China storms the printing market
Printing News
China storms the printing market

FRANKFURT (AFP) — China's economic expansion is fast making it a force to be reckoned with in the publishing world, exhibitors at the world's biggest book fair said Wednesday as it opened its doors.

China's strength is its printing works and it has increased its presence at the Frankfurt fair by 30 percent this year in search of more business from international publishers, organisers said.

Southern China has become a printing stronghold after companies there spotted a market opening and moved quickly to improve their quality, often dispatching people to learn about the industry in Europe.

"Printing is more and more a question of cost and China has just taken off," said Manuele Bosetti from Hong Kong-based Media Landmark Printing, which does all its printing in southern China.

"In the beginning, the quality really was not there but they are smart at their job. They came and learnt from the Italians and not in everything, but in some ways they are matching the quality."

China Printing Corp., China's oldest state-owned printers, said the general economic boom meant it was suddenly facing stiff competition from a host of private printing works.

"We are absolutely trying to expand our market and business is very good but as the market has grown so big, we are facing a lot of competition," said the printing house's Qing Wei.

She said China's success in the market was a simple question of economics.

"Printing books in Europe and in the United States is expensive. We are cheap and our quality is good," Qing said.

The decade-old private competitor Hengyuan Printing Co., which is based in Guangzhou with a workforce of 600, said it was very aware of the need to keep up quality standards for clients in France, Italy, Spain, Russia and South Africa.

A representative of the company, Stephanie Chen, proudly showed off a French-language edition of the cartoon cat Garfield, with a pink, printed ribbon running across the cover.

"They come to us because we can do this. We have to be very careful and if we cannot do something to the standard required or within the deadline, we would rather turn it down," Chen said.

Hengyuan can handle print runs of 5,000 books and deliver to Europe within three to five weeks, she added.

The printing house's stand here is full of glossy, high-resolution coffee table tomes on anything from vintage cars to chateaux in France, where it has scored contracts with Editions Moliere, Hugo and Editions de Lodi.

The state is quite happy to have a host of private printing rivals, Chen said. "It is a really free market, we are encouraged."

French publishing house Groupe Fleurus' Mango division, which specialises in children's books, said it was increasingly commissioning Chinese printers to handle editions with complicated illustrations or inserts.

"It is becoming common to send books that require a lot of detail and are therefore very costly to produce, to China. The prices are in another realm. And we have no problem with the quality," Mango's Marion Girona said.

The president of the Spain's publishers' association, Antonio Maria Avila, said half of the books that Spanish houses produce for the Spanish market in the United States, are now printed in China.

"Fifty percent of these books are printed in China. They are often shipped straight from there to San Francisco," he told AFP.

"The reason is very simple -- it is much cheaper."

The Frankfurt fair will host China as its special guest of honour in 2009.

Meanwhile, a massive row erupted over its decision to choose the culture of Catalonia as this year's guest.

Leading Spanish-language authors like Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Javier Cercas are boycotting the fair because they were initially not invited to represent the region, which is stirring with nationalist tensions.

The fair, which features more than 7,000 publishers from 110 countries, runs until Sunday.

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