Book Printing Goes Digital

The printing of perfect bound and hardbound books was once a rarified market that was open only to a few very large printing companies. They worked directly with the publishing houses and most made book printing their primary activity. That is no longer the case. Since the advent of the self publishing revolution that began in the 1990s, an increasing number of printers have found their way into this market segment.

Today, even quite small print businesses are taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the flood of authors who choose to forego the traditional writer/publisher relationship. Others have formed relationships with the new crop of independent publishing houses that now publish thousands of titles each year. According to Publisher’s Weekly, in 2009 more than 764,000 books were self published. The technology required to tap into that burgeoning market has migrated downstream to the point that virtually every printer has it within his capacity to do some kind of book printing.


An important role

“Self publishers play an important role in demonstrating the benefits of short-run publishing,” observes Forrest Leighton, Director of Product Marketing, ISG Production Systems, for Canon USA. “Their success, coupled with that of other early adopters, has set the stage for all segments of the market, from children’s books to educational texts, to embrace short-run, on demand publishing.”

GRAPH EXPO attendees who are looking for equipment that will allow them to tap into this profit center, or improve their existing production capacity, will find a wealth of equipment on the show floor. Whether you are in the market for an offset press, a digital press, publishing software, or specialized binding equipment, it is all here.


Taking it to the max

