Toto I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore
by Tatyana Sinioukov
Sending your books overseas to be printed? Use a little courage, a gentle heart and a lot of brains to bring your books home successfully
When sending books overseas to be printed, what does the publisher expect as the outcome? Just as Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz expected a solution to their problems at the end of the yellow brick road, print buyers expect their forays into overseas printing to yield a positive outcome, in this case, high quality, committed service at a reasonable price and an opportunity to establish a trusting relationship with a print partner.
Like the Wizard of Oz characters, most buyers will find that challenges that face them on the way-- those unique to buying services abroad, plus the usual suspects (those that are true for printing anywhere), can be surmounted. Unlike the Wizard of Oz crew, however, print buyers who read this article can start out armed with advice from peers who have been there before.
An Informed Beginning
Before taking your first steps on your overseas printing journey, overseas printing session panelists at BookTech West agreed, it's vital to collect all the information you can about
--payment terms and method
--measurements (grams v. pounds, millimeters v. inches, etc.)
--political and economic perspectives
This list was created by Liz Walker, sales, production and customer service director at Milano Stampa/New Interlitho USA, and Abram Hall, production manager, ESL Department, Oxford University Press. It was initially created for "Overseas Manufacturing: Buying Tactics" at BookTech '99.
Check out the lay of the land
Most U.S. print buyers don't find it necessary to learn the language of the country they are buying printing from, noted panelists at the "Printing Overseas" session at BookTech West 1999 held last December in San Francisco. The panelists included Charlie Clark, director and executive vice president of Hong Kong-based C&C Offset Printing; Anne Barnett, vice president of sales at the U.K. division of R.R. Donnelley in London (she oversees printing at RRD's Shenzhen, China, plant); Nancy Duncan-Cashman, production manager, Watershed Books, Edmonds, WA (the company mainly serves niche publishers); and Christine Taylor, president of Wilsted & Taylor, Oakland, CA.
Nevertheless, some knowledge about the country and its customs will smooth the path. For example, buyers should educate themselves about the political situation, suggested Clark. To avoid a distorted picture, consult multiple sources; in particular, avoid relying on the news media alone, which, in its hunt for big issues that make headlines, might not necessarily reflect the whole picture, advised Clark, offering one example. He was in Hong Kong when it reverted to China in 1997. From his vantage point, he pointed out, it appeared that the American news media underreported the celebrations in the street and overdid coverage of the tanks crossing into Hong Kong.
Buyers would do well to consult reputable sources such as The Economist, a London-based magazine that covers world affairs regularly, Clark suggested, as well as consulting colleagues who regularly do business in the country.
Whatever you find out about the country's political situation, check your company's buying policies before placing your order, panelists agreed. It's frustrating for everyone when an order is pulled merely because, halfway through the process, the buyer finds out that a company policy no one told them about before precluded buying overseas.
Buyers should also be mindful of the ever-present cultural gap in the daily interaction with the printer, added Clark. Should a misunderstanding occur, he advised, "Don't panic immediately. Take a deep breath and (ask yourself), Is there another way to ask this question?'"
"An example of this can be often found in proofing," he offered, "where the printer may be talking in ozalids and press proofs while the (publisher) is asking for Cromalins, MatchPrints and bluelines."
"As Hong Kong, and, most recently, China, have been so influenced by the British culture, you will often find that the terms used offshore are somewhat different (from) those commonly used in the U.S.," she explained. "For example, trim sizes in the U.K. and Asia are generally stated as head-to-foot by fore-edge-to-backbone in metric as opposed to the reverse in imperial terms in the U.S." Also, she added, the way questions may be asked is less direct than the way to which U.S. buyers may be accustomed.
Despite these communication differences, "Asia and Europe have a long and successful history of printing and are just as knowledgeable as your more familiar domestic contacts," noted Barnett.
"Once all parties have learned how each other works, the information flows very freely..." Barnett noted.
To ease communication difficulties, buyers might consider using a broker instead of dealing with the printer directly, Duncan-Cashman advised the audience. Brokers are "incredible buffers, they are the bridge," said Duncan-Cashman. She especially recommends this course for print buyers who have never worked with overseas suppliers.
Barnett agreed that there is a very good case for using brokers in many instances. "However," she said, "R.R. Donnelley has found that by putting together an organization that manages both the domestic and offshore production, (it is possible) to offer their clients one point of contact for all their needs."
