2022 Book Printing Market Outlook: Positivity, But Challenges Persist
When defining the outlook for book manufacturing in the year ahead, John Galligan, president of Bradford & Bigelow in Newburyport, Massachusetts, uses an apt analogy considering the topic at hand: “It’s a tale of two cities,” he says. Galligan is referring to the marked difference between the outlook at the beginning of this year to the outlook now, with regard to the ongoing supply chain challenges.
In Printing Impressions’ Book Manufacturing Outlook for 2021, demand outstripping supply was already emerging as a leading concern, and as the Book Manufacturers Institute (BMI) published its "State of the Book Industry 2021," Executive Director Matt Baehr commented: “As we move forward, economic and labor trends, along with supply chain issues, will affect our industry greatly.”
There is no getting away from it, these challenges will remain top of mind going into 2022 and the headache itʼs causing for the book manufacturing segment looks likely to endure for the foreseeable future. “To manage this supply chain crisis, we’re advising our clients of three key things,” Galligan says. “No. 1, communicate. No. 2, prioritize. And No. 3, consider that dates will need to be extended.”
Paper and Labor Shortages Take a Toll
Adi Chinai, president of King Printing in Lowell, Massachusetts, agrees that we are yet to see a resolution on the horizon, and paints a picture of a vicious cycle compounding the issue: “We’re seeing a lot of people worried about the shortages increasing their buying pattern, which is only exacerbating some of these constraints. As things normalize little by little as we continue through next year, I hope that some of the shortages on labor and raw materials will level out. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to continue for a little while longer.”
Perhaps the most significant issue is the inability to obtain sufficient quantities of paper. There are seemingly a number of contributing factors, chief among them being the impact of the pandemic on supply chains, as well as extreme weather events affecting the production of raw materials, and fluctuating patterns of demand since early 2020. Businesses in the book manufacturing space are looking at soaring prices and long lead times, forcing them to absorb costs, pass them onto customers, or find ways to boost productivity and efficiency.
“Getting paper is the current challenge,” points out Todd Roth, VP of manufacturing and distribution, Core Publishing Solutions, in Eagan, Minnesota. “We’ve been fortunate to have many long-term relationships with both merchants and directly with paper mills, but even with that we’ve had to work hand-in-hand on how to make projects work for our customers.”
Despite the turbulence, Roth takes a “glass half full” approach to the paper shortages: “I appreciate our partners in that space; it hasn’t been easy for them to ramp up capacity to match what’s happening in the market. But I will say, the people in the book market space, whether it’s on the publishing side or the supplier side, are a good group of people trying to get the products out the door to service readers, which is exciting.”
Galligan offers some additional insight into the paper problem: “The paper market is extended because paper mills are being converted to packaging mills, so paper lead times are much more extended than they were before and capacity is an issue. I don’t see a resolution in the foreseeable future.” On top of this, Galligan also cites the lack of new paper mills being built and publishers “reshoring” significant print volumes to North America from Asia and thus extending lead times for North American paper mills as factors in the paper shortage.
Bill Clockel, VP of sales at Integrated Books International in Sterling, Virginia, echoes the observation that mills are redirecting efforts to other products, noting: “Paper mills are not only cutting back, but they’re switching from book grade papers to, in their view, more profitable types of paper products. So even though some mills might have closed, more likely than not they’re not making book papers anymore. That’s the biggest problem that we see. There are other challenges with obtaining consumables, but paper clearly is the biggest one.”
Another shortage taking its toll is the scarcity of labor. “The challenge that we have at the moment is getting enough people,” Roth explains, adding that they are currently offering incentives including hiring and referral bonuses to attract new staff. Galligan agrees that labor “is an issue nationwide” and is focused on demonstrating how valued employees are at Bradford & Bigelow. As labor shortages bite and digital production in the book manufacturing sector ramps up, automation is becoming all the more crucial. Roth says: “Because of the stresses of finding labor and the cost of labor, automation is imperative. For those that can’t invest in automation, it’s going to be more and more difficult.”
Market Remains Buoyant Despite Challenges
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom in the book manufacturing sector. During the pandemic the market remained buoyant as pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions brought about a reading renaissance of sorts, and there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic about the market as we move into 2022. The “BMI State of the Book Industry 2021” finds that 29.4% of commercial printers expect the book market to grow during the next one to two years, while only 19.1% expect a decline, and just over half (51.5%) expect it to hold steady. A confident Chinai says: “We remain bullish that the segment will continue to stay strong for the rest of the year, into 2022, and even as 2023 approaches.”
