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Digital Book Production -- Speaking Volumes

April 2003
by chris bauer

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but a book's economic viability can be judged by how it is produced. To keep costs under control, many printers have turned to digital production for short runs of books.

Short-run digital book manufacturing helps to reduce costly overprinting of offset runs and can keep publishers' titles alive after initial print run volumes are depleted. Overhead costs have narrowed profitability for book manufacturers in recent years. To remain competitive, book printers needed to find a way to overcome challenging price benchmarks and the effects of a flat economy.

Book printer Edwards Brothers, headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI, came up with a solution. It established remote short-run digital printing facilities at The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group's warehouse in Blue Ridge Summit, PA, in mid-2000, and at University of Chicago Press' distribution center in November 2001 for cost-effective runs of 250 books and less.

Full Service Facilities

Each site is staffed with two Edwards Brothers professionals, equipped with Xerox DocuTech and DocuColor digital printers, and supported by scanning and other services from Edwards Brothers' plants.

Bindery equipment such as an ODM casemaking line, sticker casing-in machine (glues book block into hard cover), and smasher building-in machine from On Demand Machinery is also in use at the Blue Ridge Summit site.

By manufacturing books at the publishers' distribution centers, Edwards Brothers eliminates overhead costs involved with shipping books from the plant to the customer. As a result, digital book production is even more cost-effective, enabling profitable production of as little as one copy in a run, as compared to minimum runs of 25 in the Edwards Brothers facilities.

"Digital printing enhances our role with the publisher, permitting us to help them produce the right quantity at the right time, for the right price," explains John Edwards, CEO and president of Edwards Brothers.

"Today, publishers build just-in-case inventories—just in case they have an order, they want to have the books. But that's expensive. Digital printing allows them to avoid overprinting by economically printing short runs that complement long offset runs to more accurately reflect the demand cycle. When these demand issues are worked together with an effort to reduce the overhead involved with doing business together, it really changes the dynamic of the relationship for the benefit of both parties."

In its first year of outsourced, onsite book production, Edwards Brothers' customer Rowman & Littlefield generated more than $1 million in revenues for books they otherwise would not have been able to produce.

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