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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘Book Printing’ Category

Book Printing: Making a Final Decision on a Book Printer

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

For about five years, I have been working with a husband and wife publishing team. They produce high-end literary books (usually 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound), both fiction and poetry. We are on the same page regarding quality. This publishing team wants to sell books to customers who appreciate the tactile nature of a print book, customers who like the feel of the book in their hands.

The Backstory on My Clients’ Books

To achieve this goal in a consistent way, my two clients include French Flaps on all their books. These are the extended flaps on the front and back covers of a trade book that fold inward toward the spine. They make paperback books resemble hard-cover books with dust jackets. The 3.5” extra width on the front and back of the book also lets the front-cover image extend into the interior of the book or provides extra space for author biographical material, photos, etc.

In addition to the ornate covers, which seem to be more common in Europe than in the United States, my clients have faux deckled edges on the text pages. While the irregular edges are not achieved in the traditional way (with a spray of water during the paper-making process), they still add another tactile element to the book production.

The term I have heard regarding this effect is “rough-front trimming.” Basically it means the pages are not all trimmed exactly the same on the front margin (the vertical dimension of the printed page parallel to the spine, or the front, facing out). The reader’s finger touches these irregularly trimmed pages as he or she turns every page.

Finally, my clients have been printing all their books on Sebago Antique 55# text, the thickness of which is 360 ppi (pages per inch). A 55# text paper would usually be much thinner than 360 pages per inch. In fact, this particular text stock feels like a 70# text sheet because, during the papermaking process, it was not compressed as much as many other paper stocks by the rollers in the papermaking machine. (Think of a dry sponge going between heavy rollers. On the other side of the rollers, a thick sponge will end up being much flatter than it was initially—but it will still be the same sponge and it will weigh the same as it did before the compression.)

In my clients’ case, this means that their text paper is thick, rough, and surprisingly inexpensive. For black-only text (which all of their books have been), this has been great. It allows for crisp type, but it feels thick and opulent. Based on the print book being published, my client chooses either a warm white paper stock (a slight yellow-white tinge) or a bright white sheet (with a blue-white shade). Each creates a slightly different look.

The Current Printer

For a consistent look, year after year, my clients have included these specifications in all books published by their firm. They want their print books to look and feel luxurious and to reflect a unified brand. To achieve this goal, my clients have been going back to the same book printer for many years, and this has caused them to pay more in some cases.

Furthermore, in this challenging economy, and in an age when many people read their books on electronic readers, some of my clients’ colleagues have encouraged them to choose online printers for their books. To date this has not been an option because my clients have specifically wanted the particular textured paper for their print book interior pages and the extended French Flaps for their covers. My clients have chosen a luxury appearance over economy based on their commitment to “the art of the book.” By going back to the same printer, my clients have also ensured consistency (over many titles and reprintings) of the overall look of their products.

The New Printer: How to Make the Decision to Switch

This year, due to the challenging economy, my clients need to tighten spending. This is quite understandable. They still want the special covers and text paper, but they need to pay less. Fortunately, during the last several months I have been working with a new book printer who can provide significantly lower pricing. So the big question is whether to switch vendors, and how to make that decision without risking the quality my client has come to expect.

This is a surprisingly hard decision to make. After all, my clients sell their print books, and repeat customers have come to expect a certain level of quality for the price they pay. Therefore, this has to be a prudent decision based on more than the lowest commercial printing price. With this in mind, this is how I proceeded:

  1. I bid the book out to four printers, all of whom specialized in short-run print books. I did my homework to ensure that these printers focused specifically on books.
  2. To my surprise, two of the four “no-bid” the job outright. One said he specialized in case-bound 4-color books (not black-ink-only texts). (That is, perfect-binding would probably not be done in-house, and this would be reflected in the price. Also, a multi-color press would be used, and time on this equipment would be billed out at a higher rate per hour than a black-ink-only press would be.) The other printer who “no-bid” the job said he would have to outsource the cover due to the French Flaps. I actually was grateful for the honesty of the two printers. On the surface they looked ideal for the project (and prior bids on other print book work were surprisingly low), but for this specific job, these two printers were not the right fit.
  3. The remaining printers were the vendor who had been producing the books for my client over the past several years and the new printer. The new printer had two plants, and one of these specialized in black-text-only books. In addition, this printer’s focus on books meant he had all the necessary binding equipment in-house.
  4. Unfortunately, the new printer would need about a week longer than the current printer to do the job. That said, when he heard he was in the running, he agreed to a shorter schedule.
  5. I had requested samples from the new printer a number of months earlier for another client, and I had been very pleased with their quality. However (and this is the bottom line, since at this point my clients were ready to switch to the new printer to save money), I had not yet seen a book produced by this printer that had French Flaps and a faux deckled edge on the text paper.
  6. So I called the new printer. I made it clear that my clients loved the prices and schedule, but that they would need “relevant” samples to reinforce their decision to change printers. They would need to know that the printer understood, and could replicate, the exact look to which they had become accustomed.

So for now we’re in a holding pattern. Once I have the samples, I will meet with my clients and ask whether they want to change book printers or stay with the current vendor. Having a relevant sample will make the decision a lot easier.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Perhaps the most important thing to learn is that a printer can be good at one thing and not as good at another. Stellar hard-bound book samples are a good sign of a printer’s worth, but if you need French Flaps on a perfect-bound book, it behooves you to see samples of exactly this product. The page count and even the interior ink color of the book are irrelevant, but the structure (paper and binding) are very important.

And requesting samples does more than just ensure the quality of this particular binding technique. My clients’ French Flaps extend over the face trim (in contrast to a lot of print books, in which the covers fall just slightly short of the face trim). What my clients want requires a second trim in most binderies. More than anything, your printer has to know what you want—exactly. Make sure he sends you a sample (and ideally you should send him a sample of what you want as well) to make sure you are on the same page. Nothing communicates your intent better than a physical sample.

At the end of the process, you still do need to take a leap of faith. In my case, I have references for the book printer as well as the bids, schedule, and samples. One of the references is from a close friend, whom I trust completely. In your own work, it’s prudent to take your time and cover all bases, particularly if it’s a big or complex job, or an especially important job.

Book Printing: Giving the Printer More and More Book Titles to Estimate

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

As a commercial printing broker, I am in the position of potentially crafting a deal that would make a client happy while bringing more work to a good printer. What’s interesting is that there are a lot of assumptions that may be negotiable, if the client, the printer, and I go slowly and work together.

The Client

My client produces books at a local beach resort. For the most part they advertise local establishments, but they also promote events and include other editorial content. The print books are 4-color throughout due to the high percentage of advertising. They are case-bound, for the most part, usually oblong in format, and their print runs range from 1,000 copies to 10,000 copies.