The interviewees speak from experience when they forecast positivity in book manufacturing for the year ahead. Integrated Books International upgraded to two Canon varioPRINT iX series sheetfed inkjet presses prior to the onset of COVID, and is continuing to invest further. “We were fortunate enough before the pandemic to purchase new equipment and increase our capacity,” Clockel explains, “and we have new binding lines and new casing-in lines coming in this month and next month. We’re in a good position in terms of our capabilities.”
In the 2021 outlook article, Roth cited a production potential of four billion digital pages for the year, but was surprised to see a significant growth in Core Publishing’s web offset work over the past year. “Looking at the numbers, we’re going to hit 16 billion pages this year, which is a lot higher than I had anticipated,” he notes. Elaborating on the market in general, Roth adds: “It has been a pretty stable market over the last five to seven years, and now it’s expanding again and the focus remains strong. That’s encouraging for all of us in the publishing or book manufacturing space.”
Inkjet Book Manufacturing Continues to Swell
The outlook for 2021 detailed the growing influence of digital inkjet, and that’s very much still on the agenda as we cast our eyes to 2022. Digital isn’t new to the book manufacturing market, but inkjet advancements are shaking things up, allowing publishers to capitalize on evolving demand, boost productivity, and add value with additional services.
According to IT Strategies, as cited in the Memjet and NAPCO Research report “Enhancing Book Publishers’ Ability to Respond to Changing Market Demands,” more than 10% of all book pages are now printed on production inkjet presses, a figure predicted to grow at double-digit rates moving forward, and the report “The Role of Inkjet Printing and Automation in Powering Industry 4.0 in Book Publishing” from the BMI and NAPCO Research, states that around half (48%) of book printers indicated that they were currently using a production inkjet press to print books. Galligan foresees that inkjet will continue to grow, adding that Bradford & Bigelow is expanding its inkjet capabilities.
Chinai views inkjet as undoubtedly the future for book manufacturing. “We’re very bullish on inkjet book manufacturing. It’s been changing the way that publishers stay in print; it’s evolved into a platform that allows you to print short, medium, and you even push it to print long. So publishers have really started to benefit from it, and it’s allowed backlists to stay alive, and frontlists to come forward quicker and in a more dynamic fashion.”
As production inkjet in book manufacturing matures, the technology is both influencing new trends and allowing new trends to be fully realized, and an unsurprising attraction from an end user perspective is the ability to get more creative with color. Chinai adds: “Publishers are also starting to recognize that certain book designs will lend themselves for more success with inkjet.”
Roth and Core Publishing Solutions are also enthusiastic about inkjet: “We’ve invested in inkjet technology and corresponding finishing solutions, which has brought us a number of new relationships with publishers in the color space that we didn’t have in the past. That trend is likely here to stay as we go forward, as it creates great flexibility for publishers.”
According to the BMI’s “State of the Book Industry 2021,” the industry continues to head in the direction of self-publishers, independent publishers, and print-on-demand, so it will be interesting to monitor how these trends continue to impact and restructure manufacturing in the sector.
Clockel notes how publishers are rethinking their inventory management. “With the uncertainty in the markets, publishers first and foremost are trying to cut back their initial printing quantities,” he explains. “Publishers are saying that they’re going to reprint more frequently in smaller quantities, so instead of doing one run of 1,000, they might do three 300 runs through the course of the year, moving to more of a stock replenishment model.”
Overall, there is a clear message of optimism in a segment that has fared pretty well during the pandemic, but ongoing supply challenges and shortages continue to cast a long shadow. Investment in state-of-the-art digital inkjet equipment (either as the future of the plant’s production or to complement offset capabilities) and workflow automation; maintaining strong relationships with partners, whether that’s directly with paper mills or merchants, publishing companies, book manufacturing colleagues or others; and keeping a close eye on turbulent supply chains will put book manufacturers in a strong position to ride out the storm and enjoy a prosperous 2022.
Karis Copp is a U.K.-based journalist and communications specialist. With a background as a writer and editor in the print industry, she writes about print and technology news and trends, reports on industry events, and works with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppMedia.