SHORT-RUN BOOKS - Book of One
By CHERYL A. ADAMS
E-commerce IS changing the name of the book publishing/manufacturing game. Internet customers want their books right away, and they are willing to pay a premium for instant turnaround.
In reality—specifically the virtual one—the customer is paying for the convenience of shopping on the Internet. Interestingly, many books sold on the Web aren't usually marked down in price (in fact, book manufacturers admit that most Web products include the "acceptable" retail markup), and buyers pay the shipping charge.
But this Internet sale comes with great expectations. The book buyer is willing to pay, but when payment is only a click (and credit card) away, shipment of the product is expected to be almost as fast—especially when the book is advertised as being "in stock 24 hours." In the same way, e-customers expect instant information over the Web; they want instantaneous turnaround on their cyber order.
As those orders are clicked in (sometimes directly to the book manufacturer, bypassing the publisher completely), manufacturers must have the capability to satisfy the ultra-quick, time-to-market requirements. "When rapid delivery is expected with each order—especially in the non-inventory, e-commerce environment—an automatic process is critical. Immediate turnaround is an absolute requirement," states Jim Augustine, vice president of national sales at King of Prussia, PA-based Xyan.com.
In today's digital short-run book market, automatic turnaround is not a problem. Not even for quantities of one. Not even if the book is hard bound. Augustine says a digital file can be converted, printed and bound—soft or hard cover—cost-effectively and quickly, in as little as one minute for a soft-cover book (a little longer for hard bound, of course).
"Because the book blocks are the same, regardless of the binding, publishers are able to offer hard- and soft-cover books simultaneously, without investing in inventory," Augustine explains. On-demand output is then shipped to the publisher's distribution center for shipment or (in the case of Xyan.com) directly to the end user from the manufacturer, without becoming inventory.
And, without any inventory, publishers can sell books, printed on-demand, to fulfill existing orders.
Based on a "book of one" model, many of today's top digital book printers—including Xyan.com (which supplies digital, on-demand products for Banta), Quebecor World, Edward Brothers Book Manufacturing (EB), Integrated Book Technology (IBT/Global) and Lightning Source (a division of Ingrams), among others—are creating products one at a time (just in time), rather than creating inventory (just in case). The traditional short run of 100 to 500 copies has been shortened to less than 20.
Binding Is Key to Quality
New advancements in bookbinding equipment are allowing manufacturers to produce quality products quickly, which is a requirement for any type of printing—particularly short-run books. New auto-makeready features allow binders to automatically sense and adjust to different trim sizes and bulks for each book, binding up to 60 books per minute.
The ability to bind at 60 books per minute is not an extraordinary feat; binders have been capable of such speeds for several years—off-line, that is.
"Initially, in-line finishing equipment was added and put at the back of the [printing] machine," explains Bill Clockel, vice president and owner of Troy, NY-based Integrated Book Technology (IBT). "The problem was that the print engine wanted to produce a book every three minutes, but the binding equipment wanted to produce 60 or 70 per minute. So the in-line equipment was not productive. But the new digital binding equipment realizes that there are efficiencies in manufacturing multiple units off-line, instead of at the back of the press."
Clockel predicts that the industry is about a year away from seeing "state-of-the-art solutions, especially for case binding, that feature the same efficiencies we have grown to enjoy with digital printing. Staffing, makeready time and throughput have always been the obstacles when dealing with traditional binding requirements, as well as dealing with the collated sheets output by digital sheetfed and web presses."
Additionally, Clockel says the strategy of shorter print runs and the efficiencies of digital printing engines have been stymied until now because of the typically long makereadies and highly skilled labor required to produce a product acceptable to the publishing community. With more digital shops popping up to serve the growing demand for international distribution, Clockel adds, equipment is being designed with mobility in mind. One of the distinctive characteristics of new-generation digital printing and binding machines is their portability and smaller size.
As more book manufacturers get into digital short-run printing, the demand for quicker makeready and increased throughput will increase, and more systems—particularly in-line—will be built with that focus in mind, notes Jeff Vierkant, general manager of the Dubuque, IA-based Quebecor World Digital Custom Demand facility. Acknowledging that there is a continuing challenge with in-line finishing, Vierkant believes that front- and back-end manufacturers will work closely in the future to design equipment that will marry digital print engines and in-line bindery equipment, in order to speed up the process from digital file to bound book.
However, Vierkant points out that faster, more efficient equipment is just one of the developments impacting today's digital bookbinding market. Another significant trend involves the binding itself.
"Soft cover plastic coil binding has increased 155 percent in the past year, while soft cover adhesive and soft cover wire spiral have remained flat," he declares. "Plastic coil gives more color options, plus it's a more durable bind than wire because it doesn't get bound or kinked during shipment."
And when books are being shipped in quantities of one to Internet end users who are paying top dollar for book products, those products better arrive with quality intact and in lightning speed.
A digitized printing/binding process enables publishers to meet this ever-growing need for speed. And depending on the publisher (and the type of print job that is required), leading book manufacturers are integrating digital printing/binding into their business models in different ways, each business model working differently to serve the publisher's specific needs.
Companies like Xyan.com and Edwards Brothers Book Manufacturing are employing the latest in digital printing/binding technology to provide complete, closed-loop service, wherein manufacturing is only part of the business process.
Augustine explains: "When a Web order is placed, it's processed from the publisher to Xyan.com manufacturing. When we manufacture a product, it is shipped directly to the user, and we notify the publisher what item has been manufactured and to whom it was shipped. We also include the shipping tracking number; it's a closed-loop process. As we receive orders from the publisher, manufacture and ship the orders, we then close the loop by notifying the publisher that the orders were filled.
"Not so long ago, when we were printing/binding books and shipping them to inventory, the manufacturing processes were critical," Augustine continues. "Today, it's also critical to have an efficient business process. As more business is being conducted on the Web, manufacturing the book is becoming only part of the process. Fulfillment and notification to the publisher are now other critical elements."
Ann Arbor, MI-based Edwards Brothers recently went one step further to provide complete, closed-loop service: It installed what it claims is the nation's first onsite print-on-demand facility to be physically located in the distribution center of a U.S. publishing and distribution company.
"We've compressed the supply chain by installing a digital printing/binding line in a customer's warehouse," declares President John Edwards, of his company's recent venture with 20-year customer, Rowan & Littlefield Publishing Group (RLPG). "We installed a few print engines, a binder, a scanning station and the necessary operators to fulfill Rowan & Littlefield's inventory needs. What we've done is give the publisher its own print-on-demand, short-run operation."
The print-on-demand site, which was installed in RLPG's Blue Ridge Summit, PA-based facility, became operational in July 2000. Edwards says that printing and binding short-run books, on-demand, within 24 to 48 hours, has made the term "out of stock" obsolete for this pioneering publishing firm.
And, as more Internet orders are placed for products that are "in-stock 24 hours," book manufacturers are turning to the latest in digital printing/binding technology to print books on-demand, both quickly and cost-effectively. They are eliminating the age-old problem of excess inventory by digitally printing/binding just in time, instead of just in case.