4 Takeaways From the Digital Book Printing Conference 2016
Volumes of printed pages will decrease significantly over the next four years, according to an IT Strategies study. VP of IT Strategies Marco Boer told attendees at yesterday’s Digital Book Printing Conference that the volume of printed pages will decline 7.4% from 2007 to 2020, totaling over 5 billion pages lost. As demand for print decreases over the next few years, book publishers are tasked with finding new ways to drive efficiencies and revenue. This is a future publishers need to prepare for now, said Boer. That was the goal of the third annual Digital Book Printing Conference, held in New York City yesterday, to help publishers and printers take advantage of digital book printing and prepare for the future. The event attracted over 130 book publishers, printers, and equipment manufacturers and explored the latest trends and technology shaping digital printing and the future of the book industry. Here are a few of the highlights.
Inkjet Is Becoming More Affordable, Meaning Larger Digital Print Runs
In the kickoff session, Boer declared inkjet the vehicle that will drive greater adoption of digital book printing. Inkjet is a method of digital printing that sprays ink directly on the page. It is a wet printing process, which makes it hard on the thin paper stocks that book publishers typically use. Currently publishers have to pay for more expensive, treated papers or specialty inks if they choose to print using an inkjet press. But Boer explained that inkjet is about to enter a disruptive phase where more common paper stocks can run through an inkjet press. This improvement will make it much more affordable for publishers to print runs of 1,500-5,000 titles using digital printing methods, said Boer. Once this happens, many more books will be printed digitally and may one day surpass offset, said Boer.
Digital Printing Makes Economic Sense for Publishers
Although inkjet is becoming more affordable, the fact remains that the per-unit cost of printing a book digitally is still higher than the per-unit cost of offset. But unit cost is an outdated way to think about the cost of book printing, said Macmillan Learning CEO Ken Brooks during a keynote session on digital printing economics. Offset, despite its low unit cost, requires a “print and pray” model where publishers use unreliable forecasts to anticipate consumer demand and print the appropriate quantities. This guesswork leaves publishers susceptible to returns, stock-outs, and costly pulping of unsold inventory. “Print forecasts are often wrong,” said Brooks. “Demand fluctuates a lot throughout the life of a book. That exposes you to stock-outs which means lost sales.”
One of the best ways for publishers to avoid the cost of stock-outs or the expense of holding onto unsold inventory is to embrace a print-on-demand strategy, said Brooks. In between offset printings publishers and use print-on-demand, a model in which publishers print and ship books after they have been purchased. Sometimes these titles can be shipped to the retailer or customer in less than 24 hours.
Oxford University Press has adopted a similar short-run, digital printing model, explained stock planning team leader Lisa Ford during a panel discussing new revenue and cost-saving opportunities in digital print. “My goal is to have all of our titles in print and never miss a sale,” said Ford. “We do still have some titles out of print, but we have much fewer than in the past.”
Collaboration Is Key to Streamlining Printing Processes
Making digital printing work does take some investment, like agile inventory planning systems and order management. During another panel, Lynn Terhune global digital print manager at John Wiley & Sons, and Diane Degener, senior IT business analyst at LSC Communications, explained how they collaborated to implement more agile systems to better manage Wiley’s book orders and title management. “As book runs become shorter, the frequency of orders increases,” said Degener, “There’s no way we could have managed that volume of orders without automation.” To automate order management, LSC and Wiley implemented the XBITS standard. XBITS is part of the papiNET standard created by IDEAlliance. XBITS allows publishers to automate electronic orders sent to supply chain partners, like printers and retailers. The standard has since been adopted by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG).
While the order management system has taken years to develop, and is still being perfected, it has allowed Wiley and LSC Communications to take the manual work out of submitting orders and has reduced the amount of time it takes to print a book. That is driving significant cost savings for both organizations and eliminating the waste of the “print and pray” model.
Publishers & Printers Need to Embrace Change Management to Make Digital Printing Work
As many speakers noted throughout the conference, digital book printing requires a change in thinking and a change of workflow. Publishers need to consider the lifecycle costs of a book as opposed to unit costs, and they need agile systems that can quickly react to changes in demand. But change is not always an easy thing, which publishing and change management consultant Carolyn Pittis explained during her keynote “Making Change in the Publishing Industry.”
She said that there are three things many executives underappreciate when they try to drive change within their organization. Those are storytelling, neurochemistry, and simple measures. By storytelling, Pittis means that executives need to convey a meaningful explanation for change that resonates with their employees and motivates them to change how they work. Beyond telling a good story, publishers need to reward the positive changes that their employees make. Rewards influence our neurochemistry and help us build good habits, said Pittis. For example, calling out the success of an individual to the entire company in an email not only motivates that individual, but it influences the rest of the company and alters their habits, said Pittis. And finally, if publishing leaders hope to change how their teams work, they need to define measures of success and report on those measures regularly. “Time to market might be one measure,” explained Pittis. “Or the operating cost per title. This is how you can address true opportunities and costs.”