Industry Leaders Convene to Discuss the Promise of Digital Printing
Editor's Note: The following is a recap of the 2014 Digital Book Printing Conference. The conference will return this year on October 27th at the New York City Union League. Join keynote speaker Marco Boer, Printing Impressions, and Book Business for insights on the latest digital printing technology and unparalleled networking opportunities with leaders from all levels of the book supply chain. Register for the 2015 Digital Book Printing Conference here.
Last week Book Business and sister publication Printing Impressions held the Digital Book Printing Conference at New York City's Marriott Marquis. The first conference of its kind, the conference (AKA, DigiBook) brought together more than 150 book publishers, book manufacturers, and printing suppliers for a day of networking and education around digital printing. The event provided a platform for attendees to connect with different players in the book publishing supply chain and learn about the opportunities digital printing presents for the industry.
Marco Boer, VP of IT Strategies, kicked off the event with the apt keynote, "Harnessing the Advantages of Digital Book Printing and Manufacturing in an Industry Under Siege." Setting the stage for the sessions to come, Boer explained the forces that have made digital printing not only a viable solution, but a necessary one.
Boer credited self-publishing and ebooks with inundating the book market with a greater volume of titles and contributing to the dramatic drop in single-title sales the industry has experienced. "There has not been a bestseller that has sold more than 40 million copies since 2007," noted Boer, "and that was Harry Potter." With less volume per title, continued Boer, publishers are suffering substantial losses from returns and warehousing costs.
Boer, as well as several of the other speakers at DigiBook, lamented that the book industry, by and large, employs printing and inventory strategies from a bygone blockbuster era of book publishing. Yet market forces have compelled many to reassess the entire life-cycle costs of a title. Though its certainly no panacea, digital printing presents some solutions for altering how publishers procure and distribute physical books. Technology advancements have enabled more efficient and cost-effective digital printing that yields a much higher-quality product than what publishers may have experienced from digital in the past.
Following Boer's keynote, a panel of leading book publishers took to the stage to discuss how they are reinvigorating their businesses with new printing technology. "It used to be when offset was the only weapon we tried to print at minimum cost," said Bill Gadoury, VP of strategic sourcing and supply planning at Macmillan Science & Education, "Now because digital printing can save on inventory costs, we look at the total cost of ownership over the life of the title." Fellow panelist Brandon Nordin, director of the American Chemical Society, agreed saying that "most of my peers think of digital printing as inventory-less publishing."
Continuing this line of more nimble-minded thinking, Kirby Best, former president of POD book manufacturer Lightning Source, spoke to the crowd about using digital printing and print-on-demand technologies to reduce risk, reach new markets, and save costs. "The ability to print the exact quantity needed, when it's needed, and not fill warehouses full of books that will never be read is a real possibility with digital printing," said Kirby.
Speaking from the the "storyteller's" perspective was Karen Romano, a former production executive at Simon & Schuster, who discussed print's resilience and its future in the industry. "97% of people who read ebooks are still wedded to the printed book," said Romano. For print to continue to thrive, she emphasized that publishers and printers need to work together. "The relationships between printers and publishers are crucial. Both need to understand the complete supply chain."
To capture the point of view of the retail end of the supply chain, Peter Glassman, president of children's bookstore Books of Wonder and Michael Norris, book industry research consultant, fielded questions on how the industry is and should be responding to industry ground shifts caused by Amazon, ebooks, and the like. Both panelists spoke to the "experiential buying" that customers enjoy when shopping in an brick-and-mortar store -- something that can't be replaced by Amazon and that publishers should embrace.
Norris encouraged book publishers to find ways to embolden and empower traditional booksellers, who he feels are the true advocates of publishers' powers. "There are two kinds of retailers out there," said Norris. "The kinds that have a stake in [books], and those that don't."
Later in the day, digital printing equipment manufacturers, including Muller Martini, HP, Canon, Ricoh, and Kodak, shared their thoughts on the adoption of digital printing technology by book manufacturers. By providing modules that can modify existing machines, these suppliers are helping printers scale up their digital printing offerings as technology evolves.
Of course, printers themselves shared some thoughts on how their implementing digital printing to respond to publishers' needs. In some cases they're seeing the economics working out so that books that used to be printed in China can be printed in the U.S. and with quicker turn-around time. Elsewhere, George Dick, president of Four Colour Print Group noted that the quality of digital printing is approaching a point where its quality is comparable to offset. All agreed that whether digital printing is an apt solution for a publisher comes to a conversation about the specific printing needs of that publisher.
Connecting all the individual sessions was an undercurrent of excitement about digital printing's potential and the great lengths it has come over the past two decades. Bruce Watermann, SVP of operations at Blurb observed during the publisher panel, "It's just a matter of time for [digital printing's] quality to match that of offset. It's getting consistently better."
The Digital Book Printing Conference was made possible by the sponsorship of Canon Solutions America, Hewlett-Packard, Muller-Martini, Ricoh, Book Automation Inc., Glatfelter, Kodak, VITS International, Xerox, Courier, Four Colour Print Group, Total Printing Systems, and LBS.