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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Archive for August, 2019

Custom Printing: The Place of Digital Printing in “Retailtainment”

Monday, August 26th, 2019

On the one hand I like it when new words are created. I was a Literature major in college. On the other hand, I know to look closely when this happens. (An example is when Photoshop was turned from a noun—the computer program—into a verb, as in “just Photoshop” the image, meaning “Turn the fuzzy, low-res image into a crisp, press-ready photo.”

So when I heard the word “Retailtainment,” I was both intrigued and wary. It seemed to tell me something about the shift in buying trends, and in this particular case I think it signals an outcome that will be favorable to commercial printing.

The Thesis: Canon’s Approach to Contemporary Sales

That said, I read an article today entitled “The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor.” I read it on www.africanews.com. It was published on 06/29/19 by Canon-CNA.com (Canon Central and North Africa—CCNA, presumably presented as a press release).

The background (not noted in the article but definitely noted anecdotally in many of the articles I’ve read over the past few years) is that the Internet has drawn traffic away from retail stores. This is nothing new. I would think most people would agree that it’s easier to buy online. Nevertheless, you miss a few things when you do this. You don’t see the product, and you can’t interact with the knowledgeable sales rep in the store. The Africa News article bears this out.

Canon notes “the importance of the settings and ambiences of physical shops as they become more than just a buying space, an opportunity for the brand to build and maintain relationships with its customers” (“The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor”). Canon then goes further to say that a lot of this ambience comes from décor that is ideally suited to production via digital custom printing.

The press release then notes that “just under 90 percent of worldwide retail sales still take place in physical stores” (“The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor”). This actually surprised me, given my own, and my fiancee’s, avid use of the “buy now” button on any number of websites. But Canon’s press release goes on to identify the things you cannot get online (“atmosphere, face-to-face customer service, and the ability to see and try products”).

Because of this, the goal of retail stores is shifting rather than dying out (since, according to Canon’s article, they “play a role in sales 79 percent of the time and excel at converting interest to sales”).

What this means is that buyers will spend time in a retail store if they feel it is a good use of their time: that is, if it’s interesting, educational, and fun. This is why sports stores often have climbing walls, why home repair stores often have classes in how to do your own plumbing, and why cooking stores often provide a restaurant, food to cook, cooking equipment, and cooking classes. The more time a retail store can hold the interest of potential clients, the larger the amount of money they will spend. Why? Because they’re enjoying the experience.

Canon’s article goes on to say that the retail establishments “that continue to thrive are those embracing ‘omni-channel’ strategies; focusing on delivering a seamless customer experience across every channel where they have a presence—physical stores, catalogs, e-commerce, mobile, social media, and more” (“The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor”).

People these days seem to value experiences more than things (according to Canon’s article), and therefore to keep the interest of a customer, a retailer has to “engage shoppers with the emotional and multi-sensory experiences that are missing from online purchases.”

What this means to me is that there’s a lot of room for commercial printing technology and products in this new retail experience.

Moreover, the goal is to ensure a seamless transition from one channel to another: from the in-store experience to the online experience to the print collateral. Potential customers must recognize the branding. It must be consistent as the customer transitions from one marketing channel to the next.

Canon calls this a “unified journey” (“The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor”).

“Retailtainment” and the In-Store Environment

Canon states that the goal is to create “spaces where customers want to spend time” (“The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor”). This is the “experience economy,” according to Canon. The approach may have started thirty years ago, but Canon sees a transformation particularly over the last ten years. The customer’s in-store goal has become “time well spent.” This has led to “showroom-style environments that encourage customers to experience products…to linger” (“The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor”).

And one thing that all retail environments need to provide captivating environments that never become boring is compelling décor. “Atmosphere” and “sensory appeal” are essential to creating an “immersive experience,” according to “The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor.” And digital custom printing is ideally suited to all of these goals.

Digial custom printing excels at making environments new, trendy, and continually different for an economical price, especially if designers and retailers approach environmental upgrades as changing the skin of the retail store: that is, updating the wall and floor coverings, the images adorning the surfaces of the environment, rather than moving the walls.

You can completely transform an environment, making it surprising and new, with large format graphics from commercial printing vendors on all surfaces: walls, floors, cabinets. And a novel environment encourages customers to come back again and again to see something new.

According to “The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor,” “51 percent of customers are more likely to buy from brands whose stores are ‘interesting or different.’” This encourages repeat visits, and repeat visits foster continued spending.

