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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.



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