Assessment of Chinese Printers at Book Expo America

For years, I have heard how inexpensive Chinese printers are for color printing compared to their U.S. printing counterparts.  And the couple of people I asked years back were very guarded in their answers.  Essentially, I got the feeling they wanted to keep the information to themselves as if it were a trade secret.

Anyone who attended the 2008 Book Expo America convention learned they are no longer a secret.  They were quite well represented.  In fact, printers from Korea, India, and Singapore joined their Chinese counterparts at Book Expo America.  Perhaps I was not looking but I noticed that there were very few American printers at the convention.

It would seem that these international players have gotten aggressive and come to our country and business convention to get some business from American publishers.

I chose to focus on the Chinese printers for a couple of reasons.  First, they appear to be the most price aggressive.  Second, I have a personal interest in eventually doing business in China and working with a Chinese printer would act as one economic bridge into that country.  It does not mean the other international printers could not do a good job but because of my personal interest and preference I am focusing on the Chinese Print Manufacturers.

There was an assortment of booths.  There were a couple that had large booths with very formal presentations.  These companies had Chinese representatives in business suits acting in a very “honorable” fashion.  There were other companies that had very bland and boring booths that were staffed with with people who spoke very little English.

Interestingly, I noticed many of the Chinese companies were concentrated in Shanghai and Guangzhou.  There were others that were in Beijing and Hong Kong.  AS it was explained to me, many of the printers are located outside of the major cities due to lower labor costs.  The samples provided by all the companies were almost always very professional and of high quality.

I have to say, as a whole, the Chinese representatives were very nice people to deal with.  But clearly, there was some cultural and language challenges to overcome on my part.  Although I am a Chinese-American, my conversational Chinese is nearly non-existent.  Fortunately, there was at least one representative that seemed to speak English.

One thing that was clear to me with ALL the Chinese printers is that very few understand the publishing business beyond what the major publishers represent it to be.  Meaning, the Chinese representatives understood very little of the economics of publishing aside from overall printing cost, unit cost, and shipping cost.  They had little awareness of warehousing, holding, and distribution costs.  They knew nothing about “Long Tail”.  They knew very little about short-run printing, accelerated publishing, audio publishing, or micro-publishing.

As large as Ingram is, Lightning Source and the other POD printers are still very much unknown entities to the Chinese printers.

After a few brief conversations, it was clear they were happy to cater to American companies that wanted to commit to print runs of 3,000 and more.  Many of the Chinese companies wanted print runs of 5,000 or more.  However, what they do not yet understand is that “long tail” and the boom of small, independent publishers will continue to erode at the core business of the “big best-seller” that large publishing houses love so much.

Anyone who visits this website knows that my focus is paving the way into the publishing business from ground floor to the level you prefer to be at.  This is going to be an upward trend.  The days of the traditional big-bestseller will continue to drop.  Traditional publishers who do not pay attention at the “lower levels” will find themselves out of business within 10 years.

And these Chinese printers who, so far, have an economic advantage because of cheap labor, will find themselves with an ever-increasing base of American publishers who are less willing to commit to larger print runs.

Basically, as far as I can tell, Chinese printers, are out of touch of the undercurrents going on in the publishing industry.  Obviously, I want to do business with them if I can but I am concerned that they might be slow to adapt.

As publishing technology continues to improve in the U.S., the Chinese printers may eventually find themselves niched into a smaller marketplace.

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