Special Advertising Section: Digital Printing: The Burgeoning Business of Books
While the glitter and flash of ebooks, e-readers and tablets get all the mainstream media attention—and pundits predict the end of printed books—traditional printed volumes still represent enormous opportunity for print providers. According to Caslon & Company, monochrome books will account for up to 85 billion pages through 2016 and color books are expected to make up some 15 billion pages in the same period. Little wonder that savvy print providers are adding capabilities, technology and workflows to carve out a presence in this burgeoning market.
In fact, such firms see ebooks and tablets as helping grow their business. While the latest titles from name-brand authors have both electronic and traditional versions, the greatest potential for print providers is not the best-seller list. Second-tier fiction and most nonfiction titles are also appearing in both formats with the resulting lower print volumes making them a great fit for digital presses and demand-driven production volumes. Digital presses are also seeing a growing volume of titles from new authors because the economics make it easier for smaller publishers to produce short runs economically and test the market for unknown writers.
And it's not just books from traditional publishing houses that are part of the growing page counts. Businesses, associations, trade organizations and educational institutions all produce catalogs, directories, booklets, manuals, guidebooks, course packs and more. Low volumes and the need for regular revision make digital printing the perfect solution for such books. Likewise, the rapid growth of self-published titles that bypass conventional publishing houses are bringing more new books and authors to market. It is not just the domain of players such as iUniverse and Lulu, but other printers who have cracked the code of digital book production. All are seeing reliable revenue streams from a host of new customers. It's safe to say the printed book is anything but dead.
Three companies busy capitalizing on this burgeoning market are BookMasters, Color House Graphics and Gasch Printing. Each has evolved their business models to take advantage of the opportunities presented by digital book production.
It all starts with run lengths. The ability of digital presses to produce short runs cost-effectively is changing the economics of book production. Run lengths based on demand slash inventory costs and eliminates the need to pay for books that might not be sold for months—or even years. This sea change in book production economics offers rich benefits for publishers and book manufacturers alike.
While some digital book producers such as Lightning Source specialize in producing just one or two copies of a given title on demand, a much bigger segment of book production focuses on runs ranging from 200 to about 1,000 with an average of about 400 copies per title. Publishers are scrambling to align themselves with nimble book manufacturers that can handle these shorter runs.
"It used to be that a short run was about 1,000 copies of a title," says Phil Knight, Director of Sales at Color House Graphics in Grand Rapids, Mich. "Now we see short runs in the 250 to 500 copy range. Longer runs can be 1,000 or up to 2,500 and we still have some as high as 75,000."
Gasch Printing in Odenton, Md., sees similar volumes for its digital presses, says Jeremy Hess, art director and marketing coordinator. "The average run is about 400 copies of a title, but that's really below the middle of a wide range. We might do just 10 copies of one title but up to 2,500 of another."
Then there's the cross-over point at which a title could be produced on an offset press. Most book manufacturers have both offset and digital printing capabilities that can offer customers the economics of offset for longer run lengths, usually in the 2,500 to 3,000 range. But having both digital and offset machines on the shop floor provides flexibility.
"There's really no minimum or maximum on the offset. It depends on quantity breaks and those are often based on page counts." says Ray Sevin, President of BookMasters in Ashland, Ohio. "Under 1,000 copies we tend to go to digital, but we flop back and forth a lot. The decision of which press to use is ultimately based on the customer's needs and press availability."
A New Long Tail
Digital production has changed the "long tail" of publishing because a title can literally never go out of print. Leveraging this, publishers—whether large publishing houses, small independent imprints or even self-publishing authors—are looking to digital presses and short runs as a key to managing cash flow—and maintaining profitability.
"Digital printing allows customers to take a lot of the guesswork out of guessing how many books they will sell in a couple years. Now they can print only what they know they need right now, and can re-evaluate and reprint down the road as needed," explains Hess.
There's also a big service and convenience factor. "We take time out of the equation for publishers," says Knight. "We can make books available on short notice for special events, book signings, market testing and speaker engagements. It's interesting to note that reviewers are more receptive to books that are bound and look ready to sell than they are to just receiving a review copy of a manuscript."
