Industry focus: book printing and publishers

Here’s how the rise of e-readers has disrupted the publishing world, and how the print sector is responding to this distinct industry shift.

Industry focus: book printing and publishers

It wasn’t so long ago that experts were heralding the demise of the printed book. They boldly declared that within a few years we would have abandoned printed pages for e-readers, tablets and other screens. While these technologies have certainly disrupted the book industry, book content is still popular and viable thanks to the onset of high speed, digital inkjet colour printing.

While the graphics market is in a state of decline with general book volumes set to drop further, the outlook for digitally printed book volumes looks very different. Significant growth is forecast, with Caslon estimating that digital black-and-white and colour pages will grow 14% and 18% from 2014-2019.

Rise of digital

Disruption within the publishing industry stems from some larger market trends. Beyond the rise in e-readers and mobile devices, general reader behaviour is changing. It’s not the case that people aren’t interested in printed books, but they demand that the books be available when and where they want them. The rise of new players in the market with on-demand models, such as Amazon, Apple or Google, make this a reality. While the overall printing of books in the industry is falling, the number of titles is constant or growing across Europe. There are more titles with shorter run lengths boosting the rise in digital volumes.

This situation raises the worry of stocks and warehousing for book publishers. For example, in the UK approximately 150,000 new titles are published annually. While they are front list titles for a short time after publication, they quickly slide to the back list category. This is where four new business models, which have emerged in the market, can benefit book publishers considerably.

Adopt a new approach?

When considering how to take advantage of the book printing and publishing opportunity, PSPs can take inspiration from existing business models.

The short-run model is about shifting to more economic digital production as high speed inkjet truly closes the gap between digital toner and offset cut sheet production. The advantage to publishers is that they can now order smaller quantities of books and reduce their risk of holding inventories.

The life cycle management model allows optimisation of the complete value chain. This means matching actual sales demand of any print product with the number of copies produced. The advantage to publishers here is that every book title can be available in minimum quantities, so maximum revenues can be achieved from each one.

The print-on-demand model runs on the simple motto of “sell first – then print”. Amazon has proven how well this can work. Print on-demand is now an established model and fits perfectly into the online distribution chain. A book can be ordered, printed and in a consumer’s hands the very next day. In this case, the advantage to book publishers is there is no need for stock, or tied-up capital, in inventories. Books enjoy a global market presence. Smart publishing is all about variable content for different user groups. The idea is to merge and extract content from various sources and to customise that content into a printed product. The advantage to publishers is that this concept allows them to resell content in different contexts, and really make information relevant to readers.

A mixed model

Print firms do not need to revolutionise themselves overnight. They can progress to a mixed model offering offset or digital where appropriate. The precise mix will depend on business volumes and customer demand and the key is to understand the market and the opportunity.

Regardless of the potential margins that exist in digital, this type of transformation is not always easy to achieve. Especially for those who have lived with the offset model for decades, and who may see digital as a technique with low margins. This is made even more difficult when one considers the offset capacities available today.

Advancements in digital inkjet technology have led to many successful digital book printing installations in the past five or six years, but this is only one part of the equation. The greater breakthrough will come with publishers rethinking their existing processes and making changes to match the changing market demands of readers. In time, we will see an overall change in mind-set across the industry.

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