Over the past two months my client has been on hiatus before starting the new publishing year. Usually she prints in China, but she has intimated that for the right price she would consider bringing the work to a local US vendor. I have written about her in the PIE Blog before. Our work has been on hold for two months.

The Printer

At the same time, I have been working with a US printer to craft a potential year-long schedule for my client’s print books and to reduce costs where possible to make the deal attractive to my client. This particular printer is ideal for the job because he specializes in book printing. Therefore, his plant includes all of the equipment most other companies do not have. This includes binding equipment for case-bound books, Smyth sewing equipment, and so forth. Because of this, he can produce my client’s work at a lower price and more quickly than his competitors. After all, he doesn’t need to subcontract the binding work.

That said, he still can only come closer than most US printers to the pricing offered by Chinese print vendors. He can’t duplicate the low pricing in the Far East. However, my client has expressed interest in repatriating the work, avoiding the schedule slow-down around Chinese New Year in February, extending advertising deadlines (since overall production and delivery will take less time here than if the books are produced in the Far East), and avoiding potential dock strikes and the need to reroute ships to other ports. The list goes on. She pays a price for the discount offered by the Chinese vendor, even if he does do stellar work.

The Pot Gets Bigger

Since my last blog article on this subject, my client has taken on more work (more book titles) and is in the process of merging with another print book publisher. What this means is that over the course of the year, my client will have more jobs to print either in China or here in the United States.

My client is concerned that the book printer I have paired her with (due to his pricing, equipment, core competencies, etc.) will not be interested enough to come down in price, since her work in some cases will not go to press exactly when planned (i.e., the jobs cannot always be ganged). We had initially discussed pricing based on ganged work. This particular printer had actually come down in price as more books were added to the pot, but we had still based a lot of the discussion on the assumption that groups of books would go to press simultaneously. Apparently, some of the authors have not been able to meet their deadlines precisely, so this may be an issue. My client was worried that this would be a deal breaker.

This is what I said. Book printers want work. If we are up front about the potential for late job submission, or even the potential omission of a certain number of print books from the planned schedule, perhaps the printer will still offer superior pricing, since we keep adding books to the list. Printers want work, I said, and this amount of work provides leverage as long as we’re candid about the potential pitfalls.

Next Steps

Needless to say, my client was pleased with the answer. We also decided to slow down the process. Not a problem, I said. It’s better to do it right rather than quickly and risk making mistakes.

So what I suggested was that she make a calendar of book titles going from the present through 2018. She has work up through next year already planned (which our printer of choice will love to hear, since it will involve more print book titles than we had discussed at our last meeting). In fact, when I called the book printer after discussing the work with my client, he was pleased and ready to take the information upline to decision makers in sales management and estimating.

I asked my client to include in her calendar the titles of the books, their formats (their sizes and whether they will be upright or oblong), press runs, page counts, delivery dates, and color usage. I said she should set forth general assumptions at this point (educated guesses), assuming that things will change as we get closer to the actual jobs. My goal is to get a schedule into the book printer’s hands, a rough blueprint of upcoming work.

I also asked my client to start thinking about her target pricing, not unit costs but the overall cost per book printing job, excluding ganged shipping (since, if the jobs come in at different times, she will not be ganging delivery from either a Chinese printer or a US printer). I asked her to base these target prices on what she currently pays for work in China. I also asked her to consider the prices she would accept (i.e., if the US prices are higher than those from China, what will it be worth to her to avoid the importing headaches, potential dock strikes, long schedule, etc., plus whatever advertising revenue she can expect to gain by keeping advertising deadlines open longer).

Once I have this chart, even if it is a “back-of-the-envelope” estimate, I will go back to the book printer and see what I can get for my client. If the printer wants a lot of work, he may very well be willing to reduce his profit per title in order to acquire many more book titles. Conversely, his pricing may just be within my client’s comfort zone if he can come close to her targets. I fully expect to have some back and forth discussions to bring both my client’s and the printer’s goals and expectations in line with one another. At least this is my hope. It would benefit both my client and the book printer.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to think about:

  1. If you have multiple titles, or even a year-long schedule of dissimilar work (books, brochures, posters, office materials), consider sharing this with your printers. Many will be able to give you a better deal based on bringing in more work. If the jobs can come in together and be gang printed, so much the better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for better prices. If you really like a printer and have a good working relationship, you can always ask about ways to reduce costs (such as paper substitution).
  3. In many cases, if you work out a one-year contract, or a multi-year contract, with a printer, you can get better pricing. After all, your printer wants consistent work. If you will be a loyal customer and bring in predictable work over a certain time period, this will be valuable to your printer.
  4. If you’re trying to negotiate a multi-job, multi-year contract, be very candid about which jobs may miss their schedule by a week or more and which may disappear altogether. After all, you’re working with your printer as a partner at this point, and that requires mutual trust and transparency. Both sides have to win for it to be a long-term relationship.
  5. Keep in mind that everything is negotiable, but be as explicit as possible. Show the printer samples of everything. Avoid any surprises.

Book Printing: Printing a Book Without Art Files

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

I just received a sample print book in the mail from a client saying he needed to potentially reprint the book without having the plates or art files.

I told him that this is not unusual. After all, once a print run has been completed, depending on the length of the run, the plates may have degraded. Long ago, many printers used to save the negatives and discard the plates. Now, I noted, printers save the digital information for a book printing job on hard drives or removable computer media.

My client did some research and found that the prior copy of the book (last printed a number of years ago) was on a Zip disk. If it could be found, potentially a Zip drive could be located, and the file could be accessed by the book printer.

(As an aside, the Iomega Zip disk was popular in the 1990s. It held 100 MB of digital information (or up to 250MB in later years–which at that time was a lot of digital information–and graphic designers transmitted files to the printer by submitting the job on a Zip disk. Of course this is nothing compared to the multiple tens of gigabytes small USB drives now hold, and regardless, designers usually now upload files to their book printer online.)

So the gist of my client’s dilemma is that he either has no art file from which to reprint his book, or he has an antiquated file on an antiquated medium from almost a quarter of a century ago. What to do?

A Description of the Print Book

My client’s book is 8” x 10” in dimension, one color inside with a four-color cover, and is perfect bound. It is a history book, a trade paperback about flight, with text and full-page images inside the book and a sepia-toned image created out of process color that wraps around the front and back covers and the spine. It is beautiful.

My client also sent me what he called a dust jacket for the hard-bound version of the book. The first thing that struck me was that the untrimmed dust jacket looked more like a proof. In addition, the color did not match the cover of the trade paperback. It contained a lot more red in the sepia image (presumably an image of the Wright Brothers and their airplane).

