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Book Printing Outlook -- Consumer Confidence Key

December 2008 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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ONE OF the characteristics of a difficult economy is the slowdown of consumer confidence, which has a trickle-up effect on the goods and services sector. Less spending equals lower demand, equals lesser manufacturing output. The schizophrenic bounces of the oil market in 2008 is perhaps an extreme example.

Restoring consumer confidence will lift all of the boats that have run ashore due to the economic concerns that network one another. There is precedent hope surrounding the election of a new U.S. president, someone who can not only rinse away the bad taste of 2008, but also breathe new life into the American psyche.

Still, it will require more than a new president to rejuvenate the business sector. Take the U.S. book market. In a down economy, there is less funding for schools, which cut back on their orders for new textbooks and materials. Publishers, as a result, curtail their print runs. Publishers took a cautious, wait-and-see approach in 2008.

Optimism is strong for 2009, and printers are taking measures to ensure success. Montreal-based Quebecor World, which filed for restructuring bankruptcy in the United States and Canada in 2008, made a lot of difficult choices over the course of the year. It removed some flexographic capacity from its book platform, restructured its operating units for maximum efficiency, and is now poised to emerge from creditor protection with a much-improved balance sheet and available funds.

“The new Publishing Services Group has 21 operating plants, now all linked, and three manufacturing executives driving those businesses,” notes Kevin Clarke, president of Publishing Services for Quebecor World. “It’s really a powerful solution. With the synergies we’ve brought forward since June, we’re seeing significant efficiencies and the timing couldn’t be better. We put in new equipment—I call them hybrid presses—in both of our consumer-focused plants. They’re targeted to be efficient both for long- and short-run work.”

Few Blockbuster Sales

Quebecor World reaped a mixed-bag 2008 on the book side. Education was strong for the first three quarters, but began to soften in the fourth quarter. Its greatest weakness is the consumer end, which clearly is tracking the economic slowdown. And, while authors like Stephenie Meyer continue to grow in popularity, there simply wasn’t any J.K. Rowling buzz to drive people into bookstores.



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