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Business Times - 11 Aug 2009

Printers band together to woo Japanese publishers


A GROUP of companies from the Print Media Hub (PMH) has formed a consortium to use one another's strengths to penetrate the Japanese market.

PMH is a purpose-built industrial zone that brings together more than a dozen printing players, integrating pre-press and post-press activity with warehousing and logistics support. It has started hunting in a pack, most recently through a group study trip last month.

The trip included an option to take part in the Tokyo International Book Fair, which is attended by Japanese publishers such as Kodansha, Poplar and Pearson Education Japan. The Singapore printers split into two groups, each setting out to meet various Japanese publishers.

'Traditionally, individual printers act individually to engage publishers, following their own schedule,' says Thomas Chua, the leader of the PMH group and chairman and managing director of Teckwah Industrial Corp. 'But for this trip we set out our objectives and our approach very clearly beforehand. We acted as one, using Singapore Print Media Hub as our brand to pre-arrange meetings with publishers.

'After that we consolidated all the information obtained, so everybody knows what is happening and has information about who we met.'

Banding together gives the group a competitive advantage by allowing it to offer one-stop solutions. For example, some printers may specialise in finishing, while others specialise in printing services or logistics support. Individually, the printers are small and capable of taking care of smallish orders. But together they can cope with high volumes, offering clients flexibility and cost savings.

The group came about through communication between the management of the various printers. Working with existing Japanese contacts, the group was able to open new doors there, over a period of about six weeks.

'Japan is a difficult market to penetrate,' says Mr Chua. 'Our experience has been that even though they agree to meet us, they have many concerns, having no prior experience working with overseas printers.

'They have doubts on how overseas firms can print for them - not just in terms of quality, but cost, the actual process, timing and things like that. For them, it's not an easy decision.

'Because of this, we saw an opportunity. Presenting ourselves as a group, it becomes a question of when and how they can accept us. I think we have made a breakthrough.'

The Japanese printing industry has opened up to external suppliers, with an increasing trend to outsource printing in recent years due to low-cost pressure from other Asian countries. Tokyo was the fifth largest export market for Singapore's printing industry last year, accounting for $77.3 million worth of business.

'It doesn't matter if it is print-related material, books or any other value-added effects that is required by publishers, we have all these facilities at Print Media Hub,' says Richard Tan, managing director of Seng Lee Press, which is part of the PMH group.

The group-based approach in Japan is expected to bring in at least an additional few million dollars within three years, says Mr Chua.

The group has invited some Japanese publishers to visit PMH, and its long-term goal is to develop the hub as an 'icon of the Singapore printing industry'.

Representatives from PMH have also met International Enterprise Singapore to explore the setting up of an overseas representative office in Japan. Any printing company that believes in the group-hunting concept is welcome to leverage on the PMH experience, Mr Chua says.

'We want to open up so more and more printers will believe in this ideal and share our concept,' he says. 'If they can be the second PMH, why not?'