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The Business of Doing Books

The Business of Doing Books

By Eugene G. Schwartz

About Eugene

Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.

 

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Pub Expo: Book Printers and Publishers Are Alive and Well—Full Speed Into the Digital Age!

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An energized Publishing Business Conference and Expo, Book Business and Publishing Executive magazines’ annual event at the Times Square Marriott Marquis, March 19-21, was grounded in optimism and realism, and primed for a promising future in the digital age for book manufacturing and print-based book production.

Addressing the overflow audience at the Marriott's Astor Ballroom, our very own Joan of Arc at the ramparts, Editorial Director Noelle Skodzinski—fully armed with the arguments of comon sense and history to support her—sounded a much-needed balancing and defiant keynote to prevailing “stiff upper lip” scenarios about the decline of the publishing industry. She reminded us, paraphrasing from both Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the Encyclopedia Britannica blog’s notice that it had discontinued its venerable print edition, that publishing is not dead, change is okay, and that the future is alive with new opportunities in our pursuit of continued success and excellence in the publishing business.

In this manner she framed the themes of the conference keynoters. They included Sterling Publishing’s CEO Marcus Lever (“Quality, real quality, matters,” he said, and when you see it, “it looks amazing!”), Bloomberg Businessweek’s Editor Josh Tyrangiel (“Focus on what print can do rather than what it can’t do… and on the web we expect great stuff to find us”); and New York Times columnist David Carr’s interview with Josh Quittner, Editorial Director of Flipboard (“People want what we do. The audience is immeasurably large.”)

All of the two days of keynoters say continuing opportunity for publisher who provide what distributors and readers still need—curating, organizing and delivering content; allocating investment resources; and managing the business side of bringing author and reader together.

Digital Book Printers Take the Stage

The great story of this expo’s long run from the last century to this year is told by the presence on the exhibit floor of major book manufacturers such Donnelly (newly expanded into content management services through its acquisition of Libre Digital), Quad/Graphics (Kingsport and Rand McNally Book Manufacturing traditions live on!), Courier Graphic Services (keeping Dover alive on its publishing side!) and Thomson Reuters (bringing its newly acquired West Publishing’s book manufacturing plant into the digital book printing market); not to mention the many stalwarts present including Bang, Bridgeport, Cushing-Malloy, Friesens, McNaughton and Gunn, Walsworth and Webcom among others.

Out of a program whose varied events deal with marketing, distribution and content management in the digital age, I feel it is especially useful to focus in this report on the importance to the industry of Pub Expo’s substantial commitment to the inclusion of print technologies in its offerings to the professionals who attend annually for industry updates.

Pub Business Expo remains the one venue at which print manufacturers can reach vendors in the digital and content management space at the same time as connecting with publishing production and marketing people. Industry professionals, increasingly trained to manage content work flows born digital, have few ways in which they can keep current on what is required to efficiently manage and blend the design, pre-press and operational requirements of both print and digital multi-platform production.

A key value proposition for attendees at trade conferences such as Pub Expo comes about through demonstrations, conversations and networking with the major service, equipment and resource providers in the industry.

Where else would you learn about—along with presentations of state-of-the-art options for e-book design and conversion, manufacturing features of interest to you in product design that define the limits and possibilities of digital print production:

  • The features of equipment manufacturer presses for toner and ink-jet based technologies in b/w and color, and why printers choose the equipment they have—often installing presses made by three or four different manufacturers.
  • the difficult chemistry involved in creating a high-speed ink-jet-compatible coated paper such as Appleton’s Utopia manufactured in Wisconsin (www.utopia.com) that is expanding the reach of quality digital print production,
  • The intricate capabilities of binding and finishing devices hooked to high speed presses as evidenced by Standard Finishing Systems equipment manufactured by Horizon in Japan and Hunkeler in Switzerland (www.standardfinishing.com).
  • The diverse edition binding as well as state of the art digital demand printing capabilities of independents such as the historic plant of Bridgeport National Bindery (www.BNBindery.com), and the demand printing and one-off services of more recently founded independents such as Kentucky based BR Printers (www.brprinters.com) and Illinois based Publishers’ Graphics (www.pubgraphics.com). 
  • How the elegant niche of genuine and bonded leather cover materials are marketed by a more than 100-years-old NY-based Cromwell Leather Co. (www.cromwellgroup.com).

Pub Expo Unique in Blending Print and Digital events

The well-targeted conference program provided tracks that focused on managing e-book development, applications to portable devices and e-commerce, and distribution strategies; executing a multi-platform production and distribution strategy, boosting social media traffic, driving readers to book content through online discoverability and retailing strategies.

