Lightning Source — Electrified Book Production

Lightning Source employs five HP Indigo 3050s to produce color book covers.

A Lightning Source operator processes books as they come off an Océ 9000 print line.

Lightning Source executives pictured, from the left, include David Taylor, Kirby Best and Charles Marshall.

A three-knife Horauf Ecotrimmer helps Lightning Source output 40,000 books per day.

“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.

To make the on-demand model work, Best explains that Ingram’s distribution inventory lists 100 copies of titles in Lightning Source’s library as “in stock.” In turn, Lightning Source guarantees to print and deliver a title to Ingram in 12 hours or less.

Therefore, the in-stock inventory is virtual and orders are often for a single copy of a book. Short-run orders are shipped within five business days, while drop ship orders—orders that are sent direct to a publisher’s customer—are shipped in two days or less.

On-Demand Output

Charles Marshall, senior vice president and general manager at Lightning Source, reveals that the average number of books per title printed is just 1.8, with approximately 40,000 books printed daily. The company runs 24/7 with two shifts of back-to-back 12-hour stints followed by a six-hour swing day for production.

“We are the living end of the Long Tail,” Best says, explaining that the Long Tail comes from a math formula which posits that if something is still available and searchable, demand and sales go on. For publishers, that means they will probably sell more copies of a book from their backlists in the Long Tail and that a book need never go out of print. (He recommends reading “The Long Tail” by Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson.)

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