Top Book Manufacturers: Printers Adapt by Following the Market
"The impact of digital technologies has been felt mainly in directories, forms and statement printing, as electronic communication and transaction technology has eliminated or devalued the role of many traditional paper forms," RR Donnelley noted in a recent SEC filing. "Electronic substitution has continued to accelerate in directory printing, in part driven by environmental concerns and cost pressures at key customers.
"Despite rapid growth in adoption of e-books," the filing continued, "the company does not believe there has been a significant impact on the volume of print, and management does not expect any significant reductions in the short-term. However, management does expect to see lower long-term growth in print-book volume as e-book penetration continues to expand."
Although "volume decline was immediate" for books when the recession hit, "it danced around a number that was dramatic, but manageable," says Kevin Spall, president of Thomson-Shore. "It wasn't a drop of meteoric proportions. … Printers who were able to get their costs in line were able to manage in relatively good shape compared to catalogs, where some people were devastated."
Spall says volumes have stabilized in the last three months, and certain segments are growing. Within that context of renewed growth, however, comes seemingly permanent shifts in print business models.
"The E-revolution Has Been
Spall purchased an Amazon Kindle last year, but first-hand experience with the e-book reader does not leave him shaking in his boots.
"I've become a little less 'the sky is falling,'" he says. "E-books will play a considerable role, at least as much as the audio-book market or more. On the other end of the spectrum, I just spoke to someone who believes 50 percent of books [sold] will be e-books in five years, and I don't think [that's accurate]."
For all the attention surrounding the launch of the iPad, the rise of this new reading format is, Spall believes, a manageable revolution—a market development that can be folded into manufacturing strategies, much as audio books were in the 1980s.