Digital Book Production: The Demands of On Demand
Not every book publishing market has reached the digital print tipping point, nor is the switch from offset to digital universal under all conditions. In the trade market, both EP and inkjet have achieved widespread acceptance, but only for certain quantities and total run lengths. "From a financial perspective, printing a large number of trade books is still more cost-effective on offset than it is on inkjet," says Canon Solutions America's Marketing Director Kris Albee. "There's a break-even point; today it's around 5,000 copies. Above that, offset is still the better choice. For a book you expect will sell well, the tried-and-true offset approach is still best. So, for the first run of, let's say, 100,000 copies, and probably the second run, you're better off using offset. However, for the shorter third or fourth runs, inkjet is more cost-effective."
Digital print also mitigates inventory costs and the risk of book returns. "We have a customer who publishes romance novels," Albee notes. "They used to print around 50,000 books a month on offset, but they were throwing away between 8,000 and 15,000 books every month. Now, they print 35,000 a month on offset and, as each book starts to sell, they print another 1,000 to 3,000 or more digitally, to meet the fluctuating demand. It's a complementary manufacturing strategy that reduces overall costs."
Other types of book publishing have different thresholds for widespread adoption of digital print. The educational market—both K-12 and Higher Education—has been increasingly using EP for its specialized, shorter-run titles, particularly where the content includes a high percentage of color. With the rapid rate of improvement for both EP and inkjet substrates, inks, and color management tools, education and other nonfiction publishers—with typically shorter runs and high quality expectations—are expected to migrate towards digital.