by Cassandra Balentine
Book manufacturing is a great representation of digital print’s potential. In addition to digital print and finishing capabilities, workflow automation enables more efficiency throughout the production lifecycle, ultimately cutting costs, reducing labor, and improving turnaround times for books of varying shapes, sizes, and volumes—even down to a book of one.
Above: C.P. Bourg designs and manufactures print finishing equipment for both traditional graphic arts and digital print markets.
Despite all of the challenges it introduced, the pandemic was good for printed books. “The book publishing market is predicted to remain steady and possibly grow slightly over the next year or two.
The pandemic has had a positive effect on the demand for printed books as increased time at home has resulted in an uptick of both self-publishing authors and readers,” suggests Bill Troxil, president, industrial and production print, Konica Minolta.
In its 2021 Outlook for Book Printers and Publishers, Canon Solutions America comments that the demand for printed books remains strong. “Book publishers began to witness a capacity gap a few years ago, but this trend has only accelerated with the onset of COVID-19. The traditional publishing market is expected to perform strongly—better than it has in the past ten years, in fact. The pandemic caused a surge in printed book sales, including traditional books, personalized books, children’s books, and yearbooks. With ongoing advancements in ink sets, print quality, and paper selection, production inkjet presses are well positioned to support the demanding applications within this market,” it reads.
Further, the report notes that demand for shorter run lengths benefits digital book printers. In fact, Keypoint Intelligence’s U.S. Digital Production Printing Application Forecast, published in 2019, predicts that printed books are expected to achieve double-digit growth through 2023.
“We’re in a creator’s era. We see continued focus on self-publishing, boutique publishing, and unique content creation—not just in book manufacturing, but in all types of media production—and we expect things to continue in that direction,” says Mike Herold, director, global marketing, Ricoh.
Printing on Demand
It is an interesting time to be in the overall print manufacturing space, particularly book manufacturing.
“Book sales are on the rise, significantly. Habits evolved and changed throughout the pandemic, as people, schools, and institutions needed to use printed materials in a new way. Book readership increased—with the bulk of the growth in paper books—as people sought alternative ways to spend time,” shares Herold.
But the increase in book sales is confounded by supply chain challenges, which make it difficult to produce them in a timely way, influencing the trend toward more creative, boutique content development to produce smaller titles or shorter run lengths for specific audiences. “The value of the digital infrastructure is that manufacturers are free from inventory restraints and can move toward the ‘book of one’ model—producing faster, smaller runs at pace with specific order numbers,” he adds.
The publishing industry and its business drastically changed with print on demand (POD), points out Armen Snkhtchian, marketing manager, C.P. Bourg. “You get a book order, you print a book, and for independent publishers, the costs associated with maintaining inventory have all vanished, which makes POD and small volume production the most affordable and efficient way to distribute books.”
Publishers and book printers want to avoid producing too many copies that will ultimately be thrown away or stored in an expensive warehouse. “In a perfect world, they’d print 20,000 runs of one instead of one run of 20,000,” offers Mark Schlimme, VP of marketing, SCREEN Americas.
“Shorter runs are, of course, very much the order of the day,” agrees Wendy Baker, marketing manager, Plockmatic. She says there is now no reason why just-in-time production cannot be applied to books, to a greater or lesser degree. “Digital printing provides the potential for a print run of one. This has shifted the expectations of readers, authors, and publishers. For the reader, no book is effectively out of print; for the author, self publishing has never been easier or more affordable; and for publishers, why not produce a small quantity of a book to test the market or print a selection of covers to test market a favorite design? Whilst volume production, printed by lithography, will exist for the foreseeable future, digital print continues to eat into the market due to its considerable advantages—space/warehousing; difficulty in predicting an accurate volume; plus, from an environmental aspect, the potential for waste due to over ordering.”
Automation is paramount for today’s bindery operations competitiveness. “Automated solutions allow publishers to produce more personalized, variable, and ultra-short run content that are in high demand, including book of one,” shares Snkhtchian. “Labor-intensive tasks are eliminated, the human error factor is drastically reduced, so is the waste.”
Bob Flinn, director of business development, Standard Finishing Systems, also sees a continued shift to digital print and book-on-demand models in order to reduce inventory, shipping costs, and obsolescence. “Digital print technology has progressed to such a point that applications that were out of reach only a few years ago like high-quality textbooks, coffee table books, and photo albums are now able to meet or exceed the quality of traditional offset print. At the same time, the book-on-demand model gives print providers more application flexibility and cost efficiency at small volumes while offering publishers savings on costs typically associated with inventory storage and taking risks on niche titles. While the growth of digitally printed paperback books has been steady, we are now seeing rapid growth in short-run, hard cover books, which brings new opportunities and challenges.”
So how prevalent is POD within the publishing industry today? Flinn says it’s hard to imagine that there’s any publisher today that hasn’t shifted a significant portion of their titles to digital. “Digital print offers measurable savings in inventory costs and shipping costs, reduces obsolescence, and makes inventory management much easier at every level of the print to end user chain.”
