Waiting for Darwin
The complexity inherent in book manufacturing is the glue that binds these strong relationships together. It's debatable as to whether e-commerce can work at that deep of a level. David Robb, marketing director for 58k.com, admits that their interface "really doesn't fully support the book industry. [For example,] Smythe sewing and hard-cover [finishing options] aren't on our menu. We concentrate on the commercial printing industry pretty exclusively right now, but there is tremendous overlap in these two businesses."
According to Diaz, a successful interface would be able to talk to hundreds of systems in prepress, press and the bindery. He thinks this initiative will remain unrealized for several years, not only because e-commerce providers do not yet possess the necessary technology, but because the systems themselves are not equipped to talk to one another.
John Edwards, president, Edwards Brothers, a book manufacturer, remains skeptical. He explains, "Internet auctions would make our business a commodity where price is king. Today, customer is king."
Diaz expresses similar concerns, stressing that book manufacturers' desire to avoid a price war without quality of service coming into the equation. In the eyes of manufacturers, the possibility of book printing becoming a commodity rather than a service is the biggest risk factor in adopting e-procurement. If that happens, printers which worked hard to develop a reputation for quality could go unrewarded.
Pricing for these services seems to range far and wide. Some require a transaction fee, typically around two percent. Others charge flat rates to set up and customize systems for clients, and still others operate on a subscription basis. Book manufacturers who operate at margins that are frequently less than five percent claim that any transaction fee that cuts that deeply into profits is unacceptable.
A lot of these dot-coms are still in business, so they must be making money, right? Even though the book space has been slow to adopt, there are other segments of the printing industry using these services consistently.