This means the in-store goal has shifted, according to Canon, from “directly driving sales” to “creating a branded experience…reflecting the ‘personality’ of the brands…and encouraging dwell time” (“The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor”).

Moreover, since social media has become the leading motivator for customers’ choosing one brand over another (i.e., making buying decisions based on the recommendations of family and friends), brands are increasingly focusing on maintaining a consistent branded experience, from the retail store to the Internet experience, to the catalog, and also encouraging the use of social media within the retail store. For instance, this might mean providing ample opportunities for selfie photos that can be shared on social media with the customers’ friends and family.

What this means from the point of view of a designer and commercial printing vendor is that the environment must be kept fresh and enticing with digitally printed environmental graphics.

The Place of Digital Custom Printing in “Retailtainment”

Canon notes the following in its article, “The Age of ‘Retailtainment’: How Digital Disruption Is Driving Trends in Physical Retail Decor”:

  1. Digital custom printing helps create a trendy environment “with minimal disruption” and “within tight budget constraints.”
  2. Digital printing is flexible and cost effective in enhancing a branded environment.
  3. Retail companies can provide unique wallpaper, displays, floor and window graphics, and other surface imagery consistent with their brand.
  4. The goal is to welcome and captivate the customer. Digital printing plays an integral part in this experience.

What You Can Learn from This Article by Canon

  1. Design skills are essential. If you understand how to create a consistent brand image over multiple channels (print, environmental, social, mobile, e-commerce), you will always be employed.
  2. Learn everything you can about the technological aspects (as well as the design aspects) of all marketing channels: print, digital, and e-commerce. The more you understand the specifics, the more in demand you will be.
  3. Study the psychology behind all channels. Understand what motivates various customer groups (segments) such as Baby Boomers and Millennials. Understand how they approach buying decisions differently. If you can understand their values and motivations, you can better communicate with them through all marketing channels.
  4. Understand the options you have within the realm of commercial printing. This means knowing what technologies are relevant for particular purposes, such as offset lithography, inkjet printing, and laser printing. (For instance, people still trust catalogs because there is something about their physical permanence that the Internet does not offer. So, in this case, the more you know about the offset printing process and what your options are for paper, ink, cover coatings, etc., the more in demand you will be. In contrast, one-off printed products like wall banners depend more on digital printing technology.)
  5. The short version: The more you know, the more valuable you will be.

Final Words

I have two final things to share:

I had an “Aha” moment about fifteen years ago when I realized that eating out wasn’t about food. It was about entertainment. The dining out experience had become an event.

I had a similar “Aha” moment today in Best Buy, when I realized that they were doing exactly what the Canon article was espousing. I could see it in the Best Buy signage and other environmental branding, in their digital presentation on the small computers in the store, and even in our interactions with the sales reps. When we were leaving, my fiancee noted that she had had a good time when we were in the store. Point taken.

Book Printing: Ensuring On-Time, Accurate Delivery

Monday, August 19th, 2019

“We uploaded the art files to the printer only a day late. Why can’t the printer make up the time? Don’t they want our business?”

A print brokering client of mine asked these questions recently, reminding me that their print books needed to be in the book distributor’s possession on time, and not even a day late. (To be completely honest, I have exaggerated my client’s actual questions a bit in order to make a point: Schedules matter.)

It is important to remember that your commercial printing job (and in most cases your schedule, or drop-dead delivery date) is of utmost importance to you, but at the same time your print provider has many clients who feel exactly the same way about their projects. Some of these will flow smoothly through the process. They will arrive on time and then proceed through all the various stages of the process (prepress, printing, finishing, packing, and delivery).

Others will hit snags. Maybe your files will not pass preflight (perhaps there will be problems with the resolution of the photos). Maybe, when you receive the hard-copy proof, you’ll catch an error or two.

Errors like these, the ones you have inadvertently introduced into the process, will slow you down. These are different from errors the printer introduces into the process (such as a broken saddle stitching machine that slows down his bindery work, perhaps necessitating overtime work to compensate).

Error-Free Files

I had a client earlier this year who submitted three 5.5” x 8.5” print books to press. There was a simple editorial correction needed on one of the book covers. Because of this, the printer put all three books on hold while the cover designer made and uploaded corrections and while new proofs were generated and approved (fortunately they were PDF proofs, so no further time was lost mailing proofs to the client and then back to the book printer).

