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Lightning Source — Electrified Book Production

March 2007 BY Noel Jeffrey
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BY APPLYING ad­­vanced digital printing and workflow technologies to customer needs since 1997, Lightning Source has sent a current through the publishing industry. It’s charged a new business model and unheard of speed for delivery of one-off books based on print-on-demand (POD) manufacturing. POD means a customer orders the number of books needed, even if that’s only a single copy. Economically speaking, a title need never go out of print.

“Our mission is to be the global leader in on-demand solutions for the book publishing industry,” proclaims Kirby Best, Lightning Source’s president and CEO. Those solutions include maintaining a digital library for publishers, offering a selection of distribution models and more.

A division of Ingram Industries headquartered in La Vergne, TN, Lightning Source opened an additional production facility in Milton Keynes, England (north of London), in 2001 and continues to expand its reach.

In late January, the company announced it will open a third book manufacturing facility west of Allentown in Breinigsville, PA. Expected to start up in June, when fully operational the 130,000-square-foot plant will employ approximately 150 people and house 16 black-and-white presses, 10 webfed color presses, five sheetfed color presses and 12 binding lines. The company currently has 455 employees.

50 Million Books Printed

While Ingram Industries doesn’t disclose sales for its divisions, Lightning Source’s statistics are impressive. Its digital library houses more than 500,000 individual titles, and they have printed more than 40 million books. Best says the book manufacturer will surpass 50 million books printed this year as they celebrate their 10th anniversary this fall.

According to Best, they now work with some 4,500 publishing partners, including booksellers. Large publishers account for 63 percent of their business. Individual authors and self-publishers are referred to the various author services like iUniverse, although Lightning Source does print for the author services companies.

“We deal directly with companies like Barnes & Noble and Amazon,” he notes. “Other large retailers buy through distributors like the Ingram Book Group, Bertrams and others. The big publishers and booksellers have figured out the on-demand model. In book manufacturing, it’s growing faster than any other segment because it eliminates inventory risks. We’ve given them a whole new business model.”

Best cites Information Age Publishing, a social science publisher of academic and scholarly books, series and journals, as an example of complete transformation. Two years ago, after working with Lightning Source for five years, the publisher cleared its inventory and closed its warehouse. “They’re now 100 percent virtual with us. They loved finding authors and bringing books to market, but hated the inventory risks. Now they can concentrate on what they like,” he notes.


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