Cover Story: Top 30 Book Manufacturers
Doug Symington, general sales manager, Friesens
BB: What are the most important trends you’ve seen in the book printing market over the past year?
Symington: … Shorter runs. Where before [publishers] would have printed 50,000 [copies], now it’s 25,000. Publishers are also doing a lot more short runs of under 10,000, in cases where they perceive they don’t know the market for the book. …
BB: What is driving the use of shorter print runs?
Symington: There was too much inventory out there before, and inventory has a cost. Even if it made more sense to print a lot of books to make the P&L of the book work, there is a cost to grinding them up, … to storing them …, so … publishers have gotten smarter about inventory levels.
BB: Have newer technologies made it possible to provide these options?
Symington: Absolutely. Digital, for example. Last year we bought [an inline] digital press; … it did not work exactly the way we wanted, so we’ve switched to Nuvera, by Xerox, and we’re having great luck.
The digital quality now is very, very comparable to our web press. So … technology is allowing publishers, if they’re doing a trade paperback book with insert, to do 7,500 in the first run, and if it sells well, they can do a shorter run, 1,000 downwards for digital, and keep older books alive that way.
[If] you can move from sheetfed to one-color web to digital, you’ve got a lot more avenues for what you can … produce. You have to be very flexible.
BB: What are important trends going forward?
Symington: You hear so much about things like the Kindle, but the most important trend is [that] … books aren’t going to disappear; but when you publish a book or print a book, you have to recognize that, over its life span, it will be delivered in different formats. That might mean it starts as a sheetfed product, moves to the web and then goes digital.
The other trend is differentiating clearly in the marketplace what digital printing and print-on-demand [POD] mean, because people use those terms interchangeably and to me they are not interchangeable. POD is one copy through an Espresso [book machine] or through a warehouse; digital could be anywhere from 200 to 1,500 copies. They are two very different beasts.
BB: What about strategic moves in this economic climate?
Symington: We are … 103 years old, … 100-percent employee-owned, we don’t carry any debt. … We just finished our largest-ever expansion last year, spending $13 million building a new plant, buying a new web press, so for us, it’s business as usual.
We’ve ridden through various economic downturns. … We want to come out at the other end well-prepared. … Are we watching costs … more closely? For sure. … But on the other hand, we’re bullish. We don’t see books going away anytime soon. Maybe the shape and form changes a little bit, and we have to offer some other options, but we’re bullish.