Is Digital Printing the Key to a More Nimble Industry?
Editor's Note: In the following interview, conducted prior to the 2014 Digital Book Printing Conference, digital printing consultant Marco Boer discusses how publishers can use digital printing to be more efficient, innovative, and profitable. Marco Boer will return to keynote the second annual Digital Book Printing Conference on October 27th at NYC Union League. Register with the discount code DIGI50 to take $50 off your registration.
Though ebook consumption and self-publishing have eaten into traditional book sales, publishers still rely heavily on profits from printed volumes. And new technology is enabling publishers to bring these books to market more efficiently and more profitably. In fact, the publishing industry's sustainability just might hinge on such nimble approaches to business.
We spoke to Marco Boer, chair and keynote speaker for the Digital Book Printing Conference, to get his thoughts on why digital printing is a priority for book publishers.
Why should publishers be interested in digital printing? What are the primary benefits and drawbacks?
Digital printing allows publishers the ability to take the risk on a small, unknown author who could turn out to be a real gem and enable him to get out via a traditional publishing route, as opposed to self-publishing -- which is really the biggest threat to traditional publishing. In order to take bigger risks, publishers have to be able to publish very short runs.
If you think that a particular author might not sell more than 200 books, you'll go with digital printing. But the benefit of digital is that you can easily scale that and print another 200 digitally in a couple days. If it turns out a book is going viral, you can move that to offset printing. The biggest concern is that if you do get this unexpected runaway hit because of viral marketing, you're going to have to find somebody who can handle those volumes.
How quickly do you see the shift from traditional to digital printing occurring?
Today, and this is on a worldwide basis, we believe something like 5% of the total printed pages are printed digitally. If you look at the number of titles, that could be as much as a third already. The U.S. is a little more aggressive than Europe, and the reason we're more advanced is partially because of how our distribution is structured. Amazon has basically completely upended how books get to market, and as a result, the ability to order these very short runs has brought all these new authors into the business. And they are a huge purveyor of digitally printed books.
Whether we like it or not, the total number of printed books continues to go down. And as that total number goes down, you get smaller and smaller run lengths. That's going to cause the publishers to move more quickly to digital printing. Since it's so hard to find these mega sellers they have to take a risk on smaller authors.
What kinds of questions should book publishers be asking prospective printing partners when it comes to digital?The number one question I would ask is whether they have the capacity to meet their needs. Once you make the decision to go down this path and take on a higher-risk author in the hopes that they're one of those golden nuggets, you better hope your printer can meet the need. You want someone who has some experience with digital printing of books. You want someone with the wherewithal or the resources to scale, either directly or through partners that have similar kinds of equipment. It keeps on coming back to scale flexibility.
What can book publishers expect to learn at the Digital Book Printing Conference on Nov. 19th?
You'll get the book manufacturer perspective. You'll get a perspective on what digital book printing can mean in terms of the ability for both book manufacturers and publishers to reinvest money that's tied up in working inventory into working capital. And then last, there'll be some discussion on development of digital printing technology and implications of paper and chemical developments.
The most important aspect of the conference is the ending cocktail hour, when you get the opportunity to interact with all your peers in a setting you usually wouldn't be able to have. The people who are reading this, the people who are going to attend - we're all in the book publishing business. We're clearly passionate about it. So it's up to us as a group to take the industry forward and events like this will hopefully act like a brainstorming session to liberate some ideas, to confirm some ideas, and to give us the confidence to take thinks forward.