Exploring New Revenue Opportunities with Digital Printing
Editor’s Note: The following is a recap of the 2014 Digital Book Printing Conference. The conference will return this year on October 27th at the New York City Union League. Join keynote speaker Marco Boer, Printing Impressions, and Book Business for insights on the latest digital printing technology and unparalleled networking opportunities with leaders from all levels of the book supply chain. Register for the 2015 Digital Book Printing Conference here.
As is the case when any emerging technology is shaking up a market, there are facts and misconceptions that surround that technology. When book publishers think about digital printing, several associations -- negative and positive -- may come to mind: cost-savings, short-runs, low quality, flexible, amateur, "inventory-less." It was up to the "Publisher Panel" at the Digital Book Printing Conference to clear up any misunderstandings about digital printing and explore how the maturing technology is reshaping the book industry.
Moderated by Book Business editor-in-chief Denis Wilson, the "Publisher Panel dispelled some of the stigma associated with digital printing and explored how publishers are using to make their companies more nimble and efficient. Panelists hailed from Macmillan Science & Education, Blurb, and the American Chemical Society. The discussion was a great jumping off point for The Digital Book Printing Conference hosted on November 19th in New York City.
Extending the Life of a Title
Digital printing is not just a new way of printing books, noted the panelists, it's also a catalyst for new publishing processes. With the elimination of printing plates, digital printing can produce short-runs faster than offset and at increasingly affordable rates. According to Bruce Watermann, SVP of operations at Blurb, this opens up a host of new opportunities for publishers, one of the most important being the ability to extend the life of a title. Watermann views digital printing as a crucial part of his authors' "bell curve." "At the beginning, a new title will be published digitally," said Watermann. "If the title is successful it will move into offset or high-speed inkjet. Once the title moves into the author's backlist it will go back to digital." Digital printing allows publishers to test unproven works in the market at low risk and continue generating revenue after the height of a book's popularity.
A byproduct of the speed and short-run capabilities of digital printing is the reduction of inventory. Brandon Nordin, VP of sales, marketing, and web strategy at American Chemical Society (ACS), describes digital printing as "inventory-less publishing," noting that it eliminates the need to warehouse books. Nordin says that improvements in the quality of digital printing has led ACS to produce titles with digital that it wouldn't have considered for the technology in the past. Digital printing has also kept short-run reference books viable and changed the way the company regards the cost structure of printing a title.
Fellow panelist Bill Gadoury, VP of strategic sourcing and supply planning at Macmillan Science & Education, agreed that digital should change how publishers assess the cost of producing books. Where once Macmillan considered just the cost of printing, said Gadoury, now it looks at the total cost of ownership over the life of the title. This has helped Gadoury's team assess audience interest and demographics and weigh whether offset or digital is the appropriate means of production.
Empowering Flexibility for a Diverse Audience
Another theme that emerged during the "Publisher Panel" was how the increased agility of digital printing enables publishers to meet the needs of a wide range of clients. Nordin provided the example of ACS's diverse international audience. These markets, he said, have their own unique challenges and service requirements. When he first took on his role, Nordin continued, ACS was locked into a 10-year deal with the Chinese university system at a high discount. In Japan, universities wanted the prestige of individual, printed copies in their libraries. And in India distribution was unreliable leading to serious subscription fraud and lost revenue. "By using digital printing and distributing through our printer, I was able to reduce costs and offset the discount to the Chinese universities," said Nordin. "The distribution through the printer was more reliable, so I solved my subscription fraud issue in India. And the ability to do short-runs and print-on-demand with digital printing, allowed me to meet needs of Japanese prestige folks."
Looking to the Future
Although digital printing is an important tool for all three panelists, they admitted that it had not replaced offset. But Watermann noted, especially in the realm of inkjet, the difference in quality is diminishing. "It's just a matter of time for [digital printing's] quality to match that of offset. It's getting consistently better."
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.