Ecommerce is a major factor driving the adoption of digital print and supported technologies. “We see a much faster evolution towards online print for all sorts of applications now. Volumes are increasing, which require high-end capability and dedicated printing solutions. These last two years have been challenging for everyone in the print industry, but the book printing sector appears to have survived the pandemic much better than most as the world reached out to their book shelves to find some escapism from the isolation and the boredom of lockdown,” comments Dimitri Van Gaever, market segment director, Xeikon.
He adds that organizations and governing bodies in the book and publishing sectors who were monitoring the resurgence in demand for high-quality, customized book production have noticed an even greater upturn in international book sales than expected due to the rise in online ordering.
Hard Cover Growth
Hard cover books are seen as a higher value option that can achieve bigger margins when compared with soft cover.
“We do see increases in hard cover production at the local print shop level as consumers and businesses see more value and profits are significantly higher for hard cover books as compared to soft cover books,” offers Kent Dalzell, president, FastbindUSA. “While this has always been the case and it’s quite obvious for those in the book printing business, the real driving forces are the higher perception of value by the consumer allowing the print shop to make higher margins even on shorter runs and the fact that there are very few competitors in their market who have the additional equipment to produce high-quality, hard cover books.”
Dalzell notes a continuing and natural decline in the traditional soft cover book market, due to technology adaptation and changing reading habits along with a steady increase of the market share away from local print shops towards online booksellers like Amazon.
However, he admits short-run soft cover digital book production for local print shops has seen slight growth in the specialty areas such as business to business, advertising, small trade publications, school yearbooks, funeral homes, children’s personalized books, and other highly segmented markets. “The downside to this growth is smaller margins as competition for soft cover book production is strong as many print shops continue to add binding capabilities, specifically perfect binding.”
Another factor is that the market’s overall decline and the proliferation of lower cost equipment at the local print shop level led to an exodus of traditional large volume bookbinder companies leaving local markets. “While of course this has been exasperated by the pandemic, these trends were in effect well before,” adds Dalzell.
The challenge for hard cover production comes in the form of manual processes. “There is a tremendous gap between high-volume, high-production automated hard cover making equipment and everything else. Fully automated hard cover machines are cost effective for only the largest of book manufacturing companies, and while there are several manufacturers of hard cover, short-run bookmaking equipment, human intervention is always the gating factor. No matter what the equipment cost, if a human must put something in or take something out, the speed of the equipment is limited to the speed of the operator,” shares Dalzell.
Flinn agrees, noting that recently, increased demand for short-run and book-of-one hard cover books added to the challenges of digital book manufacturers.
While automation has improved the casing-in process for longer production runs, shorter volumes and books of one are a more manual process for hardcovers. “Fortunately, there are new solutions arriving on the market that can streamline the process and eliminate common mistakes such as applying the wrong cover to a book block when casing-in. This new technology is also reducing the operating and inventory costs generally required for short-run hard cover book binding,” adds Flinn.
Ecommerce has increased the need for automation, high-quality color controls, and faster production. “In terms of book production and manufacturing we would say it is vital for book printers and manufacturers to look at automating all of their processes. Book printers are looking to consolidate print volume and increase throughput as well as lower their running costs,” comments Van Gaever.
“For POD, web to print is adopted that broadly involves ordering, artwork upload, and delivery. A one-book printing segment requires comprehensive solution and implementation. Online orders, ecommerce, data management, workflow, printing, finishing, packing, and delivery has to be streamlined to ensure the book is dispatched within 24 hours of receiving an order online,” shares Santosh Mulay, VP, business development, InSoft Automation.
Automation continues to grow in book manufacturing environments from both a production and process perspective. “Book bindery and shipping are labor intensive and require a lot of automation to prepare equipment for high-efficiency production; the more automatically the bindery can be prepared, the better. Additionally, automation is an area where there is an opportunity for continued and ongoing investment. Upstream tools are equally important for book manufacturers to manage workflow and processing efficiently,” says Herold.
Solutions like Muller Martini’s workflow system, Connex, brings elements of Industry 4.0 to the shop floor to support falling run sizes, short-order workflows, and large numbers of different orders.
As labor shortages impact the entire print industry, Troxil believes automation and simplification are critical to producing publications economically. Minimal touches during the manufacturing process result in greater productivity and profitability. “Digital production of books is highly automated in the front end, eliminating the need for printing plates, laborious press setup, makeready time, and materials waste. A file is sent to the device and the first sheet printed is sellable. On the back end, the finishing can be highly automated with the right equipment for the application,” he explains.
For finishing, Baker says inline book finishing combines the output of the digital press with post-press operations, with no operator intervention. “The final output from this combination is a finished wire-stitched publication, and, because it’s digital, that can be a run of one, or a run of several thousand books or booklets.”
Digital Book Manufacturing
Digital book printing and finishing showcases the power of digital print, next-generation finishing, and automated workflows. dps
May2022, DPS Magazine