5 Takeaways from the Digital Book Printing Conference
Last week Book Business hosted the Digital Book Printing Conference with its sister publication Printing Impressions. The goal of the event, which brought together over 150 book publishers, manufacturers, and equipment suppliers, was to explore how publishers can take advantage of digital printing to reduce inventory and distribution costs and quickly deliver books to consumers.
While there are significant revenue opportunities in digital book printing technology (see takeaway #2 below), there are still challenges that publishers and book manufacturers must overcome. Improving internal IT infrastructure and metadata are critical if publishers hope to incorporate digital printing technology at scale, said Yvette Nora, director of global procurement at Reed Elsevier, during one of the day’s panels. Those capabilities will help publishers deliver book files directly to book manufacturers for quick, one-day turnarounds. Nora speaks from experience: 95% of Reed Elsevier’s science and technology division titles are produced on-demand and she is working to grow that to 100%.
In another panel, Bill Barry, sustainability & vendor partnership consultant for Macmillan, highlighted another challenge facing widespread digital printing adoption — the difficulty of producing large-volume titles digitally. Large-volume titles, i.e. bestsellers, still drive the majority of revenue for large trade publishers. Until digital printing can provide greater efficiency and cost-savings for these books, there is less incentive for the big trade publishers to print their books digitally.
But progress has been made, which Marco Boer, long-time printing consultant and emcee of the Digital Book Printing Conference, highlighted in his closing remarks. The following are Boer’s top 5 takeaways from last week’s event:
- “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” By this, Boer meant that book publishers must embrace significant cultural changes in order to fully embrace digital printing and reduced inventory models. Rather than managing warehousing, inventory, and shipping themselves, publishers must learn to trust book manufacturers to handle these expenses. And book manufacturers, Boer added, have to prove to publishers that they have the capability to take on inventory and distribution.
- “The savings from digital printing are very real for book publishers.” This was evident during a panel featuring James Gaskin director of content, publishing technology, and production at the Practising Law Institute (PLI) and Nora of Reed Elsevier. Both panelists said that by altering their internal structures to easily transmit book files to printers, they have set the stage for significant savings through digital printing. Gaskin described it as the “$90,000 door,” the door that connects the manufacturing and distribution departments, saving PLI $90,000 a year in shipping costs.
- “Book manufacturers are responsible for educating book publishers [about digital printing].” In other words, it’s up to book manufacturers to show how digital printing can reduce costs and help guide publishers through the internal changes needed to excel at this model. This is not an overnight process. John Edwards said during one of the day’s panels that it has taken Edwards Brothers Malloy years to prove to its customers that they can help them improve the book distribution process through digital printing.
- “We won’t be going to zero-inventory any time soon.” A big topic of conversation throughout the day was the possibility of book publishers reducing book inventory to zero through the help of on-demand, digital printing. A panel featuring Lynn Terhune, global digital print manager at John Wiley & Sons, Barry of Macmillan, and Edwards of Edwards Brothers Malloy, dove into this topic extensively. Terhune said that part of Wiley’s list is already zero-inventory, but it has never been the goal for Wiley to remove inventory completely. Barry explained this rationale further, “80% of books at a large trade publisher lose money or break even. It’s the top 20% of high-volume books that make up for those failed ventures. Those will never be POD, at least not in my lifetime.”
- “In three years book manufacturers won’t be able to compete without InkJet.” Boer credited Nick Lewis, president of Publishers’ Graphics with this line. InkJet technology is constantly improving its print quality. As that quality improves, book publishers will be able to print larger runs more quickly and efficiently. InkJet may be the key to getting those high-volume bestsellers closer to the zero-inventory model, said Boer.