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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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Book Printing: Thoughts on the Future of Book Printing

I found a very heartening article online today about print books. The article was in Printing Impressions (or more specifically, www.piworld.com). It was entitled “2018 Book Manufacturing Outlook Includes Ranking of Top 5 Book Printers from PI 400,” written by Julie Greenbaum and published on 12/6/17.

Book printing is very much alive. This is nothing new. I’ve been writing articles from time to time in this blog saying the same thing. What I found interesting about Greenbaum’s article, though, is the new information it shares about book printing, and the new drivers for growth in book printing as well as the kinds of changes and new equipment to which this will lead.

Same Day Delivery: The Amazon Model

Greenbaum’s article opens with the “new disrupter,” Amazon’s same-day delivery model. Now I realize that you can go online and Amazon (as well as other web portals) will allow you to upload your print book files, and print an on-demand run that is replenished as Amazon (or another vendor) sells your digitally printed books. However, Greenbaum’s Printing Impressions article approaches this more from the vendor side of the equation. That is, the article addresses the book printers that will actually produce the books for Amazon, and considers what their strategy will be for meeting the “same-day delivery” model.

To answer this question Greenbaum references John Conley, CEO of Borderland Advisors, noting his belief that production inkjet (large-format, quick throughput, sheetfed and roll-fed inkjet printing on large equipment) will be one answer. However he expects there to also be new market-driven improvements (and even groundbreaking print-engines that haven’t been developed yet). He also believes that improvements in digital binding are on the way. Conley thinks that costs will decrease and quality, reliability, and speed will improve to meet the demands of consumers.

On the positive side, this will allow more titles to be produced, since inventory can be tightly controlled. Instead of printing a huge number of only the most popular books, it will be possible to print fewer copies of more titles reflecting the varied interests of the numerous niche market customers.

Continued Demand But Shorter Press Runs

“2018 Book Manufacturing Outlook Includes Ranking of Top 5 Book Printers from PI 400” then goes on to share the opinions of management at Walsworth in Marceline, MO; Edwards Brothers Malloy in Ann Arbor, MI; and Worzilla, in Stevens Point, WI.

David Grisa, executive vice president of commercial sales at Walsworth, notes the continued demand for short-run printing, and describes the digital binding changes Walsworth has implemented along with e-commerce solutions, inventory management, and fulfillment services. In short, this book printer has expanded the services offered, improved the company’s workflow, and expanded its digital printing capabilities in response to the needs of the market. As Grisa says, “Digital printing has allowed us to economically produce smaller order quantities.”

John Edwards, president and CEO of Edwards Brothers Malloy, seems to share Grisa’s beliefs. Greenbaum’s article notes Edwards’ views that “Being able to print a book of one helps its customers manage titles that can range from one book to those in the thousands.” Edwards says this “has kept titles alive, economically.”

Being able to produce anywhere from one book to thousands of books has helped Edwards Brothers Malloy’s customers both control inventory and respond to their own customers’ needs much more quickly. And the quick turn-arounds made possible by digital printing, along with diversification of printing services, has kept printers relevant while at the same time providing more books (and more titles) to people who still prefer print books.

Edwards does note that for longer press runs, offset printing is still the more economical method.

A third printer Greenbaum mentions in her article is Worzilla, in Stevens Point, WI. Worzilla’s president, Jim Fetherston, notes that Worzilla can be economically competitive even on runs of several hundred books on its offset printing equipment due to improvements in its presses and finishing equipment. This has allowed Worzilla to produce high-quality full-color books more quickly and efficiently.

What’s In Store for 2018?

Greenbaum’s article, “2018 Book Manufacturing Outlook Includes Ranking of Top 5 Book Printers from PI 400,” goes on to describe Conley’s (of Borderland Advisors) vision of the near future, noting:

  1. Schools are not abandoning print books and embracing digital readers. They’re still not sure how effective ebooks are as a learning tool. More specifically, educators are not sure that students retain information read on a computer screen as well as what they read in physical books.
  2. Printers will continue to consolidate. There will be fewer offset book printers and a lot of digital book printers and printers with both digital and offset capabilities.

Grisa (of Walsworth) notes:

  1. There will be shorter press runs requiring less inventory management.
  2. Grisa sees the advent of simplified workflows and improved fulfillment services.
  3. Grisa also notes that there is “an increasing need to reduce the total cost of production, not just reduced unit costs.”

Edwards (of Edwards Brothers Malloy) notes:

  1. Print is “still viable and in demand.”
  2. But the paper market is changing, and this could seriously affect paper availability and pricing.
  3. And Edwards expects any increases in energy prices to affect shipping costs and therefore overall costs (since freight is a big part of the total print production expense).
  4. Edwards also expects “a trend this year toward shorter runs, faster replenishment, and a focus on ultra-short, on-demand runs to minimize inventory.”

Fetherston (of Worzilla) notes:

  1. There’s no better cure than a print book for spending too much time in front of a computer screen.
  2. Since online news has become unreliable in some cases, Fetherston believes a print book “is reemerging as a vehicle where readers can determine if the author is knowledgeable, credible, and worth reading.”

What You Can Learn From This Article

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Print books are not going away. People still find value in the print book reading experience, the ability to learn from print books and retain that knowledge, and the ability to trust their content.
  2. The technology is changing to meet customer demand for more titles but with shorter runs. This means increased speed, reliability, and print quality, as well as the need for more digital finishing options.
  3. There’s still room for book printers that can adapt, providing a variety of services: digital and offset printing, finishing, inventory management, and fulfillment.
  4. There will be more consolidation of printers.
  5. Book designers will still be in demand and their skills will be relevant.

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