“There’s an application in every discipline,” he says. “It’s not the most economic option, but in many cases, time sensitivity outweighs the price. …
“If you fixate on unit cost, digital will never look as attractive as offset,” Paeglow adds. “But if you look at total dollars spent, if that inventory is unsold or takes 24–30 months to sell, that’s cash you are tying up. As it becomes more cost-effective, you are seeing major players such as Oxford University Press using six-month inventory and writing off product at the six-month level. It’s a whole different philosophy to managing inventory.”
The trade market has been slower to adopt a hybrid or purely digital model than the textbook, elementary-high school and academic markets, where small print runs and higher price points have long been the norm. Being driven more by front-list titles and faced with smaller profit margins, digital can seem to some trade publishers like a risky proposition, and one of the main goals of marketing digital services is to make publishers aware of the versatility and usability of digital within a range of contexts.
“Large print runs are not going to disappear, with the obvious and perhaps somewhat extreme example being ‘Harry Potter,’ ” Taylor says. “Many books fall into that category where digital print is some way off from engaging …, but [as quality improves], the vast majority of books are going to fall within the circumference of digital printing and some sort of on-demand model that says you don’t need to ever run out.”
Educating customers on the cost-effectiveness of digital printing over the entire life cycle of a book is a key challenge right now, Edwards says.
“One of the problems we have is that the people we deal with have been evaluated and promoted based on price point to retail,” he notes. “The total cost should be lower [when everything is taken into consideration], but there’s not a system that rewards that behavior. This is the production manager’s dilemma—their whole reward system is based on bringing the [per-unit] price down.”