I had dinner last night with an Internet acquaintance who is knowledgeable about the printing industry here in Japan, with its reputation for high quality and high prices. I though I’d share some items from our dinner conversation.
- A few weeks ago, we decided to have some flyers printed in the US and shipped to Japan rather than pay three times as much to have them printed here. Yes, Japan also has companies specializing in cheap color sheets, but the conference organizers did not know how to access any of them, because most business here is still based on personal introductions.
- Japanese printers are required by law to print their names in books they print (perhaps on other goods, too—I didn’t ask). Therefore, they take an active interest in the quality of the work and will turn down jobs they feel would represent them poorly. Alternatively, they will advise or assist customers with design and other technical aspects to make the job right. Errors are still the customer’s responsibility, as in the US, but the relationship is less hands-off than in the US, where printers typically refrain from criticizing the files submitted by customers (well, they criticize them amongst themselves, but they don’t generally complain to their customers).
- Digital printing, particularly print-on-demand (POD), is not used for books here. The technology is available, but nobody is set up to do books with it. As a consequence, digital book orders go to the US for fulfillment. My accquaintance needs advance reading copies (ARCs) of a textbook he has written; and he’ll be ordering them from an American book manufacturer for export to Japan. He has seen samples from one American POD company and decided not to go with POD, as the quality would not pass muster with the school buyers he wants to approach. He was glad to learn that he could get short-run, high-quality digital printing in the US.
- The maximum textbook allowance for any college course (total for all required texts) is about $45. A big, full-color biology text with mylar overlays, CD, and the works might run about $30. The same book in the US would fetch up to $150. Most textbooks in Japan are under $10. The schools tell the publishers what they’re willing to pay, and the publishers like it or lump it. What the publishers do in return is book all orders for the following school year in November and print the exact number of books ordered. You snooze, you lose.