45 Tips for Sourcing Work Overseas
As publishers continuously seek to cut costs, many are exploring sourcing work overseas—from manufacturing to content management services, among other tasks. If you're considering this, arm yourself with the information you need to evaluate potential partners and determine whether an overseas partnership will work for you.
BookTech Magazine asked industry experts with experience in evaluating offshore partners and working overseas in different capacities to share their tips:
Determining if offshoring is right for you
To determine whether you will benefit from manufacturing offshore, consider:
1 If you're publishing one-color trade paperbacks or four-color jobs that can run on a U.S. web press, stay home.
2 Jobs requiring quick turnaround are likely to run late, so stay home.
3 Jobs requiring specialized colored or textured paper, stay home.
4 For illustrated books requiring high-quality reproduction, look overseas.
5 If you're publishing books-plus, mechanical binding, odd/oversize books, look overseas.
—George Dick, president, Four Colour Imports Ltd.
What applications should you outsource?
Considering outsourcing business applications? These tips can help you decide which applications to outsource and what is best kept in the United States:
6 Offshore existing applications/clusters with a high cost to maintain.
7 Offshore existing applications/clusters that require conversion.
8 Groups of redundant applications that require consolidation to a single appli-cation are ideal for sourcing overseas.
9 Strategic and life-critical applications are not advisable to source overseas.
10 Hyper-dynamic applications are also best kept close to home.
11 Applications/clusters with fewer than eight people are not usually worth sending offshore.
—Rakesh Gupta, chairman & co-founder, TechBooks
What projects are ideal?
12 In addition to manufacturing costs, consider the book's retail price, the paper, whether it will require multiple vendors (overseas or back and forth to the United States) to put multiple components of a book product together, and timing.
13 Consider a book's print run and weight. Books with higher page counts (200 and up) and larger print runs (75,000-plus) are usually best kept in the United States due to shipping costs.
Deciding on a country
Ask your peers which countries they have had favorable experiences with in outsourcing. One expert suggests:
14 Canada offers slightly lower pricing, and quick, reliable delivery by truck.
15 Mexico and South America offer faster delivery than Asia at better prices than North America [for many jobs]. Quality control remains an issue.
16 England and Europe generally offer competitive pricing when the U.S. dollar is strong, faster delivery than Asia, and generally speak English well.
17 Japan, Singapore and Korea are known for excellent quality, but are struggling to match pricing from China. They also have good paper availability.
18 China and Hong Kong offer the best pricing, but language can present communication problems, and paper must be ordered in advance.
19 India, Malaysia and Thailand are known for spotty service and quality issues without any great advantage over China in pricing. In general, at the present time, it is best to avoid these countries.
Location, Location, Location
Also consider the ease of doing business in foreign countries. Some tips to help:
20 Choose offshore partners with sites in countries/cities with a politically stable democracy with free press, rule of law and a market economy.
21 Choose partner sites in countries with excellent technical-educational systems and entrepreneurial cultures to ensure that the site is staffed with highly skilled and trained … experts.
22 It helps if the country has abundant, skilled, English-speaking manpower to ensure effective communications ….
23 Decide which countries represent political risks. China has strict controls on nudity and forbids mention of Tibet in published works, for example.
24 If labor conditions concern you, ask if the vendor is Disney certified. [Disney Publishing Worldwide sends auditors to overseas facilities to ensure that any offshore partners it works with meets strict standards on labor conditions.]
Selecting a partner
Once you've narrowed down potential countries to explore, the next step is evaluating potential partners.
25 One of the best ways to find a partner is to ask for a referral from a trusted member of the publishing community.
26 Look for U.S. representation. While some offshore [vendors] who do not have U.S. representation will work directly with you, communication entirely by e-mail often breaks down.
27 Look for a history of stable performance. Brokers can often provide excellent pricing, but longevity and reputation are paramount. Some will cut and run when problems arise, leaving publishers without recourse.
28 If your company is small, working exclusively with one vendor may increase your clout. Large buyers should use multiple vendors to spread risk.
29 An Internet search will yield a lot of companies, but little information. Judge inquiries by the response time and readability of English in their response.
30 Any printer can post a pretty Web page, so it helps to visit the facilities of any partners you are seriously considering. Some printers will pay tour costs for large prospects.
31 If you are able to visit potential partners' sites, be sure to prepare questions to ask management and observe employee behavior closely. This can be helpful to both publishers and U.S. printers.
—David N. Mead, senior vice president, marketing and sales, Banta Book Group
32 Having the right partner is key to outsourcing—make sure the vendor's capabilities fit your requirements. Knowing your requirements is of course the first step.
33 Ensure there are no hidden costs—be clear on processes you want outsourced, and insist on transparency in pricing. Be prepared to work at the relationship to get results.
—Mala Morris, General Manager, Business Development, Newgen Imaging Systems
34 If you are considering a U.S. company with offshore partners, get information about the U.S. company's involvement with its partners, especially on quality control and how partners are evaluated.
35 Examine equipment/technology closely when you visit the site. Choose a partner with a state-of-the-art facility.
36 Choose a partner with an established history in offshore production and a well-integrated offshore production model.
37 Look for partners with 24/7 capabilities to compensate for time zone differences.
What services can you expect?
38 Most vendors now offer CTP printing. But avoid printers not offering tech support in color management, and who don't fully understand use of ICC profiles.
39 Decide what prepress services you need. … Requiring multiple sets of color press proofs or digital prints can be a cost factor if working overseas.
40 Overseas vendors can easily provide CIF (cost, insurance and freight) port pricing. Find out who will handle U.S. customs clearance. Often, delivery price to door exceeds sea freight. Look for vendors to provide this service, so you won't have to.
41 How is their customer service handled? Service problems can cost you more than you save. Will you have to track down your salesperson? What automated production systems, including Web-based reporting, are available?
42 Negotiate terms up front. Many vendors require sizable deposits or even a letter-of-credit from first-time customers. What are the best terms offered once a relationship becomes well-established?
43 If books fall behind schedule, what options are available? Will the vendor pay air freight if it is responsible for the delay? Can files be transferred to a company in North America if the publisher is at fault?
44 Anticipate delays and prepare a backup plan. Rail congestion, space shortages due to high volume, transport workers' strikes, etc., are not uncommon.
45 When you find a partner, try a few test runs to avoid surprises on a big project.