When PW began this series in September 2013, the book publishing industry appeared headed to a market where print and digital books would coexist. After explosive gains in the 2010–2012 period, e-book sales began to cool considerably in 2013, while the decline of print book sales also slowed. Those trends continued into 2014, so that now there is no doubt that the book industry is in a hybrid market in which consumers will be buying books in both print and digital formats for the foreseeable future.
While it is unlikely that e-book sales will return to double-digit annual growth rates any time soon, the emergence of the format as a permanent part of the book market has resulted in profound and lasting changes in the industry. The most significant from a manufacturing standpoint is that print runs are down in all categories, ranging from general trade to education. The economies of scale that publishers once relied on to keep costs down are now more difficult to attain using traditional printing methods. As Mitch Rogartz, founder of independent publisher Triumph Books, notes, gone are the days of 12,000-copy first printings: today he is looking at runs of 5,000–6,000.
The change in consumer preference has made it much more difficult for publishers to forecast demand for print titles. Indeed, the market share for e-books varies tremendously from genre to genre, with digital books generally selling best in fiction and less well in nonfiction, although gains are occurring there as well. This uncertainty has led companies to keep first print runs as close to initial orders as possible. And while offset is still often used to cover first printings, more and more publishers are turning to digital printing to meet reprint demand.
The offset-digital printing combination can be used for much more than meeting production of new titles. As the articles on the following pages demonstrate, publishers see digital printing as a way to meet the demands brought on by new business models, improving the efficiency of the supply chain and taking advantage of international opportunities.
One new way publishers are using digital printing is to fulfill demand for midlist and backlist titles by producing print-on-demand books in quantities as low as a single copy. With today’s technology, books can stay in print forever, and digital printing is being employed to better manage the long tail of backlist titles and the life cycle of each book. In the education market, adaptive learning is being adopted more and more in higher education, resulting in a growing need for customized textbooks.
New developments in technology have created new challenges and new opportunities for publishers, who are finding that digital printing opens up options for longer title life as well as new sales possibilities for niche titles.