Book Printing Outlook : Addressing Evolving NeedsDecember 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
If anything, the emergence of eBooks as an über niche tucked inside the book publishing space has provided more opportunities for the printing community to show off its diversity to publishing clients. Some of the nation's largest book printers have dug deep into their coffers to fortify printing capabilities and capacity, a sign of health despite an economy that refuses to break into full recovery mode.
Print runs numbering in the millions may not be business as usual in the 21st century, but most publishers have not curtailed the number of titles they've brought to market. Electronic books now rule the adult fiction segment, according to the BookStats 2012 study, co-produced by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group. E-book net sales revenue more than doubled in 2011 compared to 2010.
How bright is the future for books? Take a look at who's reading. The children's/young adult space ranked as the fastest-growing category in publishing during 2011, raking in a cool $2.78 billion. Religion showed strong growth as well, according to the study.
It would be premature to dig the grave of printed books, the electronic growth notwithstanding. Even with the demise of the Borders chain, brick-and-mortar retailers remained the No. 1 sales distribution channel for publishers in 2011, boasting net revenue of $8.59 billion. Publishers' revenue from direct-to-consumer sales nearly doubled, eclipsing $1 billion for the first time, according to BookStats.
It was a solid, steady year on the trade publishing side, with smaller initial print runs somewhat offset by strong reprint activity as publishers once again sought to manage their inventories very closely, notes Peter Tobin, vice president of North Chelmsford, MA-based Courier Corp. According to Tobin, publishers also seem to be publishing a consistent number of new titles, and the printer enjoyed considerable success in bringing in new clients.
On the higher education side, custom four-color textbooks—for several consecutive years—continue to be a burgeoning space as short runs for specific adoptions are where the growth is. Tobin has noticed a reduction in print quantities for traditional college textbooks, though not dramatic. The religious market was a consistent performer again for Courier in 2012, with both trade and scripture sales faring well.
"The area where we've seen the greatest weakness is the K-12 market," he says. "There were a number of states that we thought would free up money this year to buy texts, because there's been so much pent-up demand. That didn't happen in 2012, but we're seeing signs it will happen in 2013. These districts have a need for books."
At press time, Courier announced a $13 million investment that will place a high-volume HP T410 color inkjet web press at its four-color plant in Kendallville, IN, next spring. The 42˝-wide machine will be complemented by a new HP Indigo 10000 digital press for book jackets, large-format covers and other components, plus a Muller Martini binding line and other enhancements.
In addition to the expansion in Kendallville, Courier had previously installed a trio of HP T350s at its North Chelmsford, MA, Courier Digital Solutions branch. Case binding, case making and sewing capabilities were also brought to Courier Digital, enabling Courier to produce virtually any type of book digitally with offset print quality.
"Installing the HP T410 in Kendallville, where we have four, four-color manroland Lithoman web presses, allows us to do long runs, as well as ultra-short runs and POD—whatever the market demands—of the same quality books under one roof," Tobin relates. "Much of the technology developed at Courier Digital Solutions will be deployed at Kendallville as well."
Tobin is optimistic regarding 2013, confident that an improved economy and stronger adoptions at the el-hi level will stoke demand. The enhanced capacity for one- and four-color, short-run, digitally printed books will enable Courier to help publishers manage their content to meet the twin goals of dramaticaly reducing inventories as well as obsolescence.
Another big hitter in the field of book printing, Sussex, WI-based Quad/Graphics also found volumes to be static. Trade sales showed modest unit growth buoyed by growth in juvenile trade, which helped to defray mass market declines characteristic of the impact felt from electronic books. State budget constraints hampered the el-hi space, while growing university student populations fueled the slight uptick in higher education.
"Quad/Graphics has seen an ongoing trend across all product segments toward shorter initial run lengths and more reprints," states Jeff Duening, vice president and general manager, books and directories. "There has been a slowing of e-book growth, but on a larger base. At the same time, publishers have sought out ways to enhance the quality of their printed products with better papers, more distinctive covers and high-definition printing."
