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Ingram Books--The Speed of Lightning

March 1998
Prometheus may have introduced fire to the mortals in Greek mythology, but LaVergne, TN-based Ingram Book Co. is supplying lightning to printers and publishers. Well, Lightning Print, that is. The newest division of Ingram Books, Lightning Print utilizes on-demand technology to offer "one-at-a-time" printing services to the book industry. And there's nothing mythical about it.

Currently in pilot production, Lightning Print (LPI) is the result of a strategic alliance among Ingram, IBM and Danka: IBM delivers the print on-demand technology, while Danka is overseeing the entire process. The concept is simple; Lightning Print stores books in a digital library, and its on-demand capabilities allow the company to print books one at a time as ordered by the retailer.

Since November, LPI—based at Ingram's headquarters—has been setting up and testing equipment, which includes the IBM InfoColor 70 and InfoPrint 4000, Inspectron's document verification system and Duplo's Quadrimax perfect binder.

"During the pilot period, we're going to be working with about 25 to 30 publishers and getting about 200 to 300 titles available to the general public," reveals Larry Brewster, vice president and general manager, Lighting Print division.

So, how does the process work?

"The publisher can send a title as either hard copy or in digital form," explains Brewster. "If it's a hard copy, we scan it. At that point, the book can be printed at any time.

"The bookseller would then order a book through Ingram; Ingram would pass the order to us that night; and we'd produce [the books] the next day and deliver them to the Ingram warehouse to be shipped to the next bookseller."

All-around Benefits
The benefits of Ingram's new venture abound for the book industry. The electronic library and on-demand application ensure that current backlist books need not go out of print. In addition, titles previously out of print or out of stock indefinitely will be made available, resulting in an increased amount of books—and an increased amount of sales.

"Publishers will no longer have to worry about unprofitable print runs and warehousing costs," says Michael F. Lovett, president/CEO of Ingram Book Group, parent company of Ingram Book Co. "With on-demand technology, you print to meet your demand—whether that demand is one copy or one thousand."

And Lightning Print, charged with the appropriate equipment, is set to keep up with demand—and live up to its name.

"We opted to separate the printing and binding equipment," relates Brewster. "When an order's sent to the printer, the file goes to the color cover printer and, at the same time, a book block is printed. Then they meet at the binding operation."

Bar codes located on the cover and book block are read by a document verification system supplied by Inspectron and integrated into Duplo's Quadrimax perfect binder, to ensure that the cover correctly matches the text.

Speeding the process further is the fact that the Quadrimax requires no changes in set-up to account for thickness variation. "Because the application is on-demand, book thickness will vary from one title to the next," says Paul Steinke, technical marketing manager for Duplo. "Our machine is able to do this application in a productive manner without taking time for setting up and changing title to title."

And printing and binding a book can take less than a minute. "It may not go that fast," Brewster explains, "as clock time may be different than labor time; but clock time is probably less than a minute."

And how do LPI books stack up against their offset-manufactured counterparts? "You'd have a hard time [distinguishing between the two] unless you knew exactly what to look for in a paperback book," notes Brewster.

According to Brewster, the pilot period will extend through the next three to six months—enough time to refine any kinks in production— and seize the publishing industry by storm.

—Carolyn R. Bak
 

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