Wiley Head of Procurement Calls for Greater Education on Digital Printing Costs
On March 15th I attended the Ricoh Publishing Executive’s Symposium to learn about digital book printing and its evolving role within the book industry . The event gathered the entire book supply chain, including book manufacturers and publishers, and shared some of the latest advancements in digital printing technology. The Symposium emphasized that these developments are beginning to reshape book distribution and as a result drive greater profits for both publishers and printers.
I spoke with several book publishing leaders in attendance about the challenges and opportunities of digital print. One of the executives I spoke with was Kurt Scherwatzky, director of production services procurement at John Wiley & Sons. Scherwatzky shared his excitement about the advances made in digital print quality, particularly inkjet. But he added that the need for greater education about digital printing costs remains a barrier to more widespread adoption. Scherwatzky said that some executives struggle to see beyond the higher per-unit cost of digital print to recognize the long-term inventory savings of the demand-driven printing model. Altering this perception requires a cultural shift, said Scherwatzky.
Following is the complete interview with Scherwatzky in which he shares his expectations for the future digital print technology.
What trends are you seeing around digital book printing today? How has it affected the book industry?
I think whether it’s Wiley or any other publishing company, we’ve been seeing over the years the ratio turn in the favor of digital printing. I was at another major educational publisher for 20 years and we saw year-over-year a tremendous increase in digital printing. Publishers don’t want to carry a lot of inventory anymore. Gone are the days where publishers were into the warehouse business, owning warehouses, and just stocking millions of books in them.
As publishers are closing warehouses they’re sourcing their warehousing out to other companies to do it for them. Along with the reduction of inventoried warehouse items, publishers are increasingly wanting to print closer to where their customer base is, so distributive print is becoming popular. It’s going to continue to get stronger. The idea of distributive print is that publishers are able to send their files, ideally digitally, to one central location and then have it printed wherever the customer base is.
How has digital printing quality changed in recent years?
In terms of the increase in quality, I’ve been doing this long enough to remember the days when you’d get a digitally printed book and it was twice as thick as its offset counterpart. Toner on paper would make the books very thick. Now we’re dealing with ink on paper with an inkjet press and you’re not getting that thickness added to the book. You’re getting much better quality now.
Just think about the past two or three years and the improvement in quality that we’ve seen. You’re getting a better visual representation of how the book is supposed to look but you’re also getting better quality paper, better adhesion to the paper. You’re not getting smudging. We’re seeing improvements in binding too. The product specs are really coming together.
What challenges do you see the industry is still facing in adopting digital printing?
I would say the education of the other functional areas within a publishing house. We in manufacturing understand that it’s in many cases better to print a smaller quantity of books, not to store that larger quantity of books, and print closer to the demand. On the other hand, you still have folks that are comparing the unit costs. The book, printed digitally, will be more expensive, but you are saving in other areas of the supply chain. That’s a challenge for folks like me who are in the manufacturing sourcing area who understand it.
What are you doing to try to explain these benefits to colleagues in your organization?
It is a cultural shift. You try to look at not just the unit cost of the book but also the total digital printing costs. If we’re talking about printing 100 books and the unit cost is higher, you have to compare the total cost of printing, say, 10,000 units with offset. How many of those books are going to remain unsold, sitting on shelves in your warehouse? And how many are going to be destroyed at the end of the year? I try to have those conversations and get folks to understand the costs of carrying inventory. Sometimes just having the conversation more than once I hope will help.
How do you see digital book printing evolving in the industry over the next 3 years?
I think the path is there. It’s going to continue to grow. It’s going to enable publishers to achieve both the customization that they want to achieve and also that low inventory position. The challenge internally is significant, getting folks outside of manufacturing and sourcing to understand the benefit. Hopefully the benefits will advance at a faster rate to help tell the other parties about this story.
Any final thoughts on digital book printing’s future?
The samples that I’ve seen today have looked really good. It’s nice to see the quality come to this point. It’s exciting. People talk about print being dead or print dying, neither of which I think is true. Whether it’s the book or a CD or a record, the physical medium is far from over. It’s just changing. And I like that a publisher like Wiley is willing to embrace the fact that print is still a very important part of education.
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.