This revision process (for as small a correction as was needed) added a week to the overall production schedule. Did the printer need to take this much time? After all, the book printer’s actual production time was probably only minimal. While it’s true that fixing the problem most likely took very little time, it disrupted the overall workflow of the book printing plant. To minimize this, the printer focused first on the clients who had provided accurate, error-free files—on time—and then came back to my client’s three print books.

Not all printers are like this. Printing is a business, and different printers have different business models. The one in question has rock-bottom prices but provides stellar-quality products. Therefore, they are always booked. In fact, since the overall volume of book printing has been increasing year over year in the recent past, the turn-around time this book printer now offers is much longer than even a year ago.

Other Options

My client could go elsewhere. A reasonable choice. I work with another printer that’s huge. They are a consolidator. They have branches all across the country. They also do digital printing (which my client needed for these three titles due to their short press runs). But this printer’s business model involves limiting the choices for digital binding to keep their machinery costs down. After all, if they offered all types of binding (French flaps on the paperback covers, for instance), this would require additional machinery, which would require additional expense, which would drive up the costs the printer must charge customers.

A third book printer will do almost anything I need. They’re great. However, I have to pay a premium for this. Some of my customers prefer this treatment and are willing to pay for it.

So my client made his choice. He chose two of the three manufacturing goals (quality, price, but not speed). In effect, we paid for the discounted price.

Some will say that clients now demand more, and it’s possible to hit all three goals (quality, price, and speed). That sounds good, but in reality those printers who over-promise eventually go out of business.

For instance, I’ve had clients leave for other printers who promise more only to find that their schedules were not met or that the printed jobs were not of the highest quality. These clients then came back to me. In my case, as a printing broker, I try to advise clients not to do this because it takes time: going out, finding a new printer, having problems, and then coming back. This can also waste a lot of money.

Now I want to make it clear that the situation I’m describing is very different from working with a printer who is slow, sloppy, and/or inaccessible. Most are not. Some get into trouble precisely because they are trying to be all things to all people. They are charging less than the competition, taking in too much work, and turning it around with too few staff. Eventually they go out of business.

How do you know what’s really happening with a particular printer? You don’t. This is where experience comes in. If a long-standing relationship with a printer who has been a good partner hits a bump in the road, you can discuss matters, be frank, and come up with solutions. But if you’re working with a new printer, it’s usually smart to start slowly. Make your first few jobs small ones with flexible deadlines. Then you can build up to large, deadline-critical custom printing projects.

The Solution

After the first set of this year’s print books came too close for comfort to my client’s drop-dead delivery date, I came up with a solution for the next set of three jobs. I asked for the printer’s longest projected time frame for each component of the schedule based on the printer’s workload at that particular time (which was heavy). Then I listed them:

  1. Prepress and proofing
  2. Printing
  3. Binding
  4. Shipping and delivery

Then I added a week to the estimated prepress and proofing stage. Then I added a week to the shipping stage. Then I added a week to the whole process just for safety’s sake. Would I have done this for all printers’ schedules? No. In some cases my clients want to go go with the more expensive printers I frequent, and these book printers don’t often present this problem.

So in the simplest terms, I acknowledged reality. Then I made a conservative schedule. Not just a realistic schedule, but a conservative one, with wiggle room. With this in hand, I approached both my client and the printer, received their approval of the schedule, and made sure everyone had a final copy. This was our agreement. At this point it was set in stone, but I sweetened the pot by arranging prepayment. The printer needed half of the cost up front, but since my client “got it” (he understood human motivation), my client offered to pay for the entire order at once, up front.

Keep in mind two important things. My client had been exceptionally pleased with this book printer’s prior work. All books delivered for several jobs had been gorgeous. Also, this printer (and most others) require cash-only clients (as opposed to credit clients) to pay the first 50 percent prior to the onset of the job and the final 50 percent prior to its shipment. This is the norm (an accepted trade custom in commercial printing). So by paying both 50 percent, up-front payments together, my client showed good will, made it clear that the job was a real job, and didn’t pay any more than was required (he just paid it earlier).

Final Check of Art Files

When the text designer sent me final art files for the three print books, I carefully checked the individual pages in the PDF file and also the trim size (format) of the books. Two of the three had the correct format. One was slightly off-size–in error. I brought this to the text designer’s attention, and she quickly fixed it. (If I hadn’t caught this error, the printer would have caught it in preflight, and this would have used up precious time in the schedule. In fact, all three books might have been put on hold until the problem had been fixed.)

