While the overall volume of printed books continues to decline, earlier this year we heard that, for the first time since they were introduced, the growth in sales of e-books was slowing. This may have come as a surprise to those who thought that the e-book would be the nemesis of its printed counterpart, but to others it’s a natural slowdown in the initial high rate of adoption in a new technology. Whatever the cause, it’s now apparent that the two formats will co-exist due to the inherent benefits of both.
Beyond this, publishers worldwide are seeing an increasing number of new titles annually, though the average run length of each title is falling. This makes it progressively difficult for publishers to manage supply chains and have the logistics in place to fully stock all sales channels. More titles also means increased pressure on warehousing needs and higher stock costs.
Meanwhile, to meet demand for more titles to be immediately available, e-commerce models for ordering and receiving books have been successfully implemented by market players such as Apple, Amazon and Google. This has completely transformed the supply chain. Finally, the growth in self-publishing continues, with ISBN* registrations for self-published titles having grown more than 375% since 2010, climbing from 152,978 ISBNs to 727,125 ISBNs.
As a result of these macro trends, publishers across Europe have experienced negative revenue growth rates over the past five years. It therefore stands to reason that they are eager to work with print service providers (PSPs) to find practical solutions to the challenges they face. Whether seeking increased efficiency and cost savings, or a reduction in risk, waste and space, four innovative digital printing models are proving to be a powerful force in transforming business fortunes: short run, life cycle management, on demand and ‘dynamic’ or ‘smart’ publishing.
Demand for small editions is increasing and the short run model is about optimising processes by moving to more economic digital production. The advantage to publishers is the ability to order smaller quantities of books and reduce the financial risk of holding inventories. Once established, digital short run production can also pave the way for decentralised printing concepts, reducing the delivery time and cost of books.
Thorsten Bischof, Managing Director of documenteam GmbH & Co. KG, which specialises in printing training material, technical manuals and books, recently commented: “Small run lengths cannot be produced economically in offset. At the same time, some run length sizes are too expensive when printed on toner-based systems. The market itself has become extremely price-sensitive, so we simply had to find a way out.” Bischof’s ‘way out’ was to invest in a cut-sheet inkjet system from Canon. As a result, his daily print volume is now split equally between offset and inkjet: “The production of jobs up to a run length of 1,500 copies is significantly more cost-effective with this system than it would be on a traditional offset press. With small print jobs, costs can be reduced by up to 50%.”
In this model – which centres on optimising the distribution chain for the publisher – actual sales demand determines the number of copies printed, thereby reducing storage costs and the risk of overstocking.
Recognising a need to scale production according to the lifecycle of a book, TJ International worked with Canon to develop an automated workflow, making it possible to offer single copy prints with no manual intervention. When added to the company’s existing portfolio of offset and digital technology, this allowed it to meet demand from initial volume prints of a book to subsequent reprints for stock replenishment and single copy orders.
“By offering a shorter run capability with the addition of digital technology, we have been able to expand out of our previous specialism of scientific, academic and medical book printing into new realms of publishing including the legal, poetry and business arenas,” says Angus Clark, CEO of TJ International. “The impact the technology and workflow has had on productivity is significant.
“Our technology portfolio has continually developed to allow us to single-handedly manage the entire lifecycle of a book, which is a real draw for publishers and distributors,” he said.
The print-on-demand model follows the simple motto “sell first – then print”. Now an established model, this fits perfectly into the online distribution chain. A book can be ordered, printed and in a consumer’s hands the next day. For publishers, there is no need for stock or capital to be tied-up in inventories and no reason why any book should ever be deemed ‘out-of-print’.
Scanlaser – a printing company which functions as a digital warehouse, storing more than 60,000 digital documents – is testament to the success of this responsive printing model as the company’s Director, Sander Jansen, explains: “Our production workflow is fully automated so that when digital systems such as online retailers or manufacturers’ logistics systems order products from our warehouse, we can immediately produce and dispatch them to end users.”
To illustrate Scanlaser’s production model, Jansen gives the example of manuals that the company produces for an international truck manufacturer: “We are connected to their logistics system so that when a truck reaches a certain stage in production we automatically print the right selection of manuals for that particular model in the correct language and configuration for the country to which the truck will be delivered. We then package the manuals up together in a branded wallet and deliver it to the manufacturer just in time for it to be placed in the truck when it leaves the factory. By digitally storing these documents for the customer, we’ve simultaneously solved their overproduction problems and enabled them to free up the space they previously used to store pre-printed manuals.”
The final model is ‘dynamic’ or ‘smart’ publishing, which involves selecting variable content for different user groups. The idea is either to extract content from various sources and merge it to create a customised printed publication, or to use online and offline channels in tandem to provide multi-faceted tailored content. For PSPs, the concept potentially offers new revenue and growth opportunities beyond print services, while for publishers it helps to exploit existing assets by matching them with individual needs and creating new services.
Edubook AG – a company highly specialised in complex printing and logistical solutions and part of the Kalaidos educational group in Switzerland – uses this dynamic publishing model to combine the on-demand production of printed classroom materials with the option of e-books, allowing students to get both a book and an e-book, or parts of each as appropriate. This is managed through an online learning materials ‘shop’ where students can purchase their content. The company also launched its own e-book app to enable students to access content from various publishers in one place.
* International Standard Book Number
Peter Wolff, Head of Commercial Print Group, Canon Europe