The Magic Number of One
Sponsored by HP
In the past 10 years, the time required to produce a hardcover book has shrunk from six to eight weeks to as little as seven days. While major efficiency improvements have occurred in the world of offset printing, most of this astonishing contraction in time and cost has occurred thanks to digital printing technology.
Up until recently, no matter the size of the order, printing plates had to be created and make-readys (quality checks) done on the press, leading to huge amounts of wasted paper and high costs for equipment set-up. Now, publishers have the option of low cost, quick turnaround digital printing. While large print jobs are still economical on sheetfed and web presses, smaller volume and back order print jobs are rapidly shifting to digital.
Digital printing options have enabled a revolution in book manufacturing, abetted by the growth of self-publishing and other short-run publishing models. The ability to print books economically in very small quantities, or even one book at a time (“print on demand”), has allowed publishers to slash inventories, create personalized editions and take maximum advantage of the “long tail” market in backlist titles. According to a recent report from R. R. Bowker, production of on-demand titles increased 132 percent from 2008 to 2009, the second year of triple digit growth in this segment.
Fred Daubert, President of The Riverside Group and Book One, has witnessed this transition first hand. Though he oversees one of the largest binderies on the East Coast, a large focus of his business is now on digital printing- a direct response to customer demand.
“In 2004 we started to receive calls on a regular basis to do short run, quick turn hard and softcover books, and we were passing on those opportunities like crazy,” he recalls. “When we started to see the demand grow, we realized we need to get on board with this and figure out how to make money on extremely short run products.”
Riverside’s response was to found Book One, which handles digital jobs exclusively. The company has seen steady growth over the past five years, even during the recent recession. “We put in a [HP Indigo 5500] press in spring 2008, and this year, when everybody is struggling to just break even compared to last year, we are up 37 percent. This is directly because of short run.”
The key to being successful with a digital supply chain is quality and efficiency, Daubert says. Choosing a digital vendor with a superior service contract - a one-stop solution for inks, parts and service – is necessary to avoid delays in a just-in-time manufacturing cycle.
“When you are doing this type of business, having your equipment up is paramount,” he says. “Hewlett-Packard really helps you achieve that. You just place your order, and it arrives the next day. It's a quick cycling thing. There’s no negotiating going on. It’s one point of contact, and service is extremely good.”
The most revolutionary changes made possible by digital printing, according to Daubert, are in the realm of distribution. Where large numbers of books used to be trucked from printers to binderies to distribution centers, then to warehouses around the country for delivery to retailers, the short run digital process has eliminated entire steps along the way to getting a printed book in the hands of the consumer. On demand printing enables you to print only what is needed and to print in quantities as small as one.
“I like to say there is no freight in digital, only shipping,” Daubert says – meaning individual orders can be sent directly to an end point location without the need of bulk deliveries. This reduces or eliminates the costs associated with complicated inventory and supply chain management practices, as well as the need to physically house unsold product, which in the book world could be for many years.
With improvements in technology, the “crossover point” – the point at which an order is cheaper to fill digitally than with offset printing – continues to increase, as larger and larger orders can be handled economically on digital equipment. Already, Daubert says, most of his orders of less than 1500 books (there is variation depending on page counts) are filled through digital workflows.
As a company long specializing in coffee table and museum books, quality matters to the Riverside Group as much as cost. In fact, for all the talk of cost efficiencies, it is advances in print quality – especially with regard to photos - that has really enabled the digital revolution in the book industry.
This factor set HP apart from the rest in selecting a digital partner, Daubert says. He calls the photo quality he has been able to achieve “truly phenomenal…In our opinion, head and shoulders above the rest.”
With quality advances enabling digital print options for a full range of printed materials, publishers of all types and sizes are looking to incorporate ultra short run printing models. Daubert expects the digital printing business to be the most important growth element in his operations over the next five years.
“We did a trade show in New York for [book] publishers and the magazine trade in March. Being a little guy we had the Simon and Schusters and Random Houses coming to the booth and asking us if we are truly a one-off book manufacturer,” he says. “They are all looking for that magic number of one. Even the big players are looking at that model, and it really makes sense.”
Lean more at the HP Digital Printing Solution Resource Center: On-Demand Webinars, Demos, Videos, Success Stories, Informational booklets and Go Green solutions.