The Printers' Evolution
BB: How are market forces impacting your printing strategies and the suite of services you offer?
Spall: … Currently, we are spending a lot of time and R&D cost (both capital and expense) to improve our workflow and content-related services. This year, we will release a Web-based workflow that will create a tremendous amount of benefit to our customers and reduce our overall cost to produce.
… [Our] recent acquisition of The Bessenberg Bindery ... allows us to make gorgeous, one-off, casebound books for author editions, short-run sewn books with unsurpassed quality. We made this purchase with one motivation: to protect the art of high-quality book-making for publishers while giving them the opportunity to elevate their printed books above [those] of their competition.
BB: What segment(s) of the book market are currently most impacted by short- and ultra-short-run printing models?
Spall: All of our segments are using digital print in short- and ultra-short-run manners with slight variations. Within the trade segment, we commonly see publishers using ultra-short-run (one to 50 books) for [advanced reader copies (ARCs)] and for managing the end-of-life reprints. In the university press segment, we are seeing a lot of initial print runs using a short-run model (50 to 250), and our religious segment is using digital to produce reprints in varying run counts. Other segments such as graphic novels, [science, technical, medical (STM)] and journals use digital for short, ultra-short and, in some cases, over 500 count in order to expedite book delivery. …
BB: What's your near-term outlook for offset printing?
Spall: Clearly, at a macro, the number of printed units will contract, but I do not correlate that to a troubled outlook. The market is massive, and for a nimble manufacturer the future is bright. We see digital print as just another tool to get the job done and totally complementary to our offset platform. When it is best to use offset, we will use offset, and when it makes more sense to go digital, we will use digital. Our customers care about the quality and value of their printing, not how it is printed. Most pundits say that the tipping point for digital versus offset book printing is around the year 2020, and that may be close [to correct]. Clearly, ink-jet holds promise for higher quality at a lower cost, and we are watching that closely, but the offset press manufacturers are still outproducing digital presses when it comes to run counts above 500 units, and the quality is still better in the offset world. I think this will remain the case for a number of years to come, but the scale is beginning to balance out between the two technologies.