My client also caught errors on the cover of one of the three books. He asked whether I thought it would be better to upload the files now (one day past the submission deadline) and make corrections at the proof stage, or whether he should take the time to correct the files first. My response was that it was definitely worth taking the time now.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Make a schedule. Pad it. Then get everyone’s buy-in. Then, don’t deviate from the schedule. Remember the consequences of missed deadlines.
  2. Realize that you can have any two of the following: quality, speed, price. Any vendor can make wild promises. Choose printers that under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t waste time looking for the perfect printer. It’s more than likely that you’ll spend a lot of money and time, and wind up back at your first printer’s door.
  3. That said, develop relationships with printers prudently. Start with small jobs and then build to larger ones.
  4. Have more than one person check your art files. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s always better to fix them before submitting files. Don’t wait until the proofing stage. You will not make up lost time.

Book Printing: Pearson Shifts from Textbooks to Digital

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

I spend a lot of time in thrift stores with my fiancee. She looks at the clothes; I go for the print books. In fact, I’ve collected quite a library of textbooks, which I have used since graduating from college to augment my education (and particularly my knowledge of commercial printing, art, and business).

So I’m familiar with the name Pearson, a mammoth United Kingdom publisher of textbooks. I have many of their titles on my bookshelves, all purchased second hand.

Pearson’s Move from Print Books to “Digital First”

Given my predisposition to learning from print books, and my work as a printing broker, I was surprised and a bit saddened by the news that Pearson will be “ending all regular revisions for its print college textbooks.” (I took this quote from an article I found today entitled “Pearson Ditches Print Textbooks for College Students in Digital First Strategy,” published on 07/16/19 by Sarah Min of online Money Watch.)

According to Min’s article, Pearson will “focus on updating its digital products more frequently, offering artificial intelligence capabilities, data analytics, and research.”

This has to be taken in context, I think. The price of textbooks has been soaring, costing as much as $200 to $300 for a single print book. In contrast, e-books are closer to $40 each.

In addition, students, most of whom are on a tight budget, have been motivated to approach the secondary market to buy used textbooks, thus reducing the revenue of textbook publishers like Pearson. And this is not a situation affecting only Pearson. Other textbook publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have been moving in a digital direction for a while now, investing heavily in artificial intelligence (as it pertains to textbook material, such as online audio, video, etc.).

According to “Pearson Ditches Print Textbooks for College Students in Digital First Strategy,” Pearson considers this shift to digital first to be a win/win for students and publishers. The students get the enhanced learning capabilities of online media, and the publishers can eliminate the direct materials costs associated with book printing (all the paper) as well as the costs of storing printed books and fulfilling orders for print textbooks. In the long run, publishers will make more with this business model.

According to Pearson CEO John Fallon, as quoted in Min’s article, “ Students are getting more comfortable with e-books as the functionality gets better” (“Pearson Ditches Print Textbooks for College Students in Digital First Strategy”).

The Other Side of the Coin

Being a print broker and a lover of print books, I was not sold on this approach, so I did some more research.

I found an article entitled “A Textbook Dilemma, Digital or Paper?” that provides a different view. It is from The Science of Learning and is dated 08/23/17. It was written by Claudia Wallis.

I was not deterred by the date (approximately two years ago) because of the scientific evidence it presents, which I don’t think would have changed in two years.

The gist of Wallis’ argument is the following:

  1. Students learn better from a print book, in part because there are fewer distractions, in contrast to the multi-tasking approach of the Internet.
  2. Students learn better when they can make notes in the margins of a print book. It has not yet been proven whether copying and pasting text electronically from source material works as well as underlining and hand-note-taking in fostering reading comprehension and the retention of facts.
  3. Wallis references the work of Patricia Alexander, a University of Maryland literary scholar, whose research from 1992 to 2017 uncovered only 36 studies (out of 878 potentially pertinent studies) that directly addressed whether online learning was as effective (in terms of retention and understanding) as learning from a textbook. So the bottom line is that more work needs to be done regarding how people learn and how online resources and print books compare in this regard.
  4. Wallace references the work of Patricia Alexander in Review of Educational Research, which confirms that, for longer works (above 500 words), reading on a digital device reduces comprehension when compared to a print book. (Apparently this is due in part to the flickering of the screen, the scrolling, the glare of the screen, and the fact that we are accustomed to multitasking on a digital device instead of focusing intently in a linear manner on the subject matter.) According to Alexander’s research, digital book readers have more confidence in the depth of their learning (due to the perceived increased reading speed on digital media) but had lower actual comprehension and retention. Apparently, readers of print books absorbed and retained more details.
  5. Regardless of the medium, the most powerful approach to education is one that involves students’ “deeply questioning the text” (“A Textbook Dilemma, Digital or Paper?”).
  6. Some texts (and some subjects) are linear and lend themselves to print books (as Wallis notes, based on findings by Joost Kircz, a Dutch scholar on this subject). You read them from beginning to end. Other subjects and books lend themselves to a less linear approach. These might benefit from the added videos and audio tracks accessible through online media. According to Kircz, these enhancements might include links to “annotation, elaboration, contrary views, media, etc.” (“A Textbook Dilemma, Digital or Paper?”). One benefit of digital media is “in a digital environment we can easily enable a plurality of reading paths in educational and scholarly texts.” (Joost Kircz and August Hans Den Boef in The Unbound Book). “Not all information is linear or even layered.” “The question is to what extent can we mimic human understanding” (Joost Kircz in “A Textbook Dilemma, Digital or Paper?”).

