15 Tips for Global Sourcing
Offshore sourcing is becoming increasingly popular among publishers who are looking to get cost-effective, quality printing and other publishing services. Forty percent of book publishers said they had worked with an overseas printer in the past year, according to a July 2006 study by the market-trend research company TrendWatch Graphic Arts. Yet, as they say, buyer beware. Global sourcing has its advantages as well as its pitfalls. To successfully navigate an offshore partnership, experienced publishers and printers offer these 15 tips.
1. Research a reputable partner.
Do your research to find the largest and most reputable printers available. Tad Crawford, president and publisher, Allworth Press (New York), suggests asking other publishers for recommendations.
“This is the best way to find vendors …” he says. “Another approach is to ask the vendor to provide references,” and be sure to check them, he adds.
2. Consider an offshore partner with an onshore office.
Charlie Clark, director, C&C Offset Printing Co., which is based in Portland, Ore., but prints in China, suggests the best situation is when publishers work with printers who have offices in North America staffed with Americans.
“This cuts down on any sort of cultural or linguistic issues that can be hidden in e-mail-only relationships with those having only offshore contacts,” he says.
However, buyer beware, cautions Mala Morris, business development manager for publishing and data services company Newgen Imaging Systems, based in India. “If you’re paying a premium for a U.S. office, make sure that you are getting something for your money—not just a middleman taking a cut of the revenue.”
3. Check its certifications.
Clark suggests asking about the company’s certifications, such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 18001, etc. Also, does the printer specialize in the publisher’s genre? As with any printer, expertise can vary greatly from photo books to guide books to fiction, bibles and children’s books.
“A first step would be to go to a book store, find books that you think are done well, look to see where they were done or contact the publisher to see who does their work,” says Clark.
4. Consider a larger printer.
When it comes to an offshore printer, larger may be a safer bet; smaller companies tend to be newer and are more likely to go out of business without notice.
“The smaller printers are also very limited financially if and when problems arise,” says Tom Leach, vice president, sales and marketing for global printing company Leo Paper Group, based in Issaquah, Wash. “They are much less likely to help during the difficult situations. Code of conduct is also a concern when looking at the smaller companies. Last but not least is a BS 7799 Certification, which is a measure … to certify that a publisher’s intellectual property is being protected.”
The major disadvantage to a larger printer is cost; publishers generally will pay a premium for their services because their overhead is higher.
5. Negotiate the deal like any other.
Experts say that negotiating with partners overseas is exactly the same as negotiating with those in the United States.
“Most contracts nowadays are focused primarily on term and schedules,” says Clark. “Ask what is needed to obtain open account status and what sorts of payment terms are available.”
Leach advises, “The best approach is to show how much business you are willing to send to [a] supplier, and let that supplier determine what the best pricing scale is ….” He also recommends publishers do not overstate their future volumes. “A more impactive negotiating tool is a rebate program on the amount of business that has transpired in any given year.”
6. Get the service you require.
When dealing with suppliers overseas, Crawford discovered that different grades of service may be available that may not be offered up front.
For example, he says, “When we complained and threatened to leave [one supplier], [they] mollified us by moving us to a higher and much more efficient level of service.”
7. Anticipate and plan for delays.
Any number of things can cause delays, from a press breakdown to a delay in transportation or a hold-up in customs. Avoid problems by building in a hefty cushion.
“Domestic suppliers do have the ability to be more flexible on scheduling because they do not have security to clear or boats to catch,” Leach says.
8. Avoid third parties.
Whenever possible, communicate directly with the printer. Avoid working through a brokerage agency, which adds a third party to an already potentially complex negotiation.
9. Know where your materials are available.
Is the cover stock you’re specifying available in Europe or Asia? To avoid gaps in material supply, talk to the printer at the outset and ask to see samples before doing the design or asking for prices.
“It might be possible to get special items if you have the time to do so,” says Clark.
10. Let the overseas printer source add-on services.
Publishers just getting into overseas sourcing or those who do not have the staff do to the work internally, should let the printers do all the sourcing of secondary services for them such as outsourcing the manual insertion of CDs or children’s book add-ons.
“Importing and exporting goods from one factory to another in China is extremely complicated,” says Leach. “Most reputable printers do not add much cost onto these outside purchases. Mostly they try to recoup the transportation costs and the cost to prepay for each item, knowing they won’t get paid by the publisher for another month or two.”
11. Make sure legal contracts address potential problems.
When sourcing work offshore, issues can arise over who owns intellectual property rights in software, database architecture, design and a variety of other areas. To avoid headaches, “be sure that contracts specify what will be returned to you and at what cost if you want to withdraw from a deal,” recommends Morris.
If a problem arises, experts say to resolve it like any issue in the United States. Be forewarned that, while litigation is fairly rare and experts say it is generally
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not a major issue, if it happens, the going can be slow.
“If a relationship has deteriorated to the point of litigation, it will be very difficult to fight, as you are dealing with international law,” says Leach.
12. Choose the right project for overseas printing.
Many four-color printing projects make sense for overseas printing. Leach recommends avoiding one-color digest work and component printing where publishers outsource the cover overseas, but keep the text and binding in the United States.
Crawford recommends outsourcing typesetting, especially to English-speaking countries. He avoids outsourcing design and editorial aspects of the book production, such as substantive editing, copy editing, proofing or indexing.
Clark says he sees almost everything sourced offshore, from print-on-demand books to short-run brochures, but says that the economies of larger runs make overseas sourcing the most attractive.
13. Expect the unexpected.
When dealing with an overseas supplier, language, cultural and corporate issues are bound to arise. “Remain alert at all times to the fact that unexpected aspects of the relationship may prove problematic and may require compromise,” says
Crawford. Publishers will avoid a lot of headaches if they are familiar with their supplier’s holiday schedule. Don’t expect a project to ship if the printer is closed for a national holiday.
14. Communicate, communicate and communicate!
Clark, who has worked globally for more than 25 years, stresses the importance of communicating to ensure successful partnerships. “Talk through prepress, what materials are needed or available, schedules, terms, customs and delivery issues, copyright issues (especially on CDs), binding styles and materials—and ask for ideas or if there could be problems.”
15. Stay in close contact.
Can you work within the constraints of the printer’s time zone? Arrange regular conference calls and account reviews that mesh with everyone’s schedule.
Also, keep in mind that when outsourcing projects overseas, silence at the other end is not golden. “Silence usually means something has gone wrong,” says Morris.
Cheryl Dangel Cullen, president of Cullen Communications Inc., is a writer and author of 15 books on marketing, printing and graphic design. She’s a contributing writer to scores of trade and consumer publications. Visit her Web site at www.CullenCommunications.com.