So I looked closely with a loupe. I noticed that the paperback book cover image had a halftone dot pattern and that the image was also composed of rosettes (a pattern of circles from the overlaying and slight tilting of the process color plates against one another to avoid moire patterns). The unbound cover (dust jacket) had no such pattern. Given this information, I now assume that it had been produced in a limited run on a digital press (perhaps an HP Indigo, given the quality of the image and the size of the press sheet).

The Analysis of the Book and a Plan for Its Reproduction

First of all, my client’s printer is searching for the Zip disk. Obviously, this is the best choice for reproduction since he can just produce new plates for the new print run. That’s Plan A. Plan B is to reproduce the job from a hard copy of the print book using a scanner.

With this in mind, I studied the inside of the book.

The images are all very old. Therefore they are of marginal technical quality but maximum historical interest. They are spotty. Some are better than others, but this is not really a problem because their purpose is to convey information. One expects this old an image to be scratched, washed out, or otherwise compromised, and this does not detract from the value of the print book. Therefore, I have suggested that my client have his printer “copydot scan” the interior pages of the book (scan the halftones and text exactly as is, reproducing the halftone dot pattern of the black-only images without descreening and then rescreening the pages–particularly the photos).

The covers are more challenging. Since they are composed of four colors, they probably cannot be copydot scanned. Rather, the printer will need to scan the large, wrap-around image and text as a single four-color image. Then he will need to descreen it (blur it slightly to make the halftone dots and rosettes invisible), then sharpen it and separate the four halftones (C, M, Y, and K) that will constitute the single cover image and text. Fortunately the image will be forgiving. Since it is a sepia image of two figures and an airplane, it looks more like a painting than a photo. It could even be fuzzier than it already is, and the image would just be more artistic and evocative. This is a blessing, since this kind of scanning, descreening, and rescreening will reduce the quality of each successive version of the image (i.e., every generation of re-copying will degrade the original; in this case, though, it will still make a good print book cover).

On my client’s book cover, the title is hand-written and printed in a light yellow (under the loupe it is mostly yellow with a slight halftone dot of magenta). The subtitle is almost white (white with a slight black halftone dot). Therefore, both should be readable in the next generation image, once scanned and manipulated. The spine is pretty much the same (i.e., probably quite readable, even after being scanned, descreened, rescreened, and printed).

The back of the book is another matter. On the hard-cover book dust jacket proof is a description of the book surprinted across the extension of the sky (which goes from the front cover across the spine and across the back cover). On the printed paperback are quotes about the book, pricing information, and a barcode. My client has said he would like to omit two quotes and add the description of the book on the back cover.

So this is what I suggested: He should ether recreate the mottled sky as the background of the back cover or use a consistent sepia screen (a four-color build to match the front cover and spine). Then he should reset all of the copy (description of the book, two fewer quotes, the barcode, and the pricing information) and submit only this page as new copy. Basically, the cover photo of two men and an airplane would now end at the edge of the spine where it abuts the back cover.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Technology marches on. Don’t assume the medium on which you save your job will be around in twenty years. That said, printers often have an uncanny ability to keep at least some of the old technology around to accommodate the needs of their clients.
  2. If you can’t do what you want to do, there’s usually an alternative. If my client’s print book cover were not ideally suited to scanning, descreening, and rescreening, he could have just paid a graphic designer to produce a new cover and then copydot scanned the interior of the book. If the images in the text had not been as forgiving as they will be (i.e., old photos to begin with), that might have been a problem. My client may have needed to redesign the interior of the print book.
  3. Your printer will have ideas like these. Tell him what you want to do, show him the book, and ask for his advice.
  4. Assume each generation of copying will degrade a printed image. Make sure you request a high-quality proof so you can see how the final printed book will look. Then ask about any potential unwanted patterning (moire) from the screening/descreening process.

Commercial Printing: “On-Shoring” Color Printing

Friday, July 7th, 2017

I am currently working with a print brokering client who produces a number of East Coast beach resort advertising print books, which are manufactured in China because it’s unbelievably cheap. However, she has to deal with a longer lead time, which cuts off her ad sales earlier than she might like. In addition, her print book production schedule falls during Chinese New Year, so book production slows down during this time. Also, there is always the potential for dock strikes, necessitating the rerouting of her books to another port for entry into the United States. Also, if something goes wrong, well, China is far away. So my client pays a lot for the discounted book printing prices.

In light of this, a situation that affects many of her fellow book publishers in the East Coast beach area and presumably a huge number of other publishers across the United States, I read an article the other day about inkjet color printing for trade books. I found it intriguing.

The Premise of the Article

I found the article on the AmericanPrinter.com website on 2/6/17. It appears to be a press release from Xerox, since I cannot find the name of the writer. If you Google the article, it’s entitled, “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home.”

Even the title makes me feel warm inside. Here’s the premise of the article:

  1. Trade book publishers have been inkjet printing the text pages of black-ink-only trade books for some time now. This has improved inventory control. That is, publishers don’t run out of books, but neither do they need to buy books to cover the highest sales expectations. This means fewer inventory overruns and less waste, plus less overhead expense for inventory. Longer runs of the books are still best suited for offset printing. (Keep in mind that this pertains to the black-only text blocks, presumably not the covers.) (If you want to research this process, the technical term is “production” ink jet printing. This distinguishes it from inkjet products that are not trade books, educational books, and the like.)
  2. For books with 4-color interiors, inkjet color printing has not caught on. This is disappointing news, since it would be an ideal response to the seasonality of much of the 4-color book interior work. For instance, the American Printer article, “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home,” notes that cookbooks are in demand around Christmas and Mother’s Day, color textbooks for higher education are in demand at the beginning of the school year, and children’s books sell well around Easter and Christmas.
  3. When a book publisher produces process-color print books overseas to fulfill expected orders at these specific times of year but runs out of inventory, he or she can’t just order more books from Far East printers and receive them in a timely manner. At best, it would take weeks for a reprint, not just a few days. This can mean either needing to over-order books initially or running out of books and losing sales later on.
  4. This short-run, inkjet-printed text-block paradigm for interiors of 4-color books would be ideal for solving the problem of seasonality in four-color book interiors. However, to date, there have been problems. Pretreated paper for currently available inkjet production presses has cost more than off-the-shelf coated paper, and there have been fewer paper options available. In addition, the quality of the printed product has not been of the same caliber as offset printed four-color work.

The Potential Solution

As I noted before, this article is most likely a Xerox press release. The article, “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home,” goes on to list the benefits of the upcoming release of High Fusion Inks for use on its Trivor 2400 platform. This will “enable high-quality color inkjet printing on untreated commodity offset coated stocks with no pre- or post-print coatings.” “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home” continues, noting that “These stocks often cost 15 to 20 percent less than specialty inkjet treated stocks and can help providers standardize on fewer paper stocks to better manage costs.”