Quad/Graphics continued to bolster its print-on-demand offerings in both one- and four-color work. Its R&D subsidiary, QuadTech, developed a print-on-demand digital solution for mass market books, while Quad also expanded its book component offering with new conventional sheetfed presses and decorating capabilities. Also, Duening notes, Quad continued its emphasis on making print more effective and more linked to the consumer.
"We offer both printed books and e-books, so consumers get content in the format they prefer," he says. "We launched interactive print solutions (IPS) to provide links between the physical book and smart phones and related mobile devices. These services include Augmented Reality, image recognition, QR codes and Near Field Communication. IPS makes it easier to sell a book in a bookstore through video links. It enhances the content with extra value information. Lastly, it improves discoverability of other related titles that the reader may enjoy."
Looking ahead to 2013, Duening believes the year will yield incremental changes in books as e-books continue to capture market share, larger publishers consolidate and more authors opt to self-publish. The number of titles published annually will continue to rise, but individual run lengths will dwindle further, he says. Thus, in order to succeed, Quad will need a greater focus on Web-to-print interaction with its publishing clients, while focusing on offering services to those clients that enhance the value of print.
"In a multimedia world, Quad/Graphics is helping publishers drive profits by producing the right quantity of great books, and helping make books more relevant, discoverable, targeted and interactive," Duening relates.
For Chicago-based RR Donnelley, the 2012 book campaign was one of continued revenue growth for publishers in what has been an ongoing transition into a multi-channel industry. The children and young adult spaces continued to flourish on both the print and e-book side, while the trade segment continued to be a "hits-driven business," notes Dave McCree, senior vice president.
"We saw publishers respond positively to our broad capabilities that allow us to provide print-on-demand books using our in-line ProteusJet presses, as well as to draw on our global platform to find the optimal mix of cycle time and cost for books in quantities of one to a million," he says.
Like his contemporaries, McCree notes the challenges facing the el-hi sector and, like Courier's Tobin, feels the dip in higher ed was muted by growth on the custom publishing end. Publishing clients also sought efficiencies in physical book distribution. In addition, RR Donnelley augmented increased demand in the religious space with creative formats and specialized editions for publishers.
McCree believes one of the most profound changes to impact the book publishing realm is the integration of supply chains. "Publishers want to respond to a multi-channel world in which speed to market confers advantage," he says. "Every publisher wants to be able to reduce cycle times and to find readers wherever they are and however they want to read."
The task for RR Donnelley is to leverage a single file in a number of ways for a publisher's end user: for digital devices, in on-demand quantities or hard copies numbering in the millions. The printer is also tasked with the work's disposition—warehousing and distribution—and to produce it at a location geographically convenient.
In order to boost its game, RR Donnelley added scale to its LibreDigital offering, which enables it to convert files for e-reading on all digital platforms. The printer also enhanced its ProteusJet line of high-speed digital printers for on-demand production with automated softcover and hardcover binding lines and piezoelectric inkjet heads.
During 2012, Donnelley expanded its book fulfillment capabilities with a new distribution center near Indianapolis. In November, HarperCollins announced that it has turned over its U.S. distribution to RR Donnelley and that by next summer, the printer will warehouse and "pick, pack, and ship" all U.S. HarperCollins titles.
RR Donnelley also continues to tightly integrate its ability to support publishers' and booksellers' merchandising needs with everything from on-book labels to free-standing, in-store displays.
As for what the new year holds, McCree is confident in RR Donnelley's ability to help publisher clients achieve their goals. "We've laid the tracks to help publishers' content connect with sellers and readers," he says. "Whether we're producing a few hundred copies of a teachers' edition, an advance reading copy or a back-list title using our ProteusJet digital presses with in-line finishing capabilities; formatting a title for flawless e-reading performance through our LibreDigital offering; keeping a blockbuster in stock at online and physical bookstores; or handling book fulfillment needs, RR Donnelley will offer publishers complete supply chain solutions in 2013 and beyond." PI