Growth on Demand
When the industry's final results are in, 2002 won't rank as one of publishing's best years. With few bright spots to point to, publishers across every segment are wondering what catalysts will reignite growth?
Publishers used to know the answer to that question. Growth was created by acquiring authors who, in turn, wrote great books. This year, the question is hard to answer.
Sure, acquiring competent authors and great content are as important as ever. But thanks to industry consolidation, there are usually less than five major competitors, within nearly every publishing segment.
This means fewer publishers are fighting for a few great authors, and fighting for the financial resources to combat competitive editorial and marketing moves.
Each publisher tries to find a sustainable editorial or marketing advantage in their segment. They usually end up finding little more than a temporary first-mover advantage.
So what catalyst will reignite publishers' growth? The answer, in part, is found in mass customization. Mass customization means the ability to produce books in micro (very small) quantities, and personalizing them.
Due to recent advances in digital book manufacturing, computer databases, and broadband Internet access, it's now possible for publishers to offer readers customized books.
Mass customization satisfies not only readers' existing requirements (needs readers can easily express), but also latent needs (needs they can't express or don't believe can be satisfied).
This allows publishers to deliver more value to readers. Here are some fast facts about how mass customization can grow a publishing concern:
Q. Our sales growth has been flat in the past two years, and we are looking for new ways to add incremental sales without increasing expenses or staff. Is there a way that short-run digital book manufacturing can help grow sales?
A. Perhaps you're putting more books out-of-print than is necessary, due to the economic order quantities (EOQ) required for offset reprinting. A keep-in-print program using short-run digital book manufacturing allows you to reap returns from up-front plant and marketing investments for the book's full life, without adding staff or occupying warehouse space.
Q. We are experiencing high bookstore returns on many of our academic titles as a result of poor sell-through, presumably due to a lack of perceived value. How can digital book manufacturing solve this problem?
A. Digital printing technologies offer attractive short-run economies that let you operate with more conservative production forecasts. Additionally, there are custom publishing Web services being offered that make extensive use of variable data technology. When coupled with digital printing, this allows end users (professors) to go to your Web site, customize and personalize a title's content to students' needs, thereby offering more value to the buyer. Experience shows custom publishing dramatically improves bookstore sell-through whenever it's used.
Q. We frequently revise our books, manuals and directories due to changing content in the subject areas we cover. This results in excess inventory and development costs that are never fully recovered. Can short-run digital book manufacturing help us create up-to-date books at a profit?
A. Changing content is the norm in technical, legal and business subjects. Using other printing means, publishers house excess inventory that gets built into the book's price. Short-run digital book production allows a revolutionary alternative: Up-to-the-minute revisions with little or no inventory obsolescence. Short-run digital books are price competitive with offset printed book run lengths of 750 or more.
Q. Demand for many of our titles is unpredictable due to the nature of the content, or lack of market data. How can we use short-run digital book manufacturing to reduce the financial risk associated with unpredictable markets?
A. Whether the book is a first printing of a niche trade book or a backlist title sold by online booksellers, demand might be impossible to forecast. Short-run digital book production guarantees you will not lose potential sales due to out-of-stock situations, or excess and obsolete inventory. The build-to-order strategy will assure that scarce working capital isn't tied up in inventory.
Tom Delano (TDelano@amespage.com) is a business development executive at Ames On-Demand, in Somerville, Mass.