Special Advertising Section: Digital Printing: The Burgeoning Business of Books
Further managing inventory levels, some BookMasters customers set inventory "trigger points" at which point titles will be automatically reprinted to maintain specific stocking levels to ensure a title is always available. Sevin notes that this is especially effective for some academic titles that might sell only a few copies each month but have enough demand to justify keeping 25 copies on hand.
This makes for compelling economics. "Publishers, especially smaller ones, have to manage cash flow as much as anything," notes Knight. "They're small businesses so cash is critical, and the ability to print as needed rather than investing in big print runs is a vital capability for them. Digital printing lets us help them manage inventory levels. That makes it easier for our customers—and us—to manage cash flow."
Digital production also happens to be a great fit for the mercurial nature of the publishing business. Book manufacturers with digital and offset capabilities can help keep customers in business—and profitable—over the life span of a title by using short runs on both ends of a title's life. A title can get its start on digital, shift to offset as demand builds, then go back to digital as demand tapers, keeping the title alive. This totally changes how backlist titles are handled, keeping those titles readily available in small quantities and still delivering profits to the publisher.
"It's all about meeting demand," says Knight. "Some authors and small publishers have titles that are only printed digitally because it's the best match for demand. It's not unusual for us to have three to four printings of a title in 12 months."
So is the long tail is shorter, or is it really longer—and wagging differently?
While small and self-publishers have been quick to see the advantages of short runs and online sales, the potential is not limited to the U.S. For example, BookMasters is seeing substantial growth for Spanish-language titles, with authors in the U.S. and abroad. Some are written by U.S.-based writers, while others come from Spain and Latin America. This works well for the authors, but also aids BookMasters in making deals between U.S. and overseas distributors.