. Make sure your job is appropriate for long-distance printing. A print book with no fixed deadline may be ideal. More timely material may not.

As with anything else in life, at some point you have to take a leap of faith. I’m not quite ready yet—but I’m getting very close.

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