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Book Printing Outlook : Rolling With the Changes

December 2013 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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It seems the love affair between hard-copy books and the reading public wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. Hence, the tendency to curl up next to the fireplace with a good e-reader is becoming more and more commonplace.

Digital books have certainly made their mark on the trade publishing side. According to BookStats 2013, which is co-produced by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group, e-books—driven by adult fiction and children's/young adult—have grown 45 percent since 2011 and now constitute 20 percent of the trade market. The continued loss of brick-and-mortar stores and the lower cost of e-books will continue to grow that figure.

Despite the evolution, printed books are not exactly bound for life support systems. Printers have done a phenomenal job of positioning themselves to serve the changing needs of their publisher clients, from offering print-on-demand (POD) solutions and reducing inventory to providing drop-ship services that eliminate distribution hubs. The successful book manufacturer can provide multiple formats for publishers, help control their costs and reduce turnaround time.

In such a competitive sector, market and mind share are won by printers who aren't afraid to morph alongside their clients.

Carbon Copy of 2012

Jeff Duening, vice president and general manager, books and directories, for Sussex, WI-based Quad/Graphics, echoed the sentiments of his industry colleagues in noting that 2013 has closely mirrored its predecessor. Duening notes that overall demand was weak and volume soft or declining across all segments during the third quarter, with mass-market paperbacks having a particularly tough quarter. Education has been a mixed bag: el-hi was impacted by budgetary challenges, while higher ed volume moved up slightly.

"For all segments, the trend toward short runs and more reprints continues," Duening says. "Publishers are monitoring their inventories more closely than ever. They want to make sure a title has legs and will move off the shelf before they invest in a lot of inventory. E-book sales started showing signs of flattening (in 2012) and this year it appears the e-book market's days of extreme double-digit growth have ended."

According to Duening, Quad/Graphics has made significant investments in its digital platform, both from a press and finishing standpoint. However, Quad's conventional printing platform will continue to see investments where appropriate. He says the company sees possibilities to use its interactive print solutions with book publishers to add value and extend book content.

"Interactive print connects print with mobile technology, such as a smartphone or tablet, to create engaging experiences that pop off the page," he notes. "Interactive experiences include augmented reality, video, social media sharing, online access and more. These experiences add value for consumers."

Duening points out that Quad/Graphics Media Solutions offers XML capabilities to help publishers maximize their content across channels, and earlier this year began offering a full range of content creation services to book publishers, including research, concepting and design; copywriting, editing and proofreading; photography and art direction; and page layout and production.

As to what 2014 may hold in store for those spaces where Quad/Graphics competes, Duening says the economy will play a role in determining fortunes, but he sees a long, slow journey to recovery ahead. "One thing we are doing is keeping in close contact with our book publisher partners so we better understand their challenges and offer solutions to help them capitalize on opportunities," he adds.

It was a year of evolving markets for Chicago-based printing giant RR Donnelley, which noted changes in many segments it serves, including trade, education, religious, juvenile and professional. RR Donnelley continues to focus on investments that allow it to help publishing customers drive revenue, manage costs and improve services, reports Dave McCree, senior vice president of the firm's book business.

"We offer publishers quick turns, schedule flexibility and easy order replenishment that allow book shipments to reach retailers faster," McCree says. "We continue to invest in our one-color and four-color digital printing offering, as publishers shift their focus to inventory management needs for changing print volumes. Our enhanced fulfillment and distribution solution is specifically designed to solve the challenges of publishers who seek to lower their fulfillment and distribution costs, while enhancing service to their customers. Each of the solutions offered by RR Donnelley are also supported by our unsurpassed customer service."

Multi-Format Flexibility

On the education front, McCree notes a shift in product mix to include multiple formats of textbooks and workbooks. RR Donnelley's networked platform and mix of offset, digital print and POD assets provides publishers with the flexibility to produce in multiple formats and quantities, achieve ordering flexibility and more closely control costs, he adds. The college segment has experienced more change with growth in e-books, book rentals and integrated learning systems. Its LibreDigital group boasts capabilities in custom publishing, digital print textbooks and e-books that enable it to capture the demand, regardless of student preference for the format of their content.

RR Donnelley has bolstered its value proposition through a number of initiatives aimed at expanding its platform and service offering. Among the highlights: a new book fulfillment center in Indianapolis, designed for high-volume distribution; the creation of a digital POD facility in Crawfordsville, IN, that specializes in ultra-short-run needs; and investments in logistics planning tools that enable Donnelley to consolidate book volumes originating from its production locations and distribution centers to end destinations.

"In addition to our fulfillment and distribution platform, we continue to invest in our proprietary ProteusJet short-run digital printing capabilities to support increased demand for four-color, digital printing," McCree says. "Our goal is to continue to efficiently and cost-effectively serve customers, whether they purchase in quantities of one or millions."

Going forward, McCree sees RR Donnelley positioning itself as a strong supply chain partner that understands the dynamics of a publisher's business and has the resources to invest in technologies that drive cost savings. "Large and small publishers come to us seeking solutions for their businesses," he notes. "Our investments in added capabilities, combined with our end-to-end services, create a winning combination."

All in all, 2013 proved to be a busy campaign for North Chelmsford, MA-based Courier Corp. Digital printing continues to be the hot area for Courier, which debuted its second digital book printing plant at its Kendallville, IN, location in addition to the Courier Digital Solutions facility at its headquarters. The Kendallville plant welcomed two HP T410 color inkjet web presses, along with an HP Indigo 10000 digital press that handles book jackets, large-format covers and other components.

"Today, many publishers are moving to multi-print strategies to maximize the lifespan of every title and capture short-term opportunities, while reducing inventory and obsolescence costs," explained James Conway, Courier chairman and CEO, in a release. "By leveraging Courier Digital Solutions' expertise at our Kendallville plant, we can make that process a lot easier. Through this initiative, customers who already rely on Courier Kendallville for outstanding quality in four-color offset will gain access to offset-quality digital production for shorter runs right in the same facility. They'll also gain a full set of complementary capabilities, including content management, seamless customization and a direct-ship option from a convenient geographic hub."

Back in the spring, Courier announced it had forged a strategic relationship with Ingram Content Group. Under the deal, Courier is using Ingram's print-on-demand and digital distribution services, while Ingram relies on the book manufacturer's printing capabilities to streamline workflow and speed delivery to retailers and readers on a global basis.

Another key move for Courier saw the company acquire FastPencil, a developer of end-to-end, cloud-based content management technology. A startup headquartered in Campbell, CA, FastPencil serves authors and publishers with full-featured, open-platform solutions spanning content, workflow, marketing and distribution.

"FastPencil is a great fit for our existing customer base and a superb means of entry into one of the fastest-growing segments of our industry," Conway says. "Our current publishing customers will appreciate the extra options presented by FastPencil's cloud-based collaborative platform, intuitive design and development tools for both print and e-books, and integrated use of social media at every stage from concept to distribution.

"And self-publishers, who are already taking advantage of FastPencil's easy-to-use technology and licensing expertise, gain tremendous added value on the print side through Courier's ability to deliver top-quality books at attractive prices, on short order and in virtually any run length." PI



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