The combination of higher costs in doing business with China, higher fuel and freight expenses and greater interest in environmentally friendly manufacturing practices has not yet resulted in a major shift in production of books from overseas manufacturers to North America, but interest is increasing, interviews with domestic printers found. The three trends “are a positive buffer for [U.S.] printers,” said Joe Upton, v-p, sales and marketing, of Malloy, while Courier Corp. executive v-p Peter Tobin noted that the higher costs “have reduced the economic benefit of printing overseas.” Quebecor World's John Faust agreed: “It's a more level playing field.”

Within the last few months, more publishers are taking into consideration the costs of transportation in determining where jobs should go. John Edwards, president of Edwards Brothers, said publishers are staring to pay attention to details like the location of their printers in relation to their warehouse and customers. With gas over $4 a gallon—and publishers being hit with fuel surcharges from some accounts—“things start to add up when you examine all the costs in the supply chain,” said Edwards. Tobin said Courier has seen more publishers looking for domestic alternatives for four-color work as costs abroad—and the time to market—increase. Printers haven't been shy about promoting the proximity of their plants—as well as their ability to ship directly to customers—in bidding for jobs. “It's a short trip from our plants to most publishers' warehouses,” Tobin noted. Edwards said he expects to hear more discussions with publishers about “printing locally,” referring not only to printing in the U.S., but also to what part of the country the manufacturing should be done in.

Michael Jacobs, president of Harry N. Abrams, said the company continues “to look at printing opportunities in the States,” adding that “a fair amount” of Abrams's one- and two-color work is printed domestically. Abrams, however, has not moved many of its four-color jobs to the U.S. unless it needs a quick turnaround. “The problem with the U.S. for four-color is still limited capacity, trim size limitations and prepress/separation expenses, which still are more than in China/Asia,” Jacobs explained.

If changing economics is not enough to move more book manufacturing back to the U.S., printers are hoping the green movement will be an impetus. Printers said that over the past several months, they have received many more printing proposals requesting information on their environmental policies. One printer said a prospective client even asked about printing a book on paper made from sugar cane. To make their businesses more green, printers are continuing to add more recycled paper to their mix, as well as getting Chain of Custody certification from the Forest Stewardship Council and, increasingly, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Upton said Malloy decided to get certification from both FSC and SFI in order to offer customers a broader selection of certified papers. Still, several printers said that while many publishers have expressed interest in using more green printing practices, with the cost of business in general increasing (paper costs are set to rise again July 1) they are hesitating about using recycled and/or certified paper, which generally costs slightly more than traditional paper. “I've got some 30% PCW [post-consumer waste] paper that is just sitting there,” one printer said.

Earlier this month, Maple-Vail, in partnership with Amerikal Products Corp., introduced a new printing process that it claims is the most environmentally friendly in the industry. By utilizing Amerikal's Thin Ink Film Technology, Maple-Vail can completely eliminate the use of natural gas for its web presses while significantly reducing the use of electricity. More importantly, the release of VOC (volatile organic compounds) is dramatically reduced. Tyson Miller, head of the Green Press Initiative, said the Maple-Vail effort “is a great example of a printer showing leadership” in experimenting with more environment friendly techniques.

The increasing willingness of publishers to review their entire production process is the best chance domestic printers have for recovering business from overseas. As John Edwards, who has long advocated that publishers change the way they look at their cost structures, put it: “It's easier to do big print runs than more targeted runs, but it's not really more efficient.”