Cover Story: Top 30 Book Manufacturers
Mike Collinge, president and CEO, Webcom Inc.
BB: What are the most important changes you’ve seen in the book printing market over the past year?
Collinge: One of the two key things is … reduced demand from many of the core publishing market segments in North America, driven either by the credit crunch or declining consumer demand. I think adjustments to those changing volumes … [has led to] decreases in margins and pricing throughout the industry to keep book manufacturing plants operating. So from a printer’s perspective, the challenge is to find new ways to improve productivity, [and] reduce spoilage and waste so that you can adjust to lower margins and increased competition.
BB: Do these new efficiencies involve technological or workflow changes?
Collinge: We have not been investing in new technologies to get that done. … We invested over $1 million in a 30-week productivity improvement program in 2008, which involved no investments in capital. It was a rework of process, best practices and measurements to make sure our employees … were increasing their productivity. We reduced waste and downtime, things along those lines. We looked at everything from our customer service right through our shipping and logistics. …
BB: Have you been able to avoid significant layoffs?
Collinge: Actually, we’ve been hiring throughout 2009, so we’ve been growing. Through the first six months, it’s been a decent year.
BB: Do you have any ‘green’ initiatives?
Collinge: In becoming a responsible and sustainable manufacturer, … we are trying to … make sure that our processes become “greener” … so we have a lineup of over 20 paper grades, the vast majority of which are FSC or high PCW [postconsumer-waste] recycled content. We’re trying to do as much of that at price parity as we can (versus traditional virgin paper). We’re working aggressively with our suppliers to bring that to bear.
We have a stated, measurable environmental policy. … It is available for all of our customers to review. From looking at our operations right through to establishing employee “green” teams, we are trying to progressively improve.
BB: Are these initiatives necessary now in terms of competitiveness?
Collinge: Not quite yet. I think for most publishers, quality and turnaround are expected, as well as [competitive] pricing. The ability to deliver sustainable “green” products is about No. 4 [on their priorities list]. … Certainly some of our best customers have a strong environmental commitment that matches the vision we are trying to work toward.
BB: Where do you see the industry going in the immediate future?
Collinge: The overall outlook is uncertain in the short term. Educational work was down in the first quarter … about 15 percent year over year, but there’s an expectation that some of the stimulus package aimed at state educational programs could have a spin-off effect that would be positive for books and textbook publishers. So there is some hope and expectation over the next six months, but overall [the market] is pretty depressed because of consumer spending.