Printing offshore illustrated books
Traditionally publishers of illustrated books have opted to print much of their four color work in China. Chinese experience, affordability and quality have long been the industry standard. But as the current US administration has installed tariffs to Chinese trade, this has severely cut into the feasibility of working with Chinese printers. At Four Colour Print Group we have printed in China for nearly 35 years, but in the last decade we’ve also built partnerships in South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. I spoke to our CEO George Dick and our Sales Director Paul Reber about printing in Malaysia as an alternative to China.
Since it may be an unknown quantity for many of our customers, I asked Paul why he would recommend printing in Malaysia? “The short answer is … tariffs. Malaysia, however, also offers cheaper labor and a quick turnaround. The company we represent there is the same one we’ve represented for 35 years in China: Everbest. Our Malaysian plant is their sister company. So we have plenty of built up trust with them. We trust their quality and we trust their production.”
George added to this: “It’s interesting… the relationship that began Four Colour Print Group started in Hong Kong in 1985. And to this day it still exists on the basis of a handshake made that day between me and the son of the founder. That company eventually was purchased by a larger group in Singapore, which in fact has moved their book printing operation to Malaysia, mainly for the lower cost of labor. There’s a lot of labor and hand work involved with the binding of books.”
Environment and labor
What does the lower cost of labor mean to the employees at the plant, though? George points out: “This is one of our services, and part of our due diligence to inspect the plant to make sure the labor conditions are fair, and to make sure environmental practices are being followed." Four Colour Print Group only works with plants that have been personally vetted so we know we’re able to get the quality we and our customers expect, while ensuring the workers are treated fairly.
Equipment and quality
As Chinese facilities remain underutilized — even more so than previously given the new tariffs — they're less likely to invest in new equipment. Korea, which has higher labor costs, has invested in new equipment that offer labor saving features. In the meanwhile, Malaysia also has invested heavily in new equipment, including two new 8-color presses, a complete hardcover binding line, and new Smythe sewing machines. When you combine this with their lower labor costs, you've got a winning strategy. As George points out, "They are actively investing in that plant. Should any scheduling or capacity issues arise, printing in Thailand is a very viable option."
So what's the catch?
In a word: shipping. I asked Paul about this. "The production time is on par with anyone else, but shipping from port Klang adds one week to the schedule one normally experiences from China. That’s the main drawback with printing in Malaysia, though something like reprints or other less time-sensitive projects are a perfect fit."
What gives Malaysia the edge over China or Korea?
Besides the previously listed benefits and differences, Malaysia will source and stock paper from both China and Europe, as well as woodfree paper from Indonesia. So there are some significant benefits there, especially if you wish to print on Chinese paper which is not obtainable in Korea.
Malaysia is particularly good with children's books and board books. Our print partner there creates high quality books for major American publishers like Sterling and Hachette. If you have the extra lead time, you can have top quality printing in Malaysia at prices often more competitive than China. The lower prices are likely to persist, even without the tariffs, as China’s economy expands and labor prices keep increasing.
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