The Takeaway

So, from my perspective, the question of whether to choose digital or print books involves the following issues:

  1. How do people learn? We need to better understand the mechanics (i.e., the brain functions) involved in the comprehension and retention of new subject matter.
  2. Do some kinds of subject matter lend themselves to one medium or the other? For instance, can a novel (a linear text, presumably), work better as a print book? Can the digital enhancements of online video and audio hyperlinks improve one’s ability to learn other kinds of subject matter?
  3. Do all people learn more efficiently and effectively from the same media, whether online texts or print books?
  4. Are we making decisions based on the effectiveness of the medium or its cost (from the point of view of the student), or its potential for revenue generation (from the point of view of the publisher)?

My educated guess is that “digital vs. print” will eventually be like the “radio vs. television” dilemma. People thought images would replace words. Now we have both. I think some people will learn better from printed books while others will learn better from online media. And I think this will change based on the kind of subject matter in question.

I think print books will be with us for a long time, although I think the ones that remain will incorporate the higher production values (for example, intricate die cuts or nuanced cover coatings) that set print books apart from digital books.

Book Printing: A Fanciful Journey Toward a Print Book

Monday, August 5th, 2019

I am a pushover when it comes to romance and swashbuckling. I must have been a pirate in a former life. So when I had the opportunity to join a Facebook group connected to a print book a client of mine was designing for a friend, I joined.

My client’s friend apparently is writing a book, a journal of sorts, describing his early life, many years ago, in the cannabis trade. Now I know this is less highly charged now, and I neither oppose nor condone its use, but this sounded like a good story.

So when I reached the Facebook page and joined, I first assumed that all of the Facebook members—who made me feel quite at home with their welcome—lived together on a beach in some Caribbean land as ex-patriots presumably fleeing the law. I further assumed that if they were keeping on the low down and engaging in legal professions, they were probably digital nomads writing or designing articles and books, and then submitting files over the internet while lounging in their beach huts.

(I have since discovered from my friend that almost all of them are in fact scattered–separately–across the United States. They are middle aged or older, and they presumably all have day jobs. Oh, well.)

The Tone of the Journal

To protect the innocent, I will not get specific about the content of the print book. At the very least, this is because it has not yet been published. So for now we’ll assume it is like Miami Vice set in Tahiti, full of smuggling and theme music for all the main characters. (One of the inhabitants told me he was homeless, but upon further reflection as to how this might be true if he was writing to me on a computer, I asked my friend. She told me he was renting lake-front property. He just didn’t own a house.)

That said, the exposure to the Facebook page has given me a wealth of information on the tone of the print book to come, such that I can now make cogent suggestions regarding its format, paper, binding, and perhaps even design (hopefully without stepping on my friend’s, the designer’s, toes).

Magic Translated Into Print Book Production Values

Having reviewed and considered the photos on the Facebook page along with the writings from both the author and the other group members, and having been told by the author that he wants to charge more than usual for the book, I had some thoughts.

First of all, I agree with a Dr. Who (on television) t-shirt I have that pretty much says that in the end we’re just stories. In my own view, someone who can tell a good story full of concrete, evocative details that engage the reader emotionally can charge almost anything. People love stories. Good marketing is even based on telling stories, on engaging the reader’s emotions. Particularly if the stories are believable—as was the story I gleaned from the Facebook page.

How this filters into print book production specifications is what this blog article is really about, and I think that as designers and print buyers each one of us needs to be able to understand the story, whether the printed product will be a book, a brochure, a sign, or anything else. Then, each one of us has to translate this story into a printed product using the aesthetic building blocks of design and the physical building blocks of commercial printing.

