It's a classic publishing dilemma, becoming more common all the time in this age of shorter press runs. A publisher needs to reprint a trade paper backlist title that sells 1,000 copies a year, but the numbers only work at a print run of at least 2,000 and no one wants to hold the inventory that long. Make one choice, and the production numbers don't work; pick another and the numbers don't work for the warehouse; go for a third, raising the price, and demand drops too low to keep the book in print.

To help solve this problem, within the past few months, two printing giants, Quebecor World North America and R.R. Donnelley Paper Solutions group, have finished their testing and entered the shorter run market with new technology and programs.

Quebecor started testing its Digital Book Module last May out of its Martinsburg, W.Va., plant. Designed to help publishers produce small print runs (under 1,000 copies) of softcover backlist economically, the module is also being used to turn out bound galleys, promotional copies and bound manuscripts. The market has been extremely receptive, and the company is satisfied with the progress to date. "While the price point is higher than offset, the publisher saves costs on holding inventory," said Jerry Allee, president, book services group, Quebecor World North America. "We want to grow this business organically, profitably," he added.

The equipment used in the Digital Book Module includes two Oce Demand Stream 8090-CX roll-fed digital presses to produce one-color text blocks; a KBAKARAT-74 digital sheetfed press to produce four-color offset quality covers; a Horizon BW-460 binder from Standard Machine Co.; and other ancillary and laminating equipment. Quebecor spokesperson Donna Ziegler added that customers are especially pleased with the offset quality of the four-color laminated covers.

R.R. Donnelley Paper Solutions has spent the past three years investigating various print-on-demand and shorter run options for publishers' most pressing problem, the slow-selling paperback backlist title. After nine months of diagnostics, Donnelley built the business around the solution, John Conley, v-p, digital services, said. This month, the company is rolling out its Inventory Management Service (IMS), which is installed in its Harrisonburg, Va., plant. At the center of IMS is an integrated, digital in-line printing and binding module that is perfect for those paperback titles. "Now," said Conley, "the publisher can print four to six months of inventory, rather than 18." Added Ed Lane, president, Book Solutions, R.R. Donnelley, "If I can get a publisher who rents out warehouse space to do the analysis, he'll see quickly that less inventory even at a higher unit price is very worthwhile."

The new IMS system is running on a Nipson press with a Hunkler folder and Muller-Martini binding using the Amigo binder. The color covers run on an HP Indigo Press 3000 (formerly the Indigo UltraStream 2000), an up-to-seven-color digital press.

Look for more developments in shorter run printing and POD in PW's book manufacturing supplement this fall.

Sales Steady

Quebecor, Donnelley and Banta Corp. all reported decent results in their book-printing segments for the second quarter ended June 30. Net sales in Donnelley's book publishing segment fell 0.7% in the quarter, to $177.8 million. But when lower paper prices are omitted, sales were up 2.2%, to $129 million.

Revenues in Banta's print sector rose 4% in the quarter, to $236.6 million, but without the effect of lower paper prices, which were 14% below last year, sales were up 9%. Within the print segment, sales to educational publishers were particularly strong.

Marc Reisch, president of Quebecor Worldwide North America, said in a conference call that overall sales in its book group were good in the quarter, with "solid" improvement to the trade market and continued strength in educational publishing. Earnings were hurt, however, because the benefits of the restructuring in its Kingsport, Tenn., facilities have been slow to materialize, although Reisch said he believes the savings will kick in by the end of the third quarter.