Digital Full Color Opens New Book Markets
While digital toner and inkjet based color has been available for years, Lightning Source’s announcement at Book Expo America of its four-color one-off production line exponentially expands the base for untapped publishing business opportunities for mid-range, independent and high-end publishers. It also shines the light on the transformation of manufacturing business models in the past 10 years, providing a price-list-based, sophisticated manufacturing service that simplifies the supply chain process without sacrificing quality controls.
Buying color in Asia or Europe in sufficient quantities to bring the unit cost down and allowing for the weeks of turnaround time need no longer be a barrier to the marketing of color books.
The Digital Color Promise
It was the promise of the stunning Xerox iGen-3 digital color press output that blew me away at this March’s Book Business Expo. (Lightning Source tested and is using the HP Indigo color press for its service.) iGen’s sharp-quality four-color reproduction convinced me that new publishing options will now dramatically expand such genres as the low page-count, high-end illustrated coffee table book, the conventional 32-page children’s four-color, flat-back and the typical museum and exhibition catalog. Textbook and scientific publishers also have new customizing options that should revitalize their lists as the technology shakes out costs.
Sophisticated color buyers will want to check out the variables in the different imaging and press technologies being offered, but the bottom line is that superior outcomes at commercially acceptable prices are now available.
To check out what was happening before Book Expo, I visited two major one-off and demand-printing digital printers: ColorCentric in Rochester, N.Y. (www.ColorCentric.com) and Integrated Book Technology (IBT) in Troy, N.Y. (www.IntergratedBook.com). A few years back, I had visited the LaVergne, Tenn., Lightning Source (www.LightingSource.com) plant, the industry giant in production-run book-at-a-time printing, and visited the company’s booth for an update at Book Expo. These visits provided a handle on the upcoming explosion of digital four-color production. They provided insight into how this new and as yet unnamed channel of digital demand manufacturing is both accommodating and shaping business and supply chain model.
Recently acquired and integrated into Amazon.com’s online book-selling portal, Book Surge (www.BookSurge.com) has been offering four color for some time through its author and publisher services program, although it hadn’t released information about its press technologies at press time.
Significant for traditional book manufacturers is the new manufacturer/distributor business and customer service model being offered by the digital-demand printing sector of the industry.
First, the headline is that it is now possible to deliver a one-off finished book at a manufacturing cost of 25 percent to 50 percent of an acceptable list price. My guess is that as the page count rises beyond 200 pages this will be less likely for all but the most top-of-the-line pictorials. However, even if the margin is not enough to support a conventional wholesale/retail discount scale, the opportunity to do sampling up front and direct sales of low quantities at the tail end opens the door to new opportunities.
Second is the impact on business models. The digital plants I reviewed each build customer relationships on different models. All of them, incidentally, also service the author-driven aggregators such as iUniverse (www.iUniverse.com), Author House (www.AuthorHouse.com), Lulu (www.Lulu.com) and xLibris (www.xLibris.com)—author-publisher partnerships who collectively generate scores of thousands of new titles annually.
Behind the Scenes at Digital Manufacturers
Lightning Source, a subsidiary of Ingram Industries Inc. with 356,000 unique titles in its archives and the ability to turn around as many as 44,000 jobs a day, is uniquely equipped to handle one-offs for a large number of accounts. The company’s seven or more lines of sheetfed Xerox Docutechs, IBM web and Océ presses operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With its link to Ingram’s wholesale and publishing services resources, it offers “in-stock” listings and retail distribution, direct shipping and links to long-run requirements. It also has a UK affiliate.
According to Kirby Best, Lightning Source president and CEO, sales to the “Big 10” in publishing grew from 20 percent to 59 percent of total sales in the last four years. This signals that mainstream publishing has integrated digital manufacturing into its supply chain. Now that the U.S. Court of Appeals has lifted the cloud hanging over digital book-at-a-time manufacturing and reversed the ruling against Lightning Source and Xerox in the On Demand Machine Corp. patent infringement suit, new investment and expansion capital is likely to fuel the growth of suppliers and capacity.
IBT was founded 15 years ago by John R. Paeglow III as possibly the earliest all-digital book printer. General Manager Don Gleason took me through the plant, which delivers more than 100 million pages a month and is growing at the rate of 20 percent a year.
