My piano instructor (who also happens to be a fairly well-known artist) is interested in selling small prints of one of his paintings in China. I wanted to ask you if it would be cheaper to reproduce the prints here and ship them to China, or send a sample (or several samples) to China to be reproduced there. Also, in regards to distribution, I wondered if you’d know how I could find a company in China that would be willing to buy the prints and sell them. Also, if it helps at all, the prints are about 4″X6″, and are fully colored.
First off, I’m quite sorry that you didn’t include an image or two that we could feature here so we can see the art! If you have something you can share, please do mail it to me at gmail dot com, to the account d1taylor, and I’ll revise this entry to include it.
What you’re asking here is a common question in this age of limitless data transfer and connectivity: is it smarter for you to produce something locally where you can control the quality and gain the economies of scale, or is it better to produce things remotely in each customer market, thereby gaining faster delivery speeds and lowering your shipping costs?
I think that like so many things, there are pros and cons to each possible solution. Let me start by saying that there are some extraordinary printing service shops around the world, shops that could easily produce whatever art you have perfectly, with reliable packaging and quality shipping. The challenge, though, is to find them, and when you’re thousands of miles away, it can be even more difficult.
Further, a good run the first time they submit your order is not the same thing as having a reliable production system that ensures that the 318th print, two years later, is just as crisp, just as perfectly aligned and just as color-fast as the first.
To some extent, these are challenges at any printer, even the service bureau around the corner from your instructor’s piano recital hall, but I think that the further away they are, the more these problems can end up coming back to haunt you as your customers complain about shoddy packaging, poor print quality, missed deliveries, incorrect fulfillment, and more. China is a long, long way in both physical distance and business practices from the United States.
Shipping even a small, light package to China is difficult, slow and expensive too, but with UPS, DHL and FedEx all delivering worldwide, you could certainly print them locally and let the offshore customer make their own decision about whether they want the low-cost delivery (2-4 weeks), prompt delivery (one week, $20 extra) or overnight ($100 extra per order). Many companies do just that, allowing their customers the flexibility to make their own decision on speed versus cost.
If you did choose a Chinese printing company, I would unquestionably send them samples that were exactly what you sought from them and ask them to do a demo run and send you back a few examples of what they can produce off their own printer. Then ask a few Chinese friends to test out the service by sending in orders while you’re in a “beta phase” and see how the company handles fulfillment, printing and delivery on demand.
Finally, if you are thinking that this is going to be any sort of major business with a significant revenue stream, I would quite seriously consider traveling to China yourself and interviewing a half-dozen printing firms or more. The Chinese consulate and US Department of Trade can both help you make those connections, and in my experience, face to face contact is always the best way to start a business relationship.
Good luck to you!