IPads and Kindles and Nooks…oh my! This spring’s biggest news splash wasn’t the health care bill or even the end of the horrific winter weather. Everything else that happened appeared to be left in the dust when Apple finally released the iPad. The device made the cover of Newsweek and Amazon fought back by purchasing an ad for its Kindle on the back cover. At about the same time, Amazon acquired a technology called Toucho that promises to help Kindle’s electronic ink compete with LCD screen models. And let us not forget Barnes & Noblel’s Nook device. The e-reader wars are raging.
As you might well imagine, the emergence of these electronic devices is causing quite an uproar in the traditional book publishing industry. Its future is being decided now. As columnist Andrew Brenneman observed in a recent issue of Book Business, “If publishers don’t reinvent publishing, somebody else will.”
If established book publishers are that concerned about the fate of printed media, how does that affect commercial printers who include book production as a part of their product offering? In light of the hype and growing popularity of e-readers and the electronic media that they deliver, is there still a viable market for short-run, on demand book production? If so, is it still possible for it to be a profitable niche for small commercial printers? The answers to the last two questions are “yes” and “yes.”
Before you cede the battle, remember that most of the books that find their way into the small commercial printer’s workflow are not being picked up for publication by Random House or the Oxford Press. They are typically authored by individuals who wish to self-publish, and are usually intended for a very specific audience.
The woes that beset the major publishers aren’t much of an impediment to our market segment. In fact, digital production and increasingly sophisticated prepress and finishing capabilities have allowed small commercial printers to take a bite out of the business that traditionally belonged to the so called vanity presses.
There are still plenty of opportunities for on demand book production to be a great differentiator for the printers who are positioned to take on this niche market. Before jumping into the fray, however, there are three areas to consider: product, market, and equipment.
The first question to evaluate is what type of books you want to print. The answer will be determined, at least in part, by your market. That will, in turn, define the investment you will need to make. Nonetheless, let’s first examine the potential that is open to you.
Almost any printer with standard output capacity and bindery equipment can produce some kind of book. Finishing capabilities, as much as anything, determine how far you can go in the world of short-run book production. Methods as simple as coil binding, saddle stitching, or tape binding are often sufficient for producing books in categories such as:
• Course material
• Employee handbooks
• Personal histories
• Poetry books
• Short story collections
• Children’s books
Once you advance to perfect binding, the possibilities are virtually unlimited. This is a must if you wish to make short-run books a significant part of your business plan. In order to form a strong working relationship with an independent publisher—which is probably the best way to ensure a steady flow of book work—you must be able to deliver professional looking perfect bound books.
Another product that has received a lot of attention in recent years is the photo book. Most small commercial printers have difficulty balancing the time that goes into creating a photo book against the return. Still, there are some who have found this niche, which is typically an extremely short-run job, to be a way to differentiate their companies from the competition.