Clearly this is sales literature. However, it also has far-reaching implications. When the price of the inkjet-printed books drops due to lower paper costs, and when the quality of the printed product improves (which is directly related to the paper, since the color inkjet printing process can already exceed the color gamut of 4-color offset printing if you use the right expanded ink set), then the case for bringing production inkjet for color book texts back home improves significantly.

Color quality aside, along with the cost of the paper, there are still a number of additional benefits to bringing the commercial printing of color books back home. “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home” notes:

  1. Lower freight charges compared to shipping costs from the Far East.
  2. Minimized administrative and handling costs (to this I would add the elimination of the complexities and stresses of importing goods).
  3. The ability to control costs by more tightly controlling the supply chain.
  4. The ability to fulfill those orders that would be lost to a several-weeks-long reprint schedule compared to a few days’ reprint schedule for a locally-sourced ink-jet book.
  5. To this I would add the reduced cost of inventory.

Overall Impressions

Once production inkjet can compete with offset commercial printing in terms of image quality and printing paper price, this will be a game changer. I have looked closely at some inkjet printed color books, and I have seen the difference between these products and offset-printed color books. But I have also seen spectacular color inkjet work. I know we’re close. This might just be the right equipment at the right time. If so, it might just make the business case for bringing this commercial printing work home again.

Book Printing: A Sample of Outstanding Design and Production

Monday, June 5th, 2017

At a thrift store this week, my fiancee found a print book that is one of the best examples I have seen of effective book design and custom printing. It is exceptional on so many levels. A close examination of the book shows exactly what happens when book design is well executed, when the design reflects the content of the print book, and when the production qualities of the book support both the design and the content of the book.

A Description of the Book

The title of the book is Real Simple: 869 New Uses for Old Things, edited by Rachel Hardage and Sharon Tanenbaum. It is an 8.25” x 9”, almost-square-format, case-bound book. Instead of adding a dust jacket to a cloth binding, the designer has laminated the 4-color printed press sheet directly to the binder’s boards and then coated the book cover with a dull film laminate (or dull UV coating).

The color of the cover is bright and intensely saturated. The design grid on the cover comprises sixteen color squares (four rows of four squares), with each square containing a 4-color silhouette of a different household item. Three of the colors in the grid of squares are primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) or close relatives on the color wheel (for instance, the yellow changes to orange within the series of squares, and red cycles through magenta to pink). The back cover just extends this motif of squares to wrap the image completely around the book with a full bleed.

Type on the front cover is reversed out of the background colors, with the actual lines of text aligned with the borders between colors in a tight, geometric treatment.

Without even opening the print book, I think this approach stands out and makes the book unique for a few reasons:

  1. We are accustomed to books that are “portrait” format (taller than they are wide). Therefore, oblong books (also known as “landscape” format) and square books draw attention to themselves. They make us look again. I would even argue that square books are a bit more unusual than oblong books, outside the category of children’s books.
  2. The combination of the bright colors and the square format are reminiscent of a child’s book, but the content (lint roller, light bulb, rubber band, and so forth) make it clear that this print book is in fact for adults. However, the overall effect is still playful and perhaps even magical, specifically because of the saturated colors and the visual reference to books for children.
  3. The decision to laminate the printed press sheet to the cover boards rather than to add a dust jacket reinforces the casual and creative approach to the subject matter.
  4. The dull finish of the cover coating (whether laminate or UV coating) is just different enough from the usual gloss cover coating on the majority of books that it draws attention to itself. This is not just a visual acknowledgement of the subdued (not glossy) appearance. It is also—and perhaps more importantly–tactile. It feels softer than a gloss coated cover. To me that makes the book a bit more approachable in both a conscious and subconscious way.

Inside the Book

The print book designer has carried the intensity of the color into the interior of the book, starting with solid-colored endsheets and flyleaves. Divider pages and photos within the text of the book are all full pages of full color that repeat the saturated hues of the front and back covers. All photos and all color solids bleed off the page, giving a sense that the content of the pages is larger than the 8.25” x 9” format can contain.

Again, this reinforces the playful nature of the print book, as does the treatment of the photos. That is, all images are shot close up, which makes otherwise mundane household items seem new and captivating. Moreover, the images were illuminated with intense photo lights during the photo shoot, so they have a wide range of tones, from intense highlights to deep shadows. This gives them both depth and visual interest.

The overall approach to the book is, as the title states, “new uses for old things.” This is fully consistent with the visual treatment of the images, which could be summed up as seeing mundane household items in a new light. So the visual treatment echoes and reinforces the theme of the book.

Paper Choices

Paper is a subjective and particularly powerful component of design. This is easy to forget. In fact, that’s part of what makes it so powerful. The reader often doesn’t think about the paper. In this case the designer has chosen a bright, blue-white press sheet with a dull finish. This makes the text easier to read. Interestingly enough, the photos are all glossy (and crisp). Through a careful inspection, what I see is that the photos have been gloss varnished (to make them more dramatic). This creates an interesting contrast when the photos are seen next to the dull white text pages.

The Design Grid

Introductory pages of the book have one column of text extending from side to side. The designer has included small line drawings in places that would normally be paragraph breaks. That is, the text runs on without additional spacing between paragraphs, but the reader can identify the paragraph break from the position of the line drawing. In addition, the text shifts back and forth between a dark, bold sans serif face and a much lighter serif face. Since the intro pages have relatively little copy, this treatment is intriguing and playful rather than confusing. In addition, there is ample white space around the single column of text.

In contrast, the pages that actually tell you all kinds of new uses for mundane household items are set in smaller type in a five-column grid, with the column closest to the gutter left blank. The bottoms of the columns vary in depth, creating a nice visual zig-zag rhythm. This also allows for ample white space, so the reader is not faced with an overwhelming sea of type. In addition, a darker sans serif typeface is used for the headlines (only a few words each). For instance, you can look up “Avocado,” and the text will tell you “use to” and then offer suggestions for creative uses of an avocado.

What I like about this treatment is threefold:

  1. The typefaces are the same ones used in the intro pages, so the book has a rhythm and predictability based on common design elements.
  2. Shifting back and forth between the text (for the “how to” or “do it yourself” content) and the full page photos gives both predictability and variety to the look of the text. It’s creative but extremely readable.
  3. The contrast in typeface (and particularly the weight, or lightness/darkness, of the heads and text) make the content of the book easily understandable. If it were in another language, even one I couldn’t understand, I’d still be able to decipher the levels of importance (as well as relatedness) of one block of copy to another.

