A Textbook Case
Many a truth is spoken in jest. That's certainly the case with an old but insightful publishing industry tale.
It goes something like this: A publisher's print buyer and printer's salesperson are having lunch. The print buyer says, "What can your printing plant do for me?" To which the salesperson replies, "We can give you the best price, the utmost in quality, and the fastest service. Pick any two."
Buyers and printers build relationships. They work together to produce quality products at fair prices in a reasonable time span. Buyers naturally remain with printers who serve them well over the years.
But times are changing. Needs are changing. Budgets are changing. Demands are changing. Publishers today need the best price, the utmost in quality, and the fastest service, and aren't content to "pick any two".
Growing numbers of print buyers are scrutinizing projects, and wondering if they have the right printer. Price, quality, and service are standard fare for any successful printer today. Those who offer only two of the three classic requirements will find fewer top-tier publishers patronizing their services.
For educational publishers in particular, far less time is available for developing products. Almost half of the 50 U.S. states now have textbook "adoption committees" that select textbooks for six or seven years of students' use.
Prior to the adoptions, the states require publishers to submit their intent to enter the process. These are dubbed "adoption calls".
State budgets, of course, determine how much (if any) money can be spent on new textbooks. This is true in states with adoption committees, as well as "open territory" states (states that choose textbooks in other ways, such as by district or by school).
Regardless of the selection process, most states' textbook budgets are lean and getting leaner, the result of budget cuts. Of every education dollar budgeted in the U.S., just one cent is allocated for instructional materials. One cent!
It's no wonder many classrooms have textbooks over 10 years old, while others don't even have enough textbooks of any vintage to equip all their students. And yet, despite economic constraints, states are demanding more customized textbook products.
Not just workbooks. Not just teacher's editions for the largest adoption states. Nearly 20 states now require textbook products specific to their curriculums. Publishers must invest liberally to develop customized programs for each curriculum area.
Customized textbooks require advanced publishing skills on the part of the publisher, advanced prepress skills on the part of the printer, and advanced digital versioning technology all around.
Multiple customized layers must be added to base textbook files, like building blocks. These layers are turned on or off, depending on which version of a book is being printed. There can be over 20 layers to each page of a base file, making customized textbook publishing a potentially monumental task.
Indeed, a successful reading program can cost a publisher $60 million or more to develop. And when a state delays adoption calls, the affect on publishers' balance sheets can be immediate and devastating.
It's a conundrum for modern textbook publishers who demand price, quality, and service to remain competitive in a harsh marketplace.
Clearly textbook publishers and printers must work together far more closely than ever before, to ensure a seamless and error-free production workflow. As such, print buyers today must continually reevaluate their choice of printers.
For an educational publisher, this means working with printers that understand and are well positioned to meet the unique demands of state textbook adoptions.
Some questions to ask of your current printers: Can they deal with multiple versions of a textbook? Are they well versed in Manufacturing Standards and Specifications for Textbooks (MSST), the guidelines established to meet all National Association of State Textbook Administrators (NASTA) requirements? MSST establishes minimum standards for areas such as paper, binding, board, and cover coatings.
Trends in printing for educational publishing demand that print buyers continually reassess their current providers, and continually search for new printers who can meet the day's demands.
This isn't easy. Larger educational publishers often have corporate groups that negotiate with printers for lower costs and shorter cycle times.
As a textbook printer, our strategy at Webcrafters is to recognize these market realities, and invest in a comprehensive response. Our singular aim: to provide textbook publishers with a printer partner who understands the market and, as such, can help them maximize their creative edge and competitive advantage.
To that end, we provide customized customer service, expert digital prepress capability, quality printing and binding, and can meet customized state adoption textbook requirements--all with incredibly fast and cost-effective turn-around.
As part of our ongoing investments, we're adding case binding early next year. This in addition to perfect, saddle stitched, and spiral binding options, will strengthen our four color printing capabilities for educational and trade book manufacturing markets.
In textbook publishing, change is constant. That might mean seeking another printer, if your printer can't deliver price, quality, and service.
Today, it's incumbent upon print buyers to ask, "What can your printing plant do for me?" Our reply: "We can give you the best price, the utmost in quality, and the fastest service. Take all three."
Sue Nisson is national sales manager for Webcrafters Inc., Madison, Wis. She can be reached at SueNisson@AOL.com.