Digital Digest: Digital Book Printing Conference Tackles Trends, Technologies
NEW YORK — Volumes of printed pages will decrease significantly during the next four years, according to an IT Strategies study. Marco Boer, VP at IT Strategies, told attendees at the recent Digital Book Printing Conference that the volume of printed pages will decline 7.4% from 2007 to 2020, totaling more than 5 billion pages lost. As demand for print decreases over the next few years, book publishers and the printers that serve them are tasked with finding new ways to drive efficiencies and revenue. This is a future the book publishing industry needs to prepare for now, Boer said.
That was the goal of the third annual Digital Book Printing Conference, held here on Nov. 17, to help publishers take advantage of digital book printing and prepare for the future. In addition, a special event was held the night before the conference that focused on how digital printing is impacting the magazine and catalog printing markets. Printers and equipment manufacturers presented case studies where they’ve successfully worked with magazine and catalog publishers to develop targeted and personalized publications.
The Digital Book Printing Conference attracted more than 130 book publishers, printers and equipment manufacturers, and explored the latest trends and technologies. Here are a few of the highlights:
Inkjet is becoming more affordable, meaning larger digital print runs. In the kickoff session, Boer declared production inkjet as the vehicle that will drive greater adoption of digital book printing. Inkjet is a wet printing process, which makes it difficult on the thin paper stocks that book publishers typically use. Currently, publishers have to pay for more expensive, treated papers or specialty inks.
But Boer explained that inkjet is about to enter a disruptive phase where more common paper stocks can run through an inkjet press. This improvement will make it much more affordable for publishers to print runs of 1,500 to 5,000 titles using digital printing methods. As a result, many more books will be printed digitally and may one day surpass offset, he predicted.
Digital printing makes economic sense for publishers. Although inkjet is becoming more affordable, the fact remains that the per-unit cost of printing a book digitally is still higher than the per-unit cost of offset. But unit cost is an outdated way to think about the cost of book printing, contended Macmillan Learning CEO Ken Brooks during a keynote session on digital printing economics. Offset — despite its low unit cost — requires a “print and pray” model, where publishers use unreliable forecasts to anticipate consumer demand and print the appropriate quantities. This guesswork leaves publishers susceptible to returns, stock-outs and costly pulping of unsold inventory. “Print forecasts are often wrong,” Brooks said. “Demand fluctuates a lot throughout the life of a book. That exposes you to stock-outs, which means lost sales.”
One of the best ways to avoid the cost of stock-outs or the expense of holding onto unsold inventory is to embrace a print-on-demand strategy, which enables the printing and shipping of books after they have been purchased — sometimes to the retailer or customer in less than 24 hours.
Oxford University Press has adopted a similar short-run, digital printing model, explained stock planning team leader Lisa Ford during a panel session. “My goal is to have all of our titles in print and never miss a sale,” Ford said. “We do still have some titles out of print, but much fewer than in the past.”
Collaboration is key to streamlining printing processes. Making digital printing work does take some investment, like agile inventory planning systems and order management. During another panel, Lynn Terhune, global digital print manager at John Wiley & Sons, and Diane Degener, senior IT business analyst at LSC Communications, explained how they collaborated to implement more agile systems to better manage Wiley’s book orders and title management.
“As book runs become shorter, the frequency of orders increases,” said Degener. “There’s no way we could have managed that volume of orders without automation.” To automate order management, LSC and Wiley implemented the XBITS standard. XBITS is part of the papiNET standard created by Idealliance. XBITS allows publishers to automate electronic orders sent to supply chain partners, like printers and retailers.
While the order management system has taken years to develop, and is still being perfected, it has allowed Wiley and LSC Communications to take the manual work out of submitting orders and has reduced the amount of time it takes to print a book. That is driving significant cost savings for both organizations and eliminating “print and pray” waste.
Publishers and printers need to embrace change management to make digital printing work. As many speakers noted throughout the conference, digital book printing requires a change in thinking and a change of workflow. Publishers need to consider the lifecycle costs of a book as opposed to unit costs, and they need agile systems that can quickly react to changes in demand.
If book publishing leaders hope to change how their teams work, they need to define measures of success and report on those measures regularly. “Time to market might be one measure,” explained Pittis. “Or perhaps the operating cost per title. This is how you can address true opportunities and costs.”