At a single gymnastics event, pro photographer John Cheng might shoot between 40,000 and 120,000 digital pictures, depending on the size of the tounament and the number of contestants. He makes his living by selling those images to the gymnasts’ families. It is the kind of business that requires rapid turnaround of a vast number of images.
Based in Connecticut, one of the most popular items in Cheng’s portfolio is collage images. Creating collages requires separating the gymnasts from the original background of a photo and layering those silhouetted images over a new background image he also shot. That means painstakingly drawing clipping paths around several images. To create one collage could take between two and three hours, and he was doing all the work himself. Realizing that portion of his business wasn’t very lucrative, Cheng decided to drop the collage offering from his service menu.
But his clients would not let him. The demand to resume offering the collages was so great that Cheng decided he needed to find another way to process the images besides sitting on his computer for hours on end to create the images. He contacted several local companies that offered such services, and it became clear that the prices they were quoting just would not fit his business model. He would either need to continue to leave the collage offering out of his list of services or price the service out of reach. Neither was a good option.
Cheng attempted to get answers to his dilemma the way most of us do today: he “Googled” it and discovered a company in India that specializes in just the type of work he needed. The firm does retouching and clipping paths as their main business. He sent them a few sample images and, within 24 hours, had finished images and a price quote that was about a fifth the price he had gotten from U.S.-based vendors.
That price difference isn’t really typical, according to Raj Shah, who founded the company in Mumbai that performs the work for Cheng, but he estimates that his U.S.-based clients routinely save 40 percent to 60 percent on average when they send work to him. Shah keeps a staff of 15 graphic artists busy from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., five days a week, in his graphics studio, Global Solutions India, which he founded 10 years ago at the not-so-ripe age of 19. What might come as a surprise is that several U.S. clients we spoke with confirm that, although price is certainly a factor, quality is the bar by which work has to be measured. Cost is actually secondary. In fact, some clients had tried U.S. sources first, but found the quality to be lacking in comparison to the work done in India.
Shah understands that sending work overseas can be a sensitive issue for his U.S. clients. “At times, clients are sensitive and we understand their concern. But we are living in [a] global market, and even India sends a lot of business to U.S. and other countries. Similarly, we have WalMart and other U.S. companies doing business here, so it wouldn’t be right to have restrictions on anyone.”
Nancy Starkman, who owns Star Print Brokers in Bellevue, WA, has learned from experience that not all overseas service providers put quality first. “When discussing outsourcing, just like printers or designers in the U.S., or printers and designers overseas, not all resources are created equally. What my company brings to the table is that we’ve already tested and approved our vendors, and we stand behind our work. We do volume work, so we get lower trade rates.”
Overseas Quality: Some Good, Some Not So Good
Starkman warns that finding a good service provider overseas can be costly and time consuming. “If clients are interested in going direct, they have to work out the same issues we did long ago and take their losses unless they are lucky with the first vendors they try. When working overseas, you don’t have the protection we do here in the U.S. You can’t complain to the Better Business Bureau. Filing a lawsuit is not a much of an option either, so you take your chances.”