Such levels of control are part of the allure of digital book production, and part of the infrastructure at BookMasters, which also acts as a distributor for some of its customers.
"Low inventory levels and short runs also drive revenue for the publisher," explains Sevin. "For example, a title produced in short runs can be sold on the publisher's Web site and directly shipped to the customer. An offset version of the title that would sell through a retailer might cost the publisher $2 a copy. But they give up about half of the cover price to the retailer. A short run of digital copies might cost $6 each, but are sold through the publisher's Web site. This eliminates the retail level and returns a greater profit for the publisher, even though the cost of production is higher."
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.
"Producing these digitally lets us produce and distribute titles that would not otherwise be available here," says Sevin. "Having more titles helps us in representing a publisher because the more titles we have the greater the interest we get from big distributors like Ingram or Amazon. This just wouldn't be the same without digital printing."
The opportunities extend to marketing and other support for publishers. BookMasters offers an array of publishing support services from editing to design to promotion and more. Color House sees the same needs in its own customers. "There are small imprints and self-publishers who don't have the capacity to do all the legwork it takes to be a publisher," says Knight. "We can add more value by providing those services."
Quality a Non-issue
The technology used to produce a book may be invisible to the reader but even a few years ago there were noticeable quality differences between offset and digitally printed books. Now, quality has become a non-issue. From cover to cover, the look and feel of a digital volume is indistinguishable to all but a trained eye. Print quality is the same and paper mills now offer the same substrates for both offset and digital presses. Digital presses have also become more flexible in the range of papers they can run, enabling a book printer to have a selection of paper stocks that can be used on any press.
"At Gasch Printing our two roll-fed machines [Océ VarioStream 10000 and 7550] are printing on offset paper with recycled or FSC certifications," says Hess. "Our cut sheet printers (a pair of Canon imagePRESS C7010s and a Canon 665) can print on any substrate, gloss, matte, textured for covers and color pages."
Color House uses all sheet-fed presses for its titles and gets in rolls of paper in a variety of weights, then sheets them onsite for its Heidelberg large format press or its Xerox iGen4 and Nuvera 288 monochrome presses. This gives any title a seamless transition from offset to digital as volumes change.
BookMasters has broader printing requirements due to a mix of machines that includes a Heidelberg offset press, an Océ JetStream 1000 full-color inkjet press, and an Océ DemandStream 8090 monochrome press. A Konica Minolta C6501 sheet feed color press is used for covers on offset and digitally printed books.
"We have a selection of offset sheets from 50- to 80-lb, mostly white and some natural shades," says Sevin. "They all work well on both toner and offset and are mostly good enough on inkjet. When we need to bump up the quality on the JetStream, we just use a different stock because with inkjet the substrate is the key when increasing quality."
"The paper companies are scrambling to offer more and more substrates," he continues. "We find that some [inkjet] papers are capable of delivering higher quality, especially for color. With the right paper on the JetStream, we can match the color of toner output. And the costs are competitive."
Books coming off an offset press typically move offline for binding, whether it be mechanical, saddle-stitching, perfect binding or case bound. This is still the norm in many digital printing operations, despite the growth of inline capabilities on many digital presses. BookMasters takes it up a few notches.
There, the big Océ JetStream 1000 is directly connected to equipment from Shuttleworth, LasermaxRoll Systems and a Muller Martini to create an inline binding system capable of churning out up to 800 perfect-bound books an hour. A 5-mile long roll of blank paper goes into the JetStream and perfect bound books come out the other end. Because the JetStream can print pages three-up across the web it's possible for individual titles—even single copies—to be printed simultaneously and bound with almost no human intervention. BookMasters worked with Océ, Shuttleworth, LasermaxRoll Systems and Muller Martini to customize the system to meet their requirements and customize the equipment and software.
"The ability to print three titles across the web is a huge gain for throughput and productivity," says Sevin. "Throughput varies, of course, based on page count, but it just provides tremendous cost and time savings for our bindery."
The Last Word
Digital book production is mainstream and making money for publishers, print providers and authors. The equipment and technology available today lets book manufacturers produce top-quality books very cost effectively and are continuing to help print providers and publishers adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace.
"It lets us find ways to extend our relationship with customers and help publishers be more successful," affirms Knight. BB