Not that long ago book manufacturers and paper suppliers looked at digital print production as a wholly unwelcome alternative to the honored publishing tradition of putting real ink on real paper.
Today everyone acknowledges—in more than a few cases, grudgingly—that digital’s strengths and progress make sense on a range of publishing fronts. These extend from fast-moving, impossible-to-predict market segments all the way to the control of skyrocketing warehousing expenses.
Among printing companies, that acknowledgment is escalating to action, as use of quick-start Timsons and Indigo web printers gives way to multimillion-dollar, high-end investments, mainly in versatile quick-start, high-capacity T300 and T350 inkjet webs from Hewlett-Packard.
As a result, the established print-and-warehouse model is quickly yielding to short-run, print-and-ship, not just to minimize inventory expenses but to deal with unpredictable title popularity.
In addition, say manufacturing marketing managers, not every book has to have a library binding. Information moves so fast that textbook content will soon be updated anyway and a new edition published, as quickly as within a month.
In interviews with printers and paper manufacturers, including corporate giants as well as family-owned businesses, they describe unique production approaches, changes in book manufacturers’ thinking, the required scale of capital investments, a continuing commitment to sustainability, and how they are all reacting to current changes in the marketplace while readying for the next ones. All are also dealing simultaneously with an anemic economy and rapid changes in readers’ preferences and habits.
More to Digital
Digital production is a hot spot in publishing today, so hot that it’s burning holes in order processing, production, and inventory management systems of book manufacturers, challenging them and their publisher clients alike.
“When our basic business went very quickly from producing thousands of copies of a given title to, say, a total run of just 72 books to be shipped quickly to a dozen different locations, everything changed,” reports Mike Collinge, president and CEO of Webcom, a book manufacturer based in Toronto that also produces directories and catalogues.
“Suddenly,” he adds, “we have thousands more orders, but maybe just dozens or hundreds of books for each. Right now, we’re working with literally hundreds of programmers on new systems to process orders and manage inventories that reach from the publishers to our plant and warehouse and on through the supply chain.”
Collinge explains: “Just 13 months ago, we launched a $12 million production upgrade called BookFWD [book forward] that includes a full-color T300 inkjet web press for text pages—started up in January—and an Indigo 7000 book-cover system, both from Hewlett-Packard. We also added an inline Magnum FlexBook unit, plus two perfect binders and a saddle stitcher.”
The upgrade has had its intended effect. “BookFWD enabled us to win a multiyear strategic alliance with the North America education business of Pearson to produce short-run books for schools and higher-education programs.”
Says Dan Lee, Pearson’s North American executive v-p of content management, “The assurance of quality books with a regular stream of short print runs using this emerging technology is the right direction for our business.”
In little more than a year, Quad/Graphics Inc., in Sussex, Wis., became the nation’s second-largest book manufacturer, first by acquiring Worldcolor in mid-2010, then by buying the U.S. one-color book operations of Transcontinental Inc. this summer, which added a few hundred new book accounts. The acquisitions bolster Quad’s specialty in trade books and educational books, and open the doors to additional publishing segments. “We were able to quickly ramp up our digital equipment platform, systems, and software by the end of last year,” says Sean Twomey, regional v-p of market development for Quad’s U.S. and Canadian retail book and directory businesses. “But,” he adds, “the real expansion—fivefold, to be exact—was in digital and print-on-demand capacity. This included new systems from all the major suppliers, delivered and put into service in a very short period of time. This segment is evolving, especially with its entry point to e-books and print-on-demand applications.”
In Worldcolor, Quad/Graphics acquired a major book manufacturer that had the capacity to annually produce one billion books, about 30,000 publishers’ orders. “But not long ago,” Twomey says, “a single publisher of ours added thousands of orders, accounting for several million books—all attributable to targeted short-run ordering, with quick-turnaround requirements, of course.”
It’s clear that the output method is no longer meaningful to publishers: the output choice depends solely on turnaround time and quantity specified, plus—increasingly—convenient conversion to e-book format. Says Twomey, “The standard working format today is simply a PDF, or an EPDF if the job is going to an iPad, Kindle, or other device.”
Quad’s focus is on supporting publishers through the life of a book. Digital offers production at the beginning and end of the product life cycle, while offset remains the core long-run process.
Most meaningful to publishers today is what the buyer or consumer wants. Reaching that goal, while keeping e-options at the ready, keeps book publishers, and printers, busy today, says Twomey.
He quotes the AAP-BISG BookStats estimate that 2.57 billion book units (total images, all processes) were sold in the U.S. last year, most printed by offset. It’s easy to imagine, Twomey says, a gradual but steady changeover in print from efficiency to versatility, from ink to inkjet imaging, not only for books but for products in many categories.components/article_pagination.html not found (No such file or directory)