Where Digital Book Printing Is Headed in 5 Years
I attended Ricoh’s Publishing Executive Symposium this week in Boulder, Colorado, to learn how digital book printing is affecting all levels of the industry. Publishers, book manufacturers, and paper suppliers were in attendance, representing the complete supply chain of the book industry. The big takeaway was that digital book printing is growing and will continue to grow as technology advances, improving book quality and lowering costs.
On Wednesday Sean Smyth, a consultant at U.K.-based Smithers Pira, provided an overview of the digital book printing landscape and predicted its impact on the industry in 2020. Smyth drew his data from research produced by Smithers Pira. He noted that although overall book-printing volume has decreased in recent years, digital book printing is growing, as is the revenue it drives for printers and publishers.
A Low-Volume, High-Value Product
According to Smithers Pira’s research, in 2011 digitally-printed books represented 4.7% of all titles produced and 27.1% of the book market’s total value. In 2015 digitally-printed books increased to 6.5% of all books titles produced and generated 40.8% of the market value. Digitally-printed books capture a higher share of market value, despite their low volume, because the majority of these books are sold, explained Smyth. Offset titles on the other hand may never leave the warehouse and as a result can eat into publisher revenue. By 2020, Smyth predicted that digitally-printed books will represent 13.7% of all titles produced and 47.8% of the market’s value.
“Publishers, don’t be afraid of the high unit cost for digital,” added Smyth. “It can make your business more valuable and effective.” He explained that digital printing enables publishers to react to sudden changes in book demand and eliminates the risk associated with longer print runs.
Digital Book Printing Can Cut Out the Retailer
Digital printing also shifts how book revenue is distributed throughout the supply chain, said Smyth. He said that digital printing can bypass the retailer altogether, with print-on-demand titles shipped directly to the end user. That frees up more of the profit to be shared among publisher, printer, and paper supplier, said Smyth. When digital book printing sidesteps the retailer, publishers can earn 13% of the retail value of the book as opposed to 8%. The printer’s cut of the overall retail value of the book can grow from 4% to 10% when it is digitally printed, said Smyth.
“Digital book production allows printers to make more money, publishers to make more money, and paper suppliers to make more money. That’s why it will be increasingly adopted. So it’s not creating more volume of titles, but creating more value,” he explained.
Smyth said that the driving force behind the wider adoption of digital book printing will be inkjet technology. He explained that today inkjet quality can meet the standards of lithographic printing. “And that was not possible just a couple of years ago,” he said.
Smyth painted a bright picture for digital book printing, one in which the legacy players hit hardest by the digital revolution -- book manufacturers, paper suppliers, and book publishers -- will come out on top. According to Smyth, it’s just a matter of time.
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.