When asked what single biggest trend R.R. Donnelley has noticed among its book-publishing clients of late, President of Publishing Services, Rick Marceaux answers, “We have seen a broader set of publishers’ priorities grow with regard to what they look for…across the breadth of the supply chain.” Even as the volume of traditionally manufactured books (defined as off-set printed and traditionally bound) decreases, the variety of services demanded of book manufacturers has (ironically) never been greater. Everyone in both publishing and printing is quick to emphasize that the printed book is still a huge part of business, and, in fact, has learned some new tricks of its own in the form of variousdigital printing technologies. But in an effort to keep up with clients’ need to “manufacture” ebooks and apps as well, many traditional printers are trying to add these services to their repertoire. While shrinking print volume is a concern, perhaps even more significant is the question of what it will take to keep up with the growing variety of ways one can “make a book” in 2012 and beyond.
The industry being what it is, very few book printers don’t make some mention of the ebook services—or even app development—that they offer or will offer soon. But, points out Tim McGuire, VP, Production at W.W. Norton, ebook conversion simply does not bring in as much revenue as print book manufacture, whether off-set or digital. So even if an enterprising printer were to whip together a fully functional, high-volume ebook conversion and development department and manage to take in as many man-hours of ebook conversion as were lost in print operation, this still wouldn’t bring in as much money as is being lost in declining print income.
There is also growing recognition that ebook production needs to start shortly after acquisition. Without a dramatic overhaul ofboth their own internal structures and workflows and how they interact with clients, most printers are too far removed from this initial point to offer all the ebook services publishers need. Enzo Reale, Regional VP of Sales at Quad/Graphics, emphasizes this point, but also believes that, no matter what services a printer is providing, the manufacturing process has to be viewed as being “multi-channel, from the very start of the process.” In order to help printers do this, Ricoh Production Print Solutions (a manufacturer of both printing equipment and software) held its first book-industry focused summit for printers in Denver this past March. Joe Caruso, Global Business Development Manager at Ricoh, says that in addition to the summit (more of which are in the works, including one in Europe this autumn), Ricoh is also teaming with BISG on several studies about workflow. The aim is to help clarify publishers’ multi-channel needs for printers so that they can better understand where they fit in. Fortunately, a printer’s stakes in the non-printing sectors of book manufacture needn’t be all or nothing. Quad/Graphics currently handles front-end ebook development for a few clients, and Courier Printing is taking advantage of the fact that, at the moment, publishers’ backlists usually exist only as print files—creating a significant demand for scanning and conversion services.
Understandably, most of the printers Publishing Trends spoke with dwelt on the subject of digital short-run printing. Digital printing technologies are obviously much more in line with traditional printers’ strengths and specialties, but that doesn’t lessen the challenge of juggling more technologies than ever before. Steve Franzio, VP of Technology at Courier, emphasized the importance of an in-house tech and software development team when it comes to synchronizing short-run digital and long-run off-set technologies. “Very often, a customer will start with a digital short-run to test the waters. If the book does well, they’re going to want to want to do a much larger offset reorder. We have to insure that we can produce digital stock identical to any offset stock it might later get mixed with.” Digital printing also offers leverage in the self-publishing sector, where short-run is the rule rather than the exception, and the more extensive a printer’s short-run offerings, the more appealing it is as a service center to companies like Lulu or Blurb, says Franzio. Digital short-runs are also integral to publishers’ efforts to slim down warehousing and inventory. This slimming down often means printers have to step into yet another new role previously filled by warehouses themselves. Franzio estimates that 50% of all digital orders at Courier never pass through a warehouse, but are fulfilled by the printer directly, requiring the printing facility to deal more directly with book-buyers than in the past.
Digital printing technologies are also venturing into more exotic arenas. Just as QR codes were pioneered in other industries before publishers began experimenting with them, printers are now developing other interactive print solutions for catalog and advertising industries that could lend themselves to trade publishing. Quad/Graphics’ Enzo Reale describes a form of image recognition printing currently under development in which a reader scans a printed image on a tablet which an associated app then animates or “enhances.” Though it’s too early to tell how and if this can be integrated into trade publishing, Reale points out that this enhancement could be of obvious use in an area like Children’s: “A reader scans an illustration of dinosaurs in the forest with say, their iPad, and that same image appears onscreen, but on screen, the dinosaurs start to move.” The technology could also be of use for “celebrity-based, media-rich” titles, but the challenge (as it has been for enhanced ebooks and apps) is the permissions minefield that multi-media usually is–a minefield most publishers don’t have the infrastructure or budgets to deal with.
The challenge for most printers now is in what direction they should achieve the “breadth” that publishers need and just how far along the supply chain they can wisely extend themselves. As the options for book manufacture continue to grow, it’s unlikely that the majority of small to mid-size printers will be able to cover the whole scope of services. But as the technologies mature, publishers’ needs in each area are likely to become clearer as well, allowing book manufacturers to pick and choose according to their knowledge of their own strengths and the needs of their clientele.