One rarely encounters more acronyms than you will when you start to discuss how to ship your manufactured book from Asia to its distribution facility–be that a publisher’s warehouse, Amazon, or your garage. FOB, CIF, DDU, DDP, AWS, LCL, FCL, POA’s, CBM’s . . . they’ve got a million of them. Literally. That on top of the other esoteric vernacular of the business that actually uses real words: Bills of Lading, packing lists, cargo manifests, commercial invoices, marine cargo insurance, customs brokers, notify parties, consignees, fumigation certificates, palletization, liftgates, pallet jacks, pro forma invoices . . . there are enough weird words to scare most people into printing in the US and doubling their costs. But it really isn’t that hard, so don’t freak out. The solution is to simplify and use a “freight forwarder”. But what is a freight forwarder? Well, they are your best friend if you ever need to put books on a boat and ship them someplace.
If you print your book overseas and need to import it back to the US or to a client anywhere in the world—or if you need to export books from the US to an overseas destination—then some sort of transport will need to be arranged: either air or ocean cargo. As air shipping can be extremely expensive and typically only used for sample copies or in the case of an emergency, most publishers will opt for containerized ocean shipping, and that is where your “freight forwarder” friends can help. A printer can give you an extra cost to arrange your shipment to your preferred port, warehouse, or to your doorstep, but ultimately it is not a printer who will be dealing with the freight . . . it will actually be handled by a “freight forwarder” who has a relationship with the folks at the ocean shipping lines (who will not return your calls). If you use your printer or print broker to arrange shipping to your destination, it is likely that they are adding a (sometimes quite large) surcharge for the arrangement and are ultimately contracting the shipment with a freight forwarder anyway . . . so your best bet is to go directly to a freight forwarder and cut out the middleman mark up.
A freight forwarder has volume contracts with the large shipping lines, so they get the best rates. They will coordinate pick-up with the printer, transport of your cargo, documentation, customs clearance (if you want them to), and delivery to your destination, and keep you looped in along the way. A forwarder can give you a very firm estimate based on the weight, volume, and destination of your freight before it ever departs, so that you have accurate costs to use for your P&L. Freight forwarders are also experts at consolidating your cargo with that of other customers with goods heading to the same port, so they can use that combined volume to pass along better pricing. As freight forwarders are in the business of moving freight–whereas printers are in the business of printing books–you can also get quick and accurate answers to your shipping concerns versus using an intermediary. They make it happen, and they do it at the best possible cost. Steelhead has relationships with the very best forwarders in the business and will connect you with them, and will get your freight where it needs to be on time and at a reasonable price.