Printer & publisher: better together

Why collaboration is critical in the future of book production

Four smiling people sitting around a desk. A woman passing a man a piece of paper.

Collaborate to innovate

Changing book buying habits, market disruption and the rise of e-commerce are challenging publishers and book printers to produce and deliver books more flexibly and quickly than ever, yet maintain lower costs and product quality. While demand for printed books is stable, the economics of book production have changed fundamentally.

Analogue offset production methods, which were ideal when publishers were producing large volumes of single titles, are increasingly ineffective. Digital production technology enables streamlined, high-speed printing and finishing of books in small batches or even single copies. This technological change is encouraging publishers and printers to look differently at their ways of working.

A book printer’s commercial success traditionally hinged on that of their publishing clients. Healthy book sales translated to higher volumes and increased revenues. The new world of publishing, like most content industries, is less about volume sales and more about devising solutions that match changing consumer habits, supporting individual buying journeys and purchasing behaviours.

Change is constant. The future of publishing is certainly multi-platform – we already see the evidence in the success of formats like audiobooks and technology-driven innovations like fiction apps. In the future the printed book is likely to be just one element of a consumer-centric journey where content is consumed in different formats and on different devices. We call this the ‘smart book’.

Open books placed in pattern

Plan proactively for change

These publishing trends alter the dynamics of the supply chain. Future-proofing calls for a fundamental switch from a transactional relationship, where the book printer is simply an ‘order taker’, to a ‘triangle of expertise’ where publisher, book printer and technology solutions provider work hand in hand to develop new business models and devise new strategies for success.

The principal pain points for publishers today are around planning and cost. Historically, publishers calculated production volumes based on sales forecasts, and had to swallow the cost of getting it wrong. Take the risk of producing large volumes of a title and pulping excess stock? Or play it safe, print smaller quantities and risk losing sales when you can’t service demand?

Increasingly though, historical performance data is no predictor of how a title will perform, raising the commercial stakes that accompany each decision to publish. It makes it vital for book printers to think digital and be the driving force behind digital innovation, pre-empting and planning proactively for change rather than acting only on the publisher’s instructions.

Digital printing technology may well hold the key to these problems, but only if book printers understand their publishers’ evolving business drivers. Printers, supported by their technology partners, need to build customers’ awareness of how innovations in production and workflow automation can enable change and deliver a positive commercial impact.

Books on a bookshelf

New business models, new opportunities

At Canon we identify three key business models enabled by digital production technology:

  • Short-run printing
  • Book lifecycle management (BLM)
  • On-demand production
It’s possible for publishers and printers to advance from one model to the next as the market evolves, and in doing so, build a firm foundation for the multi-platform future of the ‘smart book’.

The starting point is to anticipate or respond to falling run lengths and increased order frequencies by complementing offset printing with digital production for shorter runs. The degree of process integration required is low, and printers can do this independent of their publishing clients. It’s essentially a question of adding digital capability to an offset printing operation.

However, it’s a good time for printers to talk to publishers to reinforce the advantages of this digital investment to them – shorter delivery times, faster time to market, cost savings in warehousing and distribution. This conversation will have wider benefits, helping the printer to assess how far publishing clients see production volumes reducing, and in what timeframes.

The dialogue will be a strong indicator of escalating demand for short run services. This can be a helpful guide for the printer’s investment planning, perhaps signalling a need for further automation such as online ordering. Ultimately, this dialogue might reveal the need to consider stepping onto the next rung of the business model ladder, to book lifecycle management.

Publishers and printers can advance from short-run to book lifecycle management to on-demand as the market evolves, and in doing so, build a firm foundation for the future of the smart book

A man and two women looking at a laptop screen

New levels of integration

Book lifecycle management (BLM) requires a far deeper level of collaboration between printer and publisher. In effect it’s a strategic partnership to reduce sell-off risk and enable more sales by aligning production to actual demand. BLM involves the integration of stock replenishment systems to trigger production in real time in response to live stock and order data.

This takes the conversation between printer and publisher to an entirely different decision-making level, and requires a degree of openness about business information such as inventory management, enterprise resource planning and so on that may be unprecedented in the relationship. (It may also point to the need for new process management and technical skills within the print business).

The transition to a full on-demand model intensifies the partnership still further. On-demand production removes the safety net of printed inventory entirely, so that production is only triggered by an actual order. This requires seamless and heavily automated working processes between publisher and printer, supported by cast-iron service level agreements between all links in the supply chain.

This model also challenges conventional cost analysis methods between publishers and printers. A book produced on demand will come at a higher initial unit cost for manufacturing and shipping, but the overall lifetime cost of the title will be reduced, when the costs along the supply chain are taken in to account – storage, handling, returns, logistics and so on.

The era of collaborative innovation

Changing times require new ways of working. Traditional supply chains are becoming complex ecosystems involving multiple solution providers working to just-in-time principles. Margins for error are slim and links in the chain are inter-dependent and reliant on robust process and systems integration. The need for open communication and collaborative innovation has never been greater.

Written by Tino Wägelein, Business Development Manager, Canon Europe

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