Surprisingly, despite the distance, printing overseas can bring more flexibility into a publisher's work process, offered Duncan-Cashman. "It opens the possibility of doing books that would normally be cost-prohibitive in the States," she noted. She also cited her solid, trusting relationship with her print partner as an incentive to keep sending jobs to the company. "I walk in the door (for a press check), and they know what I want," she explained. "They understand the language that I'm speaking when I'm correcting color."
Printing overseas, Barnett and Clark agreed, also can save you a bundle if you're printing color books. Clark mentioned that C&C Offset also prints a number of duotone photography books for university and commercial presses. Barnett cited R.R. Donnelley's specialty products that require hand work, making it economically feasible to produce them in China rather than in North America.
Another advantage, Duncan-Cashman pointed out, is that sometimes there are more choices of paper stocks overseas than in the United States, since, for instance, they come from all over Asia and Europe. "This is especially true for the whiter stocks which are often preferred by designers of art books," added Barnett.
Avoiding bumps in the road
So what's the biggest stumbling block for a beginning overseas print buyer?
"Probably not knowing exactly where to go get information," suggested Duncan-Cashman, when questions such as, "Who are the overseas printers I should turn to?" or "How do I find a broker?" arise. For help, Clark offered, print buyers should seek out the samples of work done overseas and rely on word-of-mouth.
For example, he commented, many people call him for information after having seen his company name listed in the credits on a back flap of a book printed by C&C Offset. Clark said that he is always happy to provide information about the process to publishers new to his company or new to the process of working offshore.
Panelists offered additional tips for novice overseas printing buyers
--Avoid being surprised at the very end by the unforeseen additional charges, cautioned Taylor. "You need to make sure," she noted, "that all subsequent rounds of proofing are included in your original estimate and that there will be no extra freight charges for additional rounds of proofs."
"Just as you would in the U.S., ask that the extra charges be agreed (upon) before the work proceeds," added Barnett.
--Allow time for extra correction cycles, suggested Duncan-Cashman, especially when dealing with wet proofs (ink on paper proofs, which many overseas printers use). "You may have to do three rounds of color, and still not get there," she explained.
--Keep in mind that printing inks differ in Europe, Asia and the States. Overseas printers will make proofs and film for the country where the book will be printed. Clark recalled times when film had to be redone because an uninformed buyer shipped it from one country to another before printing.
"Printers have this information readily available and can be a great resource in the preplanning phase of your production," suggested Barnett.
--Insure anything that is worth over $100 (including transparencies) and mark the envelopes properly while they are traveling from country to country. Some storage devices may not survive the X-rays at the customs, warned Clark, so choose the ones least susceptible to damage.
--Don't be baffled by delays--any delays--panelists advised the audience: Be prepared to not get the answer to the question you've e-mailed until the next day because of the time difference; also, get used to extended schedules during holidays, some of which are not celebrated in the States as widely (like Chinese New Year) or at all.
--Know for sure in what country the book was printed--you may need to specify it when printing abroad. Also, for customs purposes, it matters whether the book was printed, for example, in China or Hong Kong, or Mexico, so, if this information isn't "immediately obvious on the copyright page or the back flap, you may experience delays," said Barnett. You may even have to restamp each book individually, she added.
--Be aware of the fact that while books are duty-free, book-plus products that may contain puzzles, toys, stationery and other items are not. According to Clark, the final duty determination may depend on whether the non-book items are being treated as separate items. For example, if the books were printed in Hong Kong and the book-plus items were assembled in China, it would be necessary to provide this information, i.e. "printed in Hong Kong, assembled in China," to make sure that the retail buyer would be aware of the origins of all parts of the products--or risk delays at customs.
--Finally, all panelists stressed repeatedly, always allow extra time for shipping. For example, standard "overnight" delivery service to Hong Kong is four days, Clark pointed out. While on average it takes 12 to 16 weeks to print a book overseas (depending on the prepress and proofing requirements), it takes more time during the peak season (in the summer) and the holidays. For your first book, he suggested, allow 16 weeks for its completion. Shipping from Asia to the West Coast usually takes 21 days, but it takes longer for other regions of the United States.
Enjoy the journey
Wherever your book takes you, keep your chin up, be patient, and, above all, never stop learning about the different cultures and the ways foreign countries conduct business, panelists advised.
Stay focused on the goal, but enjoy the process, too: "This offers the opportunity for both personal and professional growth--along with a little fun," concluded Barnett.