Divider Pages

Finally, the divider pages use two-page, full-bleed color solids to distinguish the break between subjects within the book. Minimal text is either reversed out of the color or surprinted over the color, and a large capital letter (the successive letters of the alphabet, since this book is formatted as a dictionary of sorts) is reversed out of the solid color. The letter bleeds off the page and is so large that it draws attention to its shape (the strokes of the letterform) as a piece of art in and of itself.

Overall Impressions and What You Can Learn from This Book

All of these design techniques create an easily navigable print book with bright colors, intriguing images, and an overall playfulness. This is fully consistent with the concept of playing with household items to discover new uses for them. If you are a designer, there is nothing that will lift your work above your competition than using these, or similar, artistic principles to marry the content and tone of your book with its overall appearance.

Keep in mind that design goes beyond the typefaces and design grid and includes paper choices, cover coatings, and bindery choices. If all of these support one another and also reinforce the purpose of the book, that’s true success in design.

Custom Printing: Finding Flaws in a Lenticular Book

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

My fiancee recently bought two copies online of the same lenticular book as gifts from two separate vendors. When she had both in hand, she was surprised to see differences between the two. Naturally enough, when she had bought the books, since they were two copies of the same title, she expected them to be the same. So she brought this to my attention and asked me what had happened.

First of all, I refreshed my memory online regarding the lenticular custom printing process. Many if not most of you have seen the images that change as you tilt them from side to side. These plastic screens are sometimes used in postcards, for instance, to give a sense of movement to an image or to shift from one image to another. I have also seen lenticular movie posters that give the illusion of depth in the photo by using this technology.

The short description of what seems to be a very complicated process is that a number of images (or one image seen from a number of different angles) are combined (interlaced) with a computer, then printed, and then attached under a screen composed of lenses (lenticules) that present a different image as you tilt these plastic screens. Alignment is crucial for this to work successfully.

How the Two Books Differ

What I see most prominently when I look at both books under a good light is that one set of lenticular images is more intensely colored than the other and the contours of the animals in the images (each page spread presents a different image of a wild animal running) are crisper and more defined. I don’t think the average viewer would see the problem unless both books were viewed together under a strong light. Personally I think it is rather intriguing.

In my research I found that ghosting and poor imagery are the result of imprecise alignment of the images that have been transformed from individual photos to interlaced “slices” before being placed under the cover sheet of plastic lenses. This can occur during the printing process, which, for this particular technology, would be either screen printing or offset lithography.

Other Color Flaws in Other Kinds of Commercial Printing

As I compared the two books I was reminded of package printing I had seen in grocery stores, in which the images in two cereal boxes, for instance, might be slightly different in color even if the design clearly should have been the same (both content and coloration). How does this happen?

First of all, it doesn’t happen anywhere near as often as it used to even during my own career in commercial printing. You could say that the two packages with slightly different ink coloration had been from two separate press runs, and this might be correct. However, it would not really answer the question as to what had happened.

On an offset printed package, for instance, one particular ink color might have been run in excess. Another possibility is that the four process color plates for a full-color image might have been out of alignment (out of register). An error in “registration” of the custom printing plates could cause an obvious color shift, particularly in a neutral color or a memory color (like the green of grass or the blue of the sky).

However, this doesn’t happen a lot anymore for two reasons:

  1. A large number of offset presses are equipped with closed loop color monitoring. Optics and electronics on the press closely monitor the registration of all printing plates and the particular colors being printed and then feed this data back to the press console, adjusting the press and ink to maintain good plate register and consistent inkflow at a predetermined level. When the automatic press observations record an error, the press is adjusted to bring everything back into equilibrium, correcting the color problems and problems with image register.
  2. The preset ink levels can be captured as digital data, which can then be fed back into the computer for the second press run. This actually allows the press to “come up to color” or achieve the optimal color balance rather quickly, meaning that usable printed sheets start to come off the press with minimal adjustments and minimal paper waste. Because of this, it is unusual to have errors in color between two different press runs yielding two differently inked product packages in your grocery store.

Back when I was an art director, the way to avoid these problems was to attend a press inspection for every press run of every signature in every critical product. These often went around the clock (every four hours, for instance) for a number of days. The aforementioned automation and the quality of inspection that electric eyes and computers can provide have made this unnecessary in most cases.

Another Possibility

One thing that I have found over the years is that not all commercial printing processes are equally precise. For instance, offset lithography can be surprisingly accurate. Given the size of the presses and the speed at which they run, I still find it amazing that they can produce tight register and incredible detail.

In contrast, the output I have seen from flexographic presses often does not quite match that of offset lithography. Flexography uses rubber relief plates (elements that print are raised on the rubber plates). I have often seen less precise register and in some cases lighter ink films around the perimeter of letterforms in large type. Like other aspects of commercial printing, it is my understanding that technology has been making great strides, and the problems are becoming far more rare in flexography as well. But my point is that some commercial printing technologies are more precise than others, and this can be reflected in the final product. And for packaging, the final product is often produced through flexography.

What You Can Do

Ultimately all of this comes down to one question. If commercial printing processes are imperfect, how can you be sure your job will be beautiful?

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Proof early and often. Make sure that you see “contract quality” proofs that your printer assures you will reflect the final printed product.
  2. In all cases, ask for your printer’s advice as to the most color faithful proofing option. Usually that will be some form of digital proof. Your printer may be able to show you a continuous tone proof or a proof reflecting the actual halftone dot structure. The latter is more rare but also more accurate (for instance, it will show potential moire patterns). This kind of proof is also more expensive.
  3. If you are unsure, consider paying more for a press proof (a proof of the final product produced on a small press). This will be expensive. However, for a job with crucial color requirements, it may be worth the cost.
  4. Consider attending a press inspection. While this is usually unnecessary, for “critical color” (as opposed to “pleasing color”) it may be worth your time.
  5. Expect excellence, not perfection. You will always find flaws in printing. More than anything, it is a question of fixing the major flaws and letting the others go.

Book Printing: Handing Off PDF Files to the Printer

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

A print brokering client of mine is getting closer to handing off files to the book printer. She has been producing a 550-page cookbook in InDesign, including many hundreds of photos prepared in Photoshop. What makes this a challenge is that she is relatively new to Photoshop.

At the same time, the book printer I’m most comfortable handing her work off to (who is also the low bid) would prefer PDF files rather than native InDesign files. To complicate matters, PDF creation still requires premium quality native InDesign files as a base from which to produce press-ready PDFs, and there are many, many options for creating PDFs. Moreover, these options differ from printer to printer depending on many things, such as their prepress workflow software.

