Transforming the Textbook Publishing Industry with Digital Print
Just a few years ago, there was panic among the education book publishing segment, especially with book printers. Tablets and e-readers were all the rage. Large school districts were distributing iPads and other tablets to students en masse. A 2012 Pearson Foundation survey found that 63 percent of college students and 69 percent of high school students believed that traditional textbooks would be phased out in the next five years. Slightly more than half of college students also said they preferred reading digital textbooks over printed ones for class. It was all doom and gloom. The death of the textbook was imminent.
So much for that. While print run lengths have decreased, overall educational book printing is experiencing modest growth, thanks to digital book printing. The market is healthy. To some extent, we have those early adopters to thank. Some moved fast, with a few school districts jumping in with both feet without thinking about what was under the water, causing others to be more cautious with new technology. Meanwhile, scientific studies discovered that students’ reading retention is higher from the printed page than from an electronic screen.
Now digital printing is creating new opportunities for publishers to keep their content impactful, updated, and relevant. Fleeting are the days of printing a single run of a hundred thousand textbooks for use across the country. Digital printing enables publishers to order shorter runs that can be versioned or customized for various locations and combined with online resources to reflect changes in current events or other facts. Educators and publishers can now blend and bridge traditional print content with dynamic electronic content with the use of evolving new digital technologies, such as embedded Internet-connected codes and invisible digital watermarks. Moreover, adaptive learning tools can be applied to print in the classroom, effectively creating a “book of one” that is uniquely customized to match an individual student’s aptitude, pace, or learning style.
These improvements in technology equate to huge opportunities for educators and students, and create ways for book manufacturers and publishers to add new value and streamline supply chains. The increased value that digital connectivity brings to books costs print service providers and publishers very little to add. It allows for value-added services, such as “track and trace” anti-counterfeiting, authenticity confirmation, and geo-tagging to update linked content based on location.
Digital printing technology alleviates publishers’ frustration of maintaining large inventories because a “book of one” or a “book of few” can be ordered on demand, then printed and shipped directly to the end user. This may result in one less book (or tens of thousands) that would be printed, never read, and take up costly space in a warehouse. Customized orders reduce the likelihood that a book will be returned, again reducing the lifetime cost of a printed title.
Efficient shorter runs enabled by digital printing technology also give publishers more opportunities to experiment. They can try out new authors, content, and formats with much less risk and investment compared to traditional production models. New unique ID (UID) technology also removes risk and revenue loss. With UID technology, publishers can protect themselves against grey market distribution, counterfeiting, and fraud by including digital content with a UID into a printed book. That content can be tracked and associated with relevant information throughout the book’s lifetime, giving the right people access to that information.
Further, digital printing provides books with identifiable pages, texts, and images, turning it into an Internet-of-Things (IoT) book. The printed page can be linked through QR codes and covert digital watermarks to supplemental content, such as quizzes, videos, and updated content.
Instead of creating static textbooks that may quickly become outdated, publishers can create an interactive, dynamic, multi-channel learning experience for the reader. Innovation in this area helps make the printed book more relevant for longer and increases the overall revenue per book. More importantly, these new technologies add up to an altogether more enjoyable and richer experience for educators and students.
To learn more about the new revenue opportunities, trends, and technologies emerging around digital book printing, check out the Digital Book Printing Conference in NYC. The conference is free to attend for qualified attendees. Learn more here.
David Murphy leads worldwide marketing and market development for HP’s PageWide Web Press business. HP PageWide Web Presses are driving digital transformation in mainstream printing, especially in book manufacturing. Reach the author @HPGraphicArts