The facility houses eight sheet-fed Xerox Docutech and two IBM web-fed production lines. It has installed the first of Xerox’s new high-resolution presses, the Nuvera, with which it intends in the coming year to replace its Docutech “fleet.” In addition to its UK plant, it is developing a global network of digital printing partners. Although it welcomes any publisher, it focuses on customers with evergreen short-run titles that print under-1,000 copy runs, and will provide one-offs at the beginning, middle or tail of the life cycle.
At the ColorCentric plant, I spent the morning with John Lacagnina, president and CEO. Lacagnina has been, since 2003, doubling his annual volume, running three Xerox iGen-3 and four Docutech production lines. Color Centric offers client portals online that enable a new title, revision or reorder to be posted electronically, with books leaving the warehouse to their destination untouched by human hands. All of the technologies are in place.
With an average print run of 1.7 books, ColorCentric’s three Xerox four-color iGen and four Docutech lines deliver a wide variety of one-off and short-run standard and custom formats, largely to trade aggregators such as Lulu, but also to retail clients with continuing production requirements. The quality of its four-color output is astonishing, some of it breathtaking. I saw work ranging from high-end catalogs and pictorials to customized photo albums with die-cut window covers done both for corporations and individuals.
Supply Chain Links
There are, of course other digital book printers ready to enhance the publishing supply chain, including Deharts (www.Deharts.com) and Fidlar-Doubleday (www.FidlarDoubleday.com). There are also traditional printers ranging from short-run pioneer Edwards Brothers (www.EdwardsBrothers.com) to mega-printer RR Donnelley (www.RRDonnelly.com) that integrate digital services. It is also possible for a publisher to operate its own digital facility, as is true of Infinity Press (www.InfinityPublishing.com), an author-publisher partnership enterprise.
All, of course, provide four-color cover work—either in toner or conventional offset ink mode. Pack and ship to the consumer for one-offs, or to the retailer or cataloger for multiple copies, is standard. These services increasingly are reducing the double handling and space requirements for traditional warehousing, as well as the investment cost and attrition in inventory.
A sidebar to the print-on-demand manufacturing and fulfillment model is archiving PDF or XML files ready for e-book delivery. There’s also the reverse of linking electronic book publishing archives—such as Overdrive’s ContentReserve (www.Overdrive.com)—to print-on-demand manufacturers, or preparing PDF files for NetLibrary (www.NetLibrary.com) that can also be used to drive print-on-demand.
E-book sales potential is very opportunistic, especially in fiction and non-fiction trade books and in the portability of frequently used reference books or manuals. While the revenue may be marginal, creating electronic files up front that can be used for both iPod and e-book distribution should be standard practice. Having e-Book formats available for online retailers such as Amazon (www.Amazon.com), Fiction-Wise (www.FictionWise.com), Cyber-Read (www.CyberRead.com), or, the new kid on the block, Digital Pulp Publishing (www.DigitalPulpPublishing.com) can result at least in steady unanticipated lunch money if not significantly more—and enable inclusion in the growth of e-book collections packaged for libraries by e-book aggregators.
The Big Digital Picture
In the 360-degree view, the digital, on-demand production of four-color books will enlarge the base of editorially savvy independent and niche publishers that are able to deliver color products to their markets.
It also will broaden, for all publishers, the range of titles that can be accommodated by the new manufacturing and supply chain strategy that moves seamlessly from a single master digital file through all formats and from demand digital to high-volume computer to press offset manufacturing.
Finally, it will bring some of the production that has been going overseas back to the homeland, as well as make single-source satellite manufacturing around the world feasible for publishers large and small—a capability already offered by BookSurge, Lightning Source, IBT and others.
For a book-printing technology that, according to Kirby Best, owns perhaps only of 1 percent of the book manufacturing market, there is only one way to go, and that is up. BB
Gene Schwartz is editor at large, ForeWord magazine, and president, Consortium House, publishing consultants (EugeneGS@aol.com). He is a former PMA board member, and was a production and operations executive in the printing and book publishing industries, as well as an independent publisher.
- Author House
- Book Expo America
- Digital Pulp Publishing
- Edwards Brothers
- Fidlar Doubleday Inc.
- IBM Corporation
- Ingram Industries Inc.
- Integrated Book Technology
- Lightning Source Inc.
- Overdrive Inc.
- RR Donnelley
- Xerox Corp.
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.