The gist of what I just said above is that it’s easy to hand off a problem file if you don’t do things right.

What Is a PDF File?

PDF stands for portable document format. This format allows you to distill an InDesign file (and all the fonts and images you have used to create the file) into a format easily printable on any computer. If you’re producing low-resolution output on a desktop printer, it’s relatively seamless. But if you’re printing high-resolution images in cyan/magenta/yellow/black on an offset press, you need a more comprehensive approach.

That said, if you can create a successfully preflighted InDesign file that correctly addresses issues of color space, resolution, image usage, font usage, and such, and then distill this into a successfully preflighted PDF, your book printer’s likelihood of producing both a proof and a final print job that meet your expectations is very high. Or, at the very least, you will see the problems early when you review the proof. And you can be confident that a successfully output proof will ensure a successfully printed job.

In addition, since you can embed the fonts in a PDF, you do not need to hand off your fonts to your printer. Also, your printer is less likely to encounter font substitution problems that would adjust (or totally move around) the text on your pages.

However, to be safe, it’s always good to send your printer a hard-copy proof to which he can “reconcile” the PDF and final job (i.e., something physical to match).

Keep in mind that a PDF will not improve anything in your initial InDesign file. If the photos are not of sufficient resolution, the PDF will not sharpen them. It won’t brighten photos or fix anything else. It will only allow for a smoother transition of your art files from your computer to your book printer’s computer.

Now the bad news is also the good news. You can only do limited editing to a PDF file. This means that when you hand off PDF files to your printer, if you find problems on the proof, you will have to correct the files in InDesign, distill them again into revised PDFs, and then hand these off to your printer for revised proofs. The good news is that there is very little that can change in the files you hand off to your printer (compared to native files), so you have almost complete assurance that your proofs will look exactly like your submitted files. (This is not the case when you hand off native files.)

Back to My Client

To get back to my client, all of this is relatively new to her. And there are a lot of options (multiple screens’ worth in InDesign) that need to be addressed in preparing PDFs correctly.

In addition, “correctly” means different things to different printers, since printers often have different prepress workflow software packages (such as Rampage or Prinergy).

In my client’s case, the printer has agreed to accept both PDFs and native files. If there are problems in the PDFs my client supplies, the printer will potentially be able to address them using her native InDesign files (i.e., the original, and editable, art files).

Fortunately, my client can distill PDFs directly from InDesign. Or she could use Acrobat Professional to distill the InDesign files into PDFs (but not the less-complete, but free, Acrobat Reader).

To make things easier, I plan to create for my client (with the book printer’s help) a cheat sheet showing which options to check or uncheck on the screens InDesign presents when you create PDFs. She can then put together a short test document (four or five pages addressing text issues, color issues, and image resolution issues). If the files pass preflight, she can then go ahead and distill the 550-page print book.

Variables/Issues to Consider

Here’s a short list of issues my client will need to consider (and that you may need to address when distilling files from your own InDesign projects). The best way to ensure success is to request the printer’s “guidelines” document for creating PDFs for offset print output. This document will make your life much easier (it will tell you what options to select for your printer’s specific workflow software), and it will make your printer’s life much easier (because your files will work smoothly).

  1. Document size.
  2. Bleeds (usually .125” or more).
  3. Margins. (It’s usually best not to put anything—type or images—closer than .25” from the trim.)
  4. Color space. (Make sure the job is CMYK or black only, not RGB. Convert spot colors to process colors, or ask your printer how to specify spot colors.)
  5. Crop marks.
  6. Transparency (with or without flattening). If this doesn’t make sense, ask your printer.
  7. Fonts. Embed them in the PDF. If they can’t be embedded (due to font licensing issues), ask your printer for a work-around.
  8. Image resolution. Use photos that are at least 300 dpi at the final size.
  9. Number of pages. Send either the whole book as one PDF or as several PDFs with a range of pages for each. Label accordingly. (Discuss with your printer.)
  10. Unused colors. If you have defined colors and then decided not to use them, delete them from your color palette. Never use “Registration” or “Auto” as a color. These will not output correctly (in some cases all type and imagery may show up on all printing plates).
  11. Preflight both the native file (before distilling the PDF) and the newly created PDF to catch all errors before submitting the PDF to the book printer.
  12. Only use “rich blacks” (a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) for solids and area screens, but never for type. (It would be too difficult to closely register four printing plates for small type while holding detail in the type serifs.)

Discuss these issues with your printer. This is only one set of specs I found online. Other printers will have different needs.

Extra Screens to Address

In InDesign, for instance, there are five computer screens of information to address when creating PDF files. In most cases these will involve only a few checkmarks (on-screen) based on your printer’s needs. They are called: “General,” “Compression,” “Marks & Bleeds,” “Output,” and “Advanced.” It is also wise to check “The Appearance of Black” in the Preferences window.

Final Thoughts

You can do this successfully (and so can my print brokering client). All is takes is study, practice, and communication with your book printer (or commercial printer, for that matter). After you do it once, you’ll know exactly what questions to ask your printer, so you can set up your files in the best way for his particular computer prepress system.

Book Printing: A Few Thoughts on Image Preparation

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

In spite of the promotional literature implying the ease with which one can seamlessly use Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, there really is a lot to learn. And when you’re using these programs together to prepare large book printing jobs for either offset printing or digital printing, the learning curve is even steeper.

That said, I have three book printing jobs I’m brokering at the moment. They are all close to 8.5” x 11” in format, and their press runs range from 500 copies to 11,000 copies (perfect bound and case bound).

In this particular case, the physical properties of the print books are less important than the preparation of the art files, or, more specifically, the preparation of the images to be placed in the InDesign files.

My “DIY” (Do-It-Yourself) Client

One of my clients has written and designed her book and then has prepared all pages in InDesign. She may also have taken the photographs. But she is somewhat new to Photoshop. To her the images are more important than the words. This is a cookbook, and she wants the images to take the lead.

From a commercial printing standpoint, because of this orientation toward the images, I have suggested that my client select a gloss coated printing stock. But for the custom printing paper to showcase the nuances of the images, the photographs must be correctly prepared prior to being placed in the InDesign file.

One of the things I learned, purely by accident during a discussion with my client, was that she had kept the photos in RGB JPEG format as they had been initially shot. Since she knew she wanted the text of the book (both words and images) to be printed in black ink only, she had merely desaturated the photos in Photoshop (i.e., removed their color but kept them in RGB format).

