Digital Book Production

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Revitalizing book publishing through print on demand

The way books are offered for sale and how they are purchased has changed. Large retailers and chains, supermarkets selling books, and Internet bookshops all demonstrate the diversity of approach. This has led to a changing value-added chain – book dealers such as Amazon now print books themselves, eBooks are gaining ground, and authors are increasingly utilizing the vanity publishing model to publish and sell their creations directly to the public.

In short, the market has become considerably more volatile, ad-hoc and unpredictable. In scenarios such as this, the book’s intrinsic importance has indisputably declined. The direction is clear, but it can place book publishers in a difficult position – how should they respond to these multitudinous changes? Fortunately, there’s a way to deal with the challenge – printing on demand.


Examine the trends

Evaluate the market

Regardless of the category – from short-run special-interest literature to speculative bestseller editions – more and more books have to be printed while they’re “hot”. It’s increasingly difficult for publishers to guesstimate the quantities they are going to sell. There is also an ever increasing risk of ending up with piles of unsaleable inventory. Here too, digital printing can build the bridge to combine profitability with superfast response times.

Exploit fragmentation of book markets

Rethink the structure Growth in publishing revenues is achievable only through an optimized blend of marketing and production activities that also embrace e-commerce. More and more books are self-published by businesses and organizations or private individuals who take charge of their own marketing and production. Marketing aspects, and direct contact with and access to customers, play a crucial role. The winners are the book projects being managed and controlled directly by consumers. These are projects that use the possibilities of digital communications technology as their value driver. The best example: photo books, created on print portals and printed fully digitally. “Vanity” publishing – where authors themselves take charge of book production and marketing – uses much the same principle. Digital printing-based services can also be used by publishers for more effective management of backlist titles. One excellent example is the service offering of Lightning Source, which has locations in the USA and UK and reprints approximately one million books per month on Océ brand digital printing systems for some 450 publishers. The average run length is 1.8 books, with delivery within 12 or 24 hours of order.

Publishers account for a steadily dwindling percentage of worldwide book production volumes. Their share has already dipped below 40 percent. More and more books are produced and marketed by third parties using non-traditional methods. Publishers who can occupy appealing niche themes with innovative products will retain a stable base if they consistently leverage the opportunities of digital printing and the associated new manufacturing concepts. The combination of web and digital printing also creates novel opportunities to take books beyond their role as static products and make them useable as tools in a culture of communication which is end-customer driven. However, marketing – for series titles, individual titles and publishing companies – is essential to build trust for the publishing brand, communicate to customers what the brand stands for, and help to navigate them through their purchasing decisions.

Process optimization

Essentially there are three characteristics that make digital printing so appealing for publishing production:

  • Digital printing can offer significant cost advantages over conventional methods for printing short runs (of up to 5,000 units). This is due to the relatively low fixed costs.
  • Digital printing offers unparalleled flexibility. It permits last-minute changes and content updates because there is no static information substrate (printing plates).
  • Digital printing permits relatively short production times. By turning out ready-collated copies, it accelerates finishing and enables just-in-time delivery. Even single copies can now be printed economically (in digital printing, as in other industries, “mass customization” is driving trends).
The intelligent combination of these properties is the enabler for on-demand production of books in exactly the quantities required by the market. Although high-quality printing of content on typical book paper is now relatively easy to implement, it has proved difficult – if not impossible – to produce single hardback covers. A solution has now arrived for this challenge also, resolving the problem of this work step.

Benefits from the expertise

The awareness and insights are already in place as to what publishers really need – and the digital printing alternative can demonstrate solutions along the entire production process chain. From years of experience, we at manroland together with Océ know where the strengths and weaknesses of each step in the process lie, and how conventional production (offset) and digital printing can best be teamed together. We can therefore advise publishers on business cases for transitioning their portfolios to digital.

Océ color printing solutions for digital books

Maintain profitability

Analyze the value chain

Yet digital book production requires more than technical knowledge. Publishers expect complete, lucid proposals – it might sound trite, but there is a genuine shortfall on this. From the publishers’ viewpoint, the vista of digital printing opportunities and choices remains highly bewildering. To work out how to deploy technology most profitably for any given task or production step, it is essential to analyze the entire value chain. Just comparing unit costs fails to do justice to the complexity. The comparison must take in the entire process from author to reader. The publishers manage this process, but do not execute all the steps themselves. Beyond the cost of production, publishers have a range of other costs: storage costs and the cost of capital, for instance. To identify which production method is the most profitable for the title in question, other process and cost chains have to be calculated:

  • Printing costs
  • Warehousing and distribution costs
  • Pulping/returns
  • Sales period
  • Cost of capital
  • Updates
  • Planned run length