So these are my thoughts, which I have already started to share with my friend who will be designing the print book:

  1. If the author plans to charge a premium, it will be important to make the book presentation unique.
  2. This may include such attributes as an unusual size (not the traditional 6” x 9” or 8.5” x 11” of contemporary trade books, which cost less than what my friend’s client plans to charge). Perhaps a square, large-format book would be intriguing to the reader.
  3. It may include such trappings as French flaps. These are the extensions to the paperback cover that fold back into the book and extend 3” or 4” across the interior front cover. They make the book look like it is a hard-cover text with a dust jacket. These are very popular, apparently, in Europe, so they lend an international sensibility to the book: perhaps an air of mystery or opulence.
  4. Since the subject matter involves cannabis, I plan to suggest a more earthy approach, involving an uncoated, heavily textured paper for the interior pages of the print book. I can acquire paper samples from my printing suppliers when the time comes. I may even suggest a toned paper, perhaps an off white or a light gray or green. Anything that has a crunchy granola feel.
  5. Given the subject matter, I may also suggest an uncoated cover stock. I need to be very careful, though, because uncoated paper does not necessarily age well. Readers may easily crush or dog-ear the cover paper, inadvertently, through heavy use. Even if the paper holds up, the ink printed on the cover may smear unless it is coated, which would defeat the purpose of having an uncoated cover stock in the first place.
  6. Granted, I have seen designers use a light varnish to seal ink on an uncoated stock, even though it’s a little like painting a sponge. You protect the ink but you can’t see any gloss. Also, ink laydown on a textured cover stock with a “tooth” (uneven surface) may be a bit uneven, with pinholes, so the design of the cover art will be of prime importance. It must be printer friendly as well as attractive. The custom printing technology (offset vs. digital) will also be important in order to ensure good ink or toner coverage on the cover paper.
  7. Readability. This is not a printing consideration, but since the writer already noted that he likes Comic Sans for a font, I checked this typeface out on the web. I went to Google Images and found the whole alphabet. It is attractive. It seems to be casual and quite appropriate for the storytelling tone of the print book. However, I’m not yet convinced that it will be easily readable over the course of 200 to 300 pages, especially by older readers. So I suggested to the designer that she increase the point size, increase the leading (space between lines), and make the copy flush left/ragged right. The typeface will echo the tone of the book, but it must be readable.

These are just some initial thoughts. In fact, when we get closer to publication, I’m going to ask the printer for samples of uncoated, printed cover stocks. I may also ask the paper merchant to create a mock-up of the entire print book on the selected stock to give the reader an idea of what the final book will feel like in the reader’s hands. A good story, written by a charismatic storyteller, skillfully designed, on substantial paper with special flaps, should fetch a premium. It all comes down to the same magic I felt on the Facebook page, when I thought all inhabitants of The Crew lived on the beach of the same Caribbean island and were not in fact retired men and women scattered all across the United States. Magic sells.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Anything from a book to a brochure must captivate the reader. This is a magical act. It is based not only on the story (referred to in the popular media as “the narrative”) but on the design and printing values.
  2. First, understand the tone of the book. Breathe it in. Let it sit with you, and then turn this into a design based on all the traditional tools: page geometry, font, color, imagery, etc.
  3. Turn two dimensions into three. The writing is abstract. The design adds the visual cues. Now add the tactile element: the print book production values.
  4. Acquire related print products, then consider unusual treatments that will set apart your printed product from all others. This includes paper, trim size, binding technology and materials, perhaps adornment such as foils, cover coatings, and such.
  5. Make sure all of this is congruent: writing, design, and paper. Even the commercial printing technology is important. Maybe a print book about pirates should be printed via letterpress, not offset lithography. Maybe it should be printed on a faux parchment with a mottled paper surface.
  6. Get samples: printed samples and paper books. It’s great to visualize something in your own head, but if you’re going to see how it’s really going to look—and feel—nothing beats a printed sample. It also helps you communicate with the author and the printer. Use the paper sample books not only to select paper stocks but to make sure they are current. Papers come and go. Check the dates on the paper swatch books. Make sure your printer can get the paper. Moreover, make sure the paper is reasonably priced and doesn’t require a special order or a minimum amount.

Use everything you know about paper, design, and commercial printing, but go beyond these and consider reader psychology, marketing tactics, and even the art of storytelling. To misquote Dr. Who (from British television): If it’s all a story, let’s make it a good one.

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