Penguin Random House VP of Paper Purchasing & Production Planning On the Future of the Book Supply Chain
Last week I attended the Ricoh Publishing Executive Symposium, which gathered book manufacturers, paper suppliers, and book publishers to discuss the future of digital book printing. Several sessions at the event emphasized how advances in digital printing technology are reshaping the book supply chain and driving greater revenue for both publishers and printers.
Several book industry leaders were in attendance, and I had the chance to speak with a handful of those leaders to discuss their perspectives on digital printing and the opportunities it presents to the industry. One of the executives I spoke with was Michael DeFazio, VP paper purchasing & production planning at Penguin Random House. Although DeFazio sees an opportunity to increase the share of PRH’s list that is printed digitally, and thereby reduce warehousing costs, he believes significant infrastructure changes must be made first, both internally at PRH and within their printing partners’ organizations. DeFazio hopes to see a future where book files can be seamlessly shared between book manufacturers and publishers so that titles can move automatically from offset to digital and back to offset, as consumer demand requires.
Following is a Q&A with DeFazio in which he shares his expectations for the future digital print technology.
How is PRH utilizing digital book printing technology currently?
Right now we’re using it mainly for one-color text printing on our backlist although we are digitally printing a smaller quantity of front list and first-printing books. It’s a small percentage of our overall printing right now.
For the front list, would that be debut authors that you’re printing digitally?
It might be a debut author. It might be a reissue of an existing book, repackaging it and bringing it out into the marketplace for the first time again.
What opportunities do you see in digital book printing for PRH?
I think there is an opportunity for making digital printing a larger percentage of our overall one-color printing. I think there’s an opportunity to better manage the inventory for our backlist, better space management in our warehouse, and better cash control, which is also an inventory play.
Is zero-inventory publishing, where no warehousing is required for a title, something PRH will pursue in the future?
It could be. I wouldn’t say it’s a five-year goal. There’s still a lot that we need to do internally. I think the technology needs to advance a little more, and I think the infrastructure would need to be built out a little further for that.
Having satellite or hub printing is probably the way I see that rolling out. It has to be cost effective; we would need the IT infrastructure to support satellite printing as would the printers. We would need the printer network. There is a lot of infrastructure that needs to happen before that is realized.
What are some of the challenges to more fully adopting digital book printing?
There are two different ways to fully adopt digital. We can adopt digital as an alternate to offset printing. That’s just a matter of expanding our digital printing program so that as titles that are eligible come up, we can move them to the digital platform. But we also need to be nimble enough with our vendors and with ourselves to go in and out of digital. It may go from offset to digital. Or if the author dies for instance, we may want to do an offset printing, so we have to be nimble enough to go back. That’s one part of digital printing.
Then there is the hub or satellite printing, and to realize that it’s the infrastructure on both the printer side and publisher side.
Do you currently have the relationship with you printers where you can go from offset to digital and back to offset?
We do, but it’s not as seamless as we’d like it. There is still a bit of hand holding to go back and forth. But we’re getting better at it. The more we do it, the better we get.
5 years from now, what will digital printing’s role be at PRH?
I hope that we won’t really be talking about it as much because it’s just what it is. It’s part of what we do. It’s part of our offering as a publisher, and it becomes commonplace. It really shouldn’t be a novelty at that point, and it should become an everyday practice.
Book Business will be hosting the 2017 Digital Book Printing Conference in NYC. Stay tuned for more information and registration details.
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.