Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Newly published author could write a book on experiences in outsourcing

For East Toledoan Tom Eckert, a five-year book-publishing odyssey has been a lesson in ever-changing technology and global economics.

Mr. Eckert, a 71-year-old retiree, never thought writing a book had anything to do with Internet spam or offshore outsourcing.

He finished his Toledo-based novel, Lethal Twins, last fall, and it was published this month - but only after a computer upgrade, seemingly endless sessions with help-line people, and finally a publishing house that suddenly moved its customer-service operation offshore to save money.

It was so simple when he began writing the book.

All it required was some pencils and a stack of notebooks. He wrote most of it in longhand, later switching to an old manual typewriter, then an electric typewriter, and finally a computer.

He's not exactly a pro with computers, but he has some experience with two computers, two dial-up online services, and lots of unwanted e-mail.

And he now has some experience with outsourcing - along with millions of other Americans.

Hundreds of U.S. corporations have moved some operations overseas - particularly in such fields as information technology, customer support, data processing, accounting, and medical transcription.

A study by the University of California at Berkeley made the grim prediction that within a decade as many as 14 million American jobs could end up in places like India, China, the Philippines, Ireland, Russia, Israel, and South Africa.

In December, Mr. Eckert signed up with Xlibris Corp., a Philadelphia "publish-on-demand" affiliate of Random House Inc. that digitized self-published books to be printed and bound only in the quantities ordered.

His book was to have been published about a month ago.

But in late July, he got an e-mail announcing "exciting news we are doubling our number of customer-service representatives" and promising "a higher level of quality, faster turnaround times, and an overall better production experience."

The e-mail went on to disclose that the Philadelphia offices would be closed for several days while the new facility in the Philippines opened.

After the new office started up, Mr. Eckert began to worry. He uses a hearing aid and found it difficult to understand some of the callers from the Philippines, and one fax got lost and had to be re-transmitted.

At first he wasn't sure how rapidly calls and e-mails would be returned from an office 12 time zones away (pretty quickly, he discovered, as most of the workers' shifts are scheduled to match U.S. business hours).

"The only real detriment I found was the [slight] delay in getting the first book," said Mr. Eckert. "I don't care where it's published."

The Philadelphia Inquirer shed some light on what happened. Xlibris laid off about 35 customer-service workers and moved the jobs to the Philippines, and "by relocating the work to a country where wages are lower, the company can triple the number of people doing similar work for the company," the newspaper explained.

"The jobs here paid about $24,000 a year. In the Philippines salaries for replacement workers are about one-fifth of that."

Outsourcing has generated a lot of controversy, including debates over the actual numbers of workers involved and the effects on U.S. workers. The practice, which has become a political issue, has its critics and defenders.

Critics say outsourcing hurts the economy and could cause wages to drop in the United States.

But proponents say outsourcing benefits the economy by helping lower the cost of living and keeping the U.S. standard of living high.

Despite the initial confusion, a bit of a delay, and some worrying, the finished product came out just as expected, said Mr. Eckert. He recently received the long-awaited package with the first copies of his book. "This is a very happy day," he said.

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