Worthy of mention was the series of three workshops by Joshua Tallent, Founder and CEO of eBooks Architects. Tallent combines the best of technical understanding, applications experience, design and editorial sensibility with the ability to present clearly the state of the art. From him you will learn the limits and potentials of ePub, why ePub3 isn’t ready for prime time (it hasn’t yet been adopted by re-sellers and portable devices) and how portable devices limit the utility of any automatic or enhanced text file conversions without additional treatment beyond simple chapter book running narratives.

Pub Expo balances plenary with breakout sessions, brief technology solutions updates, special half-day intensive workshops and all-day special conferences. These included the digital printing forum, mobile strategy summit for book publishers, TH(ink) E-Reading Summit, Social Media Workshop and App Forum.

Pub Expo’s transition in its themes and content during the past five or six years mirrors that of a print-centric industry that has worked its way through both trying as well as excitingly opportunistic times for both legacy and new businesses.

Not into denial about marketplace transformations, conference speakers and exhibiting manufacturers saw print as a continuing editorial and marketing baseline.  From this base digital editions and electronic publishing will spring and assume lives of their own as growth in use of reading devices and portable multimedia strategies continue to explode.

An expo presence enriched by providers such as Adobe, Mark Logic, Texterity and other software and content management and distribution services provides a foundation for a broader electronic media presence; Pub Expo attendees also rely on these services.  Broading the reach of their presence in upcoming years will be of benefit to vendors serving an audience of people responsible for running their publishing businesses in a multi-media and multi-platform age.

Equipment Manufacturers Report Inkjet Technology & Productivity Gains

Interquest Ltd.’s seventh annual all-day Digital Printing Forum is one of the distinguishing highlights of Pub Expo (www.inter-quest.com). The explosive growth in productivity and equipment supply for inkjet technologies featured at the event reminded me of Frank Romano’s forecasts 10 and 15 years ago that inkjet would eventually replace offset as the dominant print technology. There is little or no market for a fully functioning used offset press in its prime today.

Hewlett-Packard’s Scott Schiller, Director of World-Wide Ink-Jet High Speed Production Solutions, on a panel of leading equipment manufacturers including Oce, Ricoh and Xerox, reminded us that these manufacturers are not investing billions of dollars in new printing technologies on false hopes. They continue to improve on the performance of 650- to 750-feet/minute equipment that can produce a perfect full-color book one at a time. HP launched its Indigo ink-jet line of presses in 2009, and saw a five-fold increase in sales between 2010 and 2011. (www.hp.com/go/graphicarts).

John Conley, Xerox Vice President for Commercial Print and Publishing, whose then-pioneering workhorse Docutech technology 30 or so years ago launched us into the book-at-a-time and self-publishing  era, reported that more than 200 million black-and-white books were digitally produced this year, with volume growing 10 or 15 percent a year (www.xerox.com). This is, ironically, in contrast to the steady decline each year of overall manufactured book units that include conventional offset production as reported by Interquest and others.

Kris Albee, Continuous Feed Marketing Director of Oce-Canon North America introduced its 8 new ink jet products that can produce 60,000 four-color pages/hour and 80,000 books a month (www.oceproductionprinting.com). George Promis, Continuous Forms Production Solutions Vice President for Ricoh cited 200 ink jet placements last year that produced 15 billion four-color pages (www.infoprint.com).

Enterprise examples of this expansion of digital print technology and productivity were discussed by panels of digital printers, ink and paper providers and publisher/users. Those appearing on a panel who presented interesting new toner- and inkjet-based demand printing models include Bookmasters (www.bookmasters.com) BRPrinters (www.brprinters.com), Publishers Graphics (www.pubgraphics.com), and SCI Graphics (www.sciimage.com). 

Not in denial about marketplace transformations, conference speakers and exhibiting manufacturers saw print as a continuing editorial and marketing baseline from which digital editions and electronic publishing will spring and will assume lives of their own as growth in use of reading devices and portable multimedia strategies continue to explode.

Book manufacturers I spoke to on the floor of the expo all echoed versions of the same vision. They viewed their missions as providing a range of publishing production and distribution services centered on the printed and electronic book. As survivors in a marketplace whose shrinkage and uncertainties found many in the industry threatened and unprepared to deal with the challenge, they bit the bullet and are managing the transformation of their businesses with relish.

Book manufacturers are now in the multi-platform publisher services business for buyers for whom the well-made printed format is an integral feature of their product offerings.

For the year 2013, a newly expanded Pub Expo is moving its event schedule to September. It promises to be a great way to launch the new publishing season. And, for us veteran conference and forum goers, it will lighten the heavy load of Winter-Spring trade conferences that have crowded in on us.

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