This had made perfect sense to her (and was a logical approach), but it was not what the offset printer would need in order to produce her book. So I gave my client the following suggestions. I think these would benefit a number of new designers (and designers who had come of age with traditional paste-up and are only now making the shift to computerized design and prepress):

My Suggestions to My Client

  1. I told my client she needed to convert all photos from RGB JPEGs to Grayscale TIFFs. Some printers can work with JPEGs, but it’s safest to use TIFFs because all printers will accept these.
  2. If my client had continued to use RGB, the printer would have needed to convert the files himself to CMYK (from Red/Green/Blue, which is used for video monitors, to Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black, which is used for ink or toner applied to paper). These color spaces are not the same. A color image mode change from one color space to another can cause color shifts.
  3. In my client’s case, if she had kept her files in the CMYK mode, the offset printer would have prepared printing plates for all four colors. In essence, even if the computer monitor had given the impression that her images were black and white, they would have been created with all four process colors. Printing the interior text pages of the book in full color would have cost multiple thousands of dollars more than printing a black-only text block. Since this would not have been acceptable, all of her work would have needed to be redone after the first proof, and then a second proof would have been required, further adding to the cost. So understanding how to use Photoshop to change the color mode from RGB to Grayscale was important for my client (as was doing this in a way that optimized the tonal range of the photos: i.e., the detail in highlights, midtones, and shadows).
  4. I suggested that my client look online for a tutorial on preparing black and white images for commercial printing. I have seen many such tutorials. They are succinct and extremely useful. They discuss everything from image resolution to changing color modes, to optimizing highlights and shadows for offset printing.
  5. I encouraged my client to make decisions regarding highlights and shadows based on “numbers” in the Photoshop dialog boxes (the “Info” palette, for instance), rather than by looking at the computer monitor. I noted that backlit images on a computer screen will look brighter than the same image files printed with ink or toner on paper. Learning to interpret the “numbers” (the numerical values for the colors and tonal range) would minimize error.
  6. I suggested that my client prepare a few pages of text and photos and then have the printer run a digital proof of just those pages as an initial test. If they looked too dark or too light, that feedback would help her in preparing the remainder of the book. I suggested that she approach the proofing process as an investment, not an expense.
  7. I spoke with the printer about providing his prepress department’s checklist for producing optimal, press-ready PDFs, so that once my client had received the initial few test pages and applied what she had learned to the remainder of the book, she would know how to convert her InDesign file into the best possible PDF file. He agreed. (Many printers already have such a PDF creation checklist. The reason this is useful is that different printers have different preferences for the numerous options available in creating a print-ready PDF file.)
  8. I encouraged my client to request the following proofs: the 3- to 5-page initial test file (plus any revisions needed); a high-resolution digital proof of all photos ganged up onto approximately 100 pages; the overall digital proof of the book (a “contract” quality, digital cover proof such as a Spectrum or Epson, plus laser proofs of all text pages); and folded and gathered book signatures handed off following printing but before binding the book. Overall, this would let my client see every stage of the process. Since this print book is her pride and joy, her “baby,” these multiple proofing stages will help ensure success.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

You can apply most of the suggestions I gave my client to your own work.

  1. Find out how your printer needs you to prepare images. Check online for short tutorials that teach you how to prepare Photoshop images for offset printing. They will give you a limited number of steps to follow to ensure your success with offset printed images.
  2. Consider requesting any or all of the proofs I have suggested. It may cost a little more, but it will help you identify problems before the book has been printed. At minimum, consider a high-res proof of the cover and “for position” proofs of the text. If you have images or tint screens, consider requesting high-res proofs of these pages. The jargon to use is “contract proofs.” These serve as a contract between you and the printer: once you have approved the way they look, he has to match these proofs exactly.
  3. Ask for your printer’s PDF-creation guidance sheet. Don’t assume one printer’s PDF-creation guide is the same as another’s.

Book Printing: More Thoughts on Printing Overseas

Friday, April 7th, 2017

As with anything else in life, a discount often comes with a cost. Maybe not in cash, but in time, effort, and diligent study.

I’m brokering three jobs for three clients at the moment. All three jobs are books (two case-bound; one perfect-bound). In light of their due dates, I am entertaining the possibility of printing one or more of the jobs abroad, in the Far East. This would be my first time. One of my clients has been printing in China for a number of years, successfully. She gets unbeatable prices.

However, she has voiced a number of considerations, which I want to share with you. While I am not averse to printing any of these three jobs overseas, I think it is prudent to take a long look at these issues and learn as much as I can before venturing into new waters.

In no particular order, here are the areas to consider, as presented by my client. I’m sure there are many other considerations to address. This is just a starting point:

Printing Schedule

To put this in perspective, one of the US printers I’m considering can ship the job (a case-bound book) 15 to 20 days after proof approval. The books will then take about two days to deliver by truck.

In contrast, my client’s current Chinese vendor can produce the print book within two weeks (10 days) including the case binding work; however, the completed books will then need to travel from Asia to the East Coast of the US.

Another vendor who bid on my client’s print book is in Korea. In his emails to me, this book printer estimates a 25-day ship time from Korea to New York. In addition, this printer says it will take 5 to 7 days for US Customs clearance and ground delivery to my client. All of this is in addition to the print book production schedule in Korea.

So while the Chinese, Korean, and US production end of the schedule is an important aspect of case-bound book manufacturing, delivery of the finished books from the Far East to the US East Coast makes the overall turn-around time (manufacturing plus delivery) much longer than for most US vendors.

Holiday Schedule

My client prints a case-bound book early each year. The Chinese New Year holiday schedule therefore has an impact on when she must submit art files for her book in order to allow sufficient time for both production and delivery. A Korean printer might not have the same Chinese New Year schedule, but he may have other scheduling issues that will affect a job’s submission and delivery date.

In my client’s case, her case-bound book includes a lot of four-color ads. Therefore, presumably the earlier she must upload art files to her current Chinese book printer, the less chance she will have to accommodate those advertisers who might only be able to meet a later ad deadline. In some cases this could be the difference between having, or losing, an advertising client.

Issues Relating to the Importation of Goods

Most or all of these issues involve time, knowledge/attentiveness, or money. My client mentioned Customs (on both ends, Korea or China plus the US), including sea clearance and bond expense/paperwork.

She also mentioned the “Vasis cost,” which she described as having the shipped cartons of books x-rayed in US Customs. This might involve additional fees depending on whether the books are just x-rayed or both x-rayed and physically inspected. With books, many boxes may need to be opened, so there may be additional fees for restacking and repalletizing them. This would be in addition to the basic Vasis fees. This doesn’t happen on each import, but it is a consideration, particularly if a book printing job delivers “LCL” (in less than one shipping container). More than anything, this means you need to be both knowledgeable and on top of the delivery process.

My client also said she has been advised to not have the foreign business in control of getting the product on the ship. She says you should use a US broker with an office in the departure port.

In addition, my client notes that there should be someone on this end to handle Customs clearance and any associated items that might arise, such as port fees, dock fees, and bonds. Also, there is always the possibility of a dock strike. My client notes that in a case like this you can sometimes divert the load to another port, but you really need to be watching the process closely (from your end, in this country) to ensure successful delivery.

A Response from My Client

Prior to completing this blog article, I contacted my client for her input. She noted that in spite of the challenges, she has successfully printed overseas for six years. In that time she has not had any problems dealing directly with the printer.

She had also mentioned challenges with color proofs with one book. She notes that in this case she received immediate and continuing help from her Chinese printer (and even from one of the owners of the printing plant) until all issues had been resolved and there was a plan in place to successfully proceed with printing the book. She was especially pleased with the smooth collaboration.

To quote from my client, Sandy Phillips, an Ocean City, MD, publisher, “While there are a number of moving pieces regarding printing overseas and the potential for things to go wrong, with the number of hands your job passes through, a carefully executed plan can yield excellent results.”

The Take-Away

By no means would I encourage you to not print your book in Asia. My personal experience of producing catalogs in Canada was much simpler. At the time the exchange rate was good, and the Canadian printer made the whole process easy. I would be comfortable printing in Canada again.

But Asia is farther away, and there are more areas in which you must become fluent. You need to understand the intricacies of importation (all elements of the process plus the costs) or have a trusted agent to handle these for you.

You need to understand the overall price and the overall schedule, not just the manufacturing price the printer quotes and the production schedule prior to the ship date.

And you need to closely monitor the entire process.

All of this is a completely separate arena of commercial printing that goes far beyond presses and inksets. But it doesn’t really matter how great the custom printing job is if you can’t get the print books to your client in good condition.

In this particular case, the more you know about international trade and the import/export business, the better able you will be to ensure your success.

Book Printing: Kids Really Do Prefer Print Books

Monday, March 27th, 2017

I was very pleased to come upon this article recently: “Kids actually like reading paper books more than screens.” It is from The News and Observer, 3/10/17, and it was written by Teresa Welsh.

Granted, I’m a commercial printing broker, so I have a vested financial interest in liking this sort of thing, but what made it stand out for me was that it challenged my beliefs. In my more cynical moments, I had always thought print would die out once today’s kids grew up. I figured they preferred digital books to print books. Maybe that’s not so true.

Here’s the gist of the article. (It is very short, but it includes a number of links to equally compelling information.)

  1. Kids who have multiple electronic devices tend to read less.
  2. Kids who do read a lot tend to not read on electronic devices.
  3. Electronic devices might be less appealing because of the easy access to games or a website. That is, these easily accessible distractions might provide instant gratification but derail the long-term gratification of reading a book.
  4. In spite of the proliferation of tablets and e-readers, the sales of print books has been going up, not down.
  5. Print books actually help young readers focus on the books they are reading.

Background Articles Referenced in The News and Observer Piece

Teresa Welsh’s article in The News and Observer links to some interesting information. First of all, she bases the article on a study done in Australia, and a link in Welsh’s article takes you to an abstract of this research. (Computers & Education, Volume 109, June 2017, Pages 187–196, “The influence of access to eReaders, computers and mobile phones on children’s book reading frequency.”)

This is the study Welsh’s article references: “2016 Western Australian Study in Children’s Book Reading.” The abstract noted above describes the behavior of kids with access to digital reading devices and their choice of print books for their recreational reading (i.e., when it was their choice rather than their teacher’s or parents’ choice as to what they read and how). This study correlates with the findings in Welsh’s article, but it also notes the external pressure on children to use digital reading devices (i.e., the high utilization of electronic reading devices and similar technology in schools, plus parents’ desire to ensure their kids’ digital literacy).

The study also found that increased access to mobile phones (another reading device) correlated with less reading by the children.

A second link in Welsh’s article takes you to “Children prefer to read books on paper rather than screens,” from https://theconversation.com, 3/9/17, by Margaret Kristin Merga and Saiyidi Mat Roni.

This article notes: “… that while some students enjoyed reading books on devices, the majority of students with access to these technologies did not use them regularly for this purpose. Importantly, the most avid book readers did not frequently read books on screens.”

Ironically, the assumption I had made about young people being highly digitally literate and preferring this medium can be traced back to a 2001 article by Marc Prensky in which he used the term “digital natives,” suggesting that young people are not only fluent in digital technology but that they also prefer it for reading. According to Merga and Roni’s article (“Children prefer to read books on paper rather than screens”), this is not necessarily backed up by research. However, it has exerted influence on schools, which in many cases have leaned toward digital reading devices and away from print books in their buying decisions.

According to Merga and Roni’s article, “…by doing this, libraries are actually limiting young people’s access to their preferred reading mode, which in turn could have a detrimental impact on how often they choose to read.”

Merga and Roni’s article then goes on to note that children like print books because they are easier to focus on without the distractions digital reading devices offer. The article then encourages parents and teachers to foster a love of reading in children by doing the following:

  1. Those who love to read can inspire children to do the same, so make sure the children see that you love reading.
  2. Provide reading opportunities (ample time and quiet spaces with good light).
  3. Provide print books.
  4. Discuss ideas in the books with the children.
  5. Find out what the children like to read and encourage them to read it.

What You Can Learn from These Articles

This is what I gleaned from all these articles:

  1. Print books are actually proliferating, not going away. In a world with more and more electronic devices, “paper book sales are increasing. In the first half of 2016, paperback book sales grew 8.8 percent over the first half of 2015, to $1.01 billion. Electronic books were down 20 percent to $579.5 million” (from “Kids actually like reading paper books more than screens,” The News and Observer, 3/10/17).
  2. We shouldn’t assume that all marketing data reflect actual preferences (even if kids are in fact “digital natives,” they apparently still do prefer print books over e-books).
  3. Kids model behavior of those they respect. If you are seen to be a reader of print books, and a lover of the tactile nature of print books, your kids will be inspired to do the same.
  4. As a culture, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The immediate gratification of unlimited digital options (access to a game or website when you’re reading a book) detracts from reading. Reading takes commitment (time and attentiveness), but it provides a deep gratification. Multitasking has been proven to be a myth. It just allows you to do a number of things at the same time badly.
  5. If you are a book designer or printer, don’t lose heart. There’s still room for your skills and knowledge.
  6. Print books provide a tactile experience. Digital books only provide a virtual experience.
  7. On the plus side, digital products are interactive in certain ways that print books are not. Some young readers benefit from this difference (an e-reader’s highlighting a part of a word, for instance, may help a particular child learn to read more quickly). Therefore, the ideal approach is to determine whether a print book or a digital book is more appropriate for a specific child and a specific learning task. Both have their place.

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