Cultural misunderstandings in a Chinese printing plant

When I need top quality printing for Ngaio Press at an affordable price, I usually head for Asia. When it’s full colour and hardback, there’s no sensible alternative. While I like to support local printers, they cost twice as much.

Recently I had to print Clare Gleeson’s marvellous book Meet Me at Beggs. I went straight to printers in Taiwan and China for quotes and chose Everbest Printing Co, which has done several books for me in the past. Everbest is a large printing works in Nansha that has printed many – possibly hundreds – of other books for New Zealand publishers.

Once again they did a top quality job – except for one tiny thing. Or rather four tiny things: red dots I’d carefully placed on photos to pinpoint particular people and buildings.

When Everbest sent me an advance copy of the book just before shipping, I looked through it and was delighted by the quality. It wasn’t until the third time through that I noticed a red dot was missing from page 30. Then saw it was absent in three other places.

Oh shit!

I checked the proofs they’d sent out. Thank heavens, the dots were all present. Not my error. Back to Everbest for an explanation…

The problem was a sharp-eyed person in their production team who had thought the dots were mistakes. Helpfully, he deleted them. A most unusual error, made with the best of intentions by a worker who couldn’t speak English and so couldn’t read the photo captions. Here’s an example, with the original caption:

Princes Street, 1866, showing Charles Begg’s premises (marked with a red dot).

The Everbest people admitted liability and were very apologetic. Their preferred solution was to manually stick little red paper dots on each of the photos in question. Understandably they weren’t keen on pulping the print run and starting again, and even suggested it would be a bad thing from an environmental point of view. They sent us a copy of the book with dots stuck in. It was well done – few readers would have noticed the dots were stick-ons.

We weren’t keen. They might do their best to get it right but human nature being what it is, we didn’t believe that each of thousands of dots could be placed ‘just so’. And there was no practical way to check. The author felt that her book would always seem second-best and as for the environment – well there would be an impact but at least books can be recycled.

We held out for a complete reprint. Everbest agreed to do it and the books are back on the press right now.

The book itself is a history of Charles Begg and Co, the pioneering New Zealand music (later electrical appliances as well) company that traded between the 1860s and 1970s and had branches throughout New Zealand. Meet Me At Beggs should be in bookshops by the end of October.

Would we print at Everbest again? Certainly – they’re good people and they do a great job.

Liz and I toured their plant a few years ago, while they were printing my own book, Piano in the Parlour. Here are some of the photos I took:

Scenes at the Everbest printing plant in Nansha, China (up the Pearl River Delta opposite Hong Kong.) The table of young women doing ‘fiddly’ work, above, is probably where thousands of red dots would have been stuck into the ‘Meet Me at Beggs’ books. It was an interesting plant. Plenty of high-tech equipment but no shortage of human hands for labour-intensive work. They all wore company polo shirts that proclaimed ‘The Choice of Excellence”. It’s hard to know how the workers felt about working there, but the atmosphere seemed good.

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4 Responses to Cultural misunderstandings in a Chinese printing plant

  1. nzbookgirl says:

    Thanks for such informative reading. I hope one day to be able to print something fabulous in a place like this. Hardback and full colour is just what I’ll need so it’s good to know a place that has a good reputation.

  2. Roslyn says:

    Good to hear that it came right. My experience with other Asian printers, especially Asia Pacific, has been equally positive, although you certainly need an eagle eye at the proof stage!

  3. Glad to hear that they’re reprinting. What an odd assumption to make without checking!

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