E-Devices: Print’s Frenemy

Books: The Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader are three of the leading devices in the e-reader space, but by no means are they the only ones. About 10 percent of consumer trade book sales are digital, and certainly much of that growth can be attributed to hard-core readers who are taking advantage of another outlet to satiate their thirst for literature.

Perhaps the greater impact is seen in the offset vs. digital printing battle, with book publishers increasingly seeking shorter runs and going back on press more frequently in an effort to do away with the dreaded inventorying and waste. Digital printing enables shorter run lengths that are simply not cost-feasible with conventional printing. For Montreal-based Transcontinental, going digital has brought back much of the work that was being sent to Asian countries.

“Publishers can’t afford to go overseas because time has become much more of a critical factor in the production of the reprints, to get them back into the distribution channel at a quicker rate,” notes Bruce Jensen, group vice president of sales for Transcontinental’s Magazine, Book and Catalog Group.

Converting hard copy into digital formats has become a modest revenue generator for many book manufacturers. Back in February, Transcontinental announced it had chosen De Marque’s production and distribution services platform to address the e-book needs of both U.S. customers and English-speaking Canadian clients.

As for e-readers, the question is whether the rise in market share will be at the expense of hard copy, or if it represents a new sector that doesn’t thrive on the demise of the printed word. Brian Freschi, president of retail inserts, books, directories and Canada for Sussex, WI-based Quad/Graphics, believes the truth lies somewhere in between.

“The e-reader has grown the overall share of the pie,” Freschi says. “It has taken away some print, but I don’t think it’s a 1:1 correlation. Saying it’s additive might be a bit Pollyannaish, but e-readers are not cannibalizing print anywhere near the extent some people might think.”

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