Book Printing Of Tomorrow

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Several overall trends have become prevalent in the book printing industry recently that are certain to persist over the course of the next few years. The cost of digital printing will continue to decrease-especially monochrome printing-which comprises the bulk of the book printing business today.

The per unit cost of printing books on offset will increase as demand for customization grows, and long run production wanes, leading more publishers to embrace digital as a comparable and complementary platform to offset.

As the cost of gasoline continues to rise, so will the cost of transporting printed materials. To counterbalance this issue, trade book retailers will push for the development of a replenishment solution that is serviced regionally-a soft-cover overnight replenishment model is already in place at several retail and institutional outlets. Many new business models are also taking form, some of which will enable school districts and businesses to produce high-quality course materials, training manuals, and customized books on-site, rather than outsourcing.

There are, however, three trends that will be at the forefront, all of which are beginning to show their power today: ready-made solutions, Web-based publishing, and outsourcing jobs to China.

Bringing Teaching to a New Level

Industry vendors understand that many print providers lack the resources or experience to determine the most effective and cost-efficient solutions to meet publishers’ business needs and end-user standards. To counter this, they have worked directly with those publishers to understand the magnitude of their business issues and concerns, and to develop ready-made solutions for print providers to implement in their operations.

These solutions automate the entire workflow process to reduce prepress costs, integrate offset and digital systems to maximize efficiency, enable the use of a wide range of substrates-including light-weight stocks, which are most ideal for book applications-and give publishers a better way to manage inventory and reprints, and reduce obsolescence.

The Teacher’s Edition book solution by Xerox is just one example of a ready-made offering currently on the market for printers to take advantage of. It combines digital technology and software to help print professionals provide textbook publishers and school districts with short runs of versioned textbooks.

Demand for versioning and customization of learning materials and teacher’s edition books is growing significantly, but the quantities needed are too low to justify printing offset. As print providers seek to enter this market and develop innovative services that give them a competitive advantage, they will increasingly turn to ready-made solutions to help target and build seamless printing environments that get them up and running almost immediately.

Integrating the Internet

In the non-traditional space of book printing, the Web-based publishing phenomenon has created its own value chain that bypasses the traditional retail process and printing prerequisites. Web-based publishers can help with layout, handle publishing and distribution, and even help information-owners create their own customized Web-based storefronts to sell their published materials.

By circumventing agents and large publishing houses, more books are able to make it to market that traditionally wouldn’t have been printed because they don’t meet the economic formulas of publishing houses.

Also, Web-based publishing eliminates the need for warehousing, because orders can be placed and printed on-demand.

Web-based printing will become ubiquitous: Photo books will replace traditional family albums; independent authors will have a chance to be published, discovered, take advantage of viral marketing, and potentially make it onto best-seller lists; and application service providers will offer more solutions that provide easy-to-use self-publishing tools for mainstream consumers to take advantage of.

The number of Web-based books being published is hard to quantify, because they aren’t tracked. However, according to a study by Interquest, an independent research and consulting firm, the books-on-demand market is expected to grow from approximately 20 billion book pages in 2006, to about 38 billion book pages by 2009, due chiefly to the steadily increasing demand for small-volume, rare, and self-published books.

Where the Jobs Went

In the next several years, we’re likely to say the printing jobs went to China. China is quickly becoming a key player in the printing industry, and is competing with printers in the United States for traditional offset jobs.

Chinese printing companies are in a unique position as they enter the market space. Since they have limited legacy equipment, they are adopting the latest lithographic printing technologies from the start, giving them a cost advantage over U.S. printers.

China’s use of the latest technologies will speed up the adoption of digital printing and efficient workflow solutions in the United States, as domestic print providers look for new revenue streams, and seek to differentiate their service offerings.

By incorporating a changing and growing workforce ready and willing to take on the manual aspects of the printing industry-with labor that costs a fraction of what is paid to workers in the United States-it’s likely that Chinese print providers will be able to compete against many U.S. print providers, in market segments in which they previously had not been a factor.

Some Jobs Staying Here

Print providers in the United States do have proximity on their side, however. It takes time for jobs to ship from China, so it’s likely that first and last runs will remain in the country, while second, third, and subsequent editions will all most likely be outsourced.

Short-run, on-demand print jobs are also likely to stay on this side of Pacific, since they often require fast turn-around and rapid shipment.

As an emerging superpower, China is a force to be reckoned with, and print providers will need to develop significant differentiations to limit the number of jobs that get outsourced overseas.

The fact of the matter is, change is inevitable in any business, including the print industry, and it is up to print providers to position themselves to capitalize on these transitions in order to remain profitable.

Print vendors are here to help the print providers along the way, and to see that the digital print vision becomes a part of the overall solutions platform they offer publishers in all segments of the book publishing marketplace.

John Conley is the vice president, Publishing Segment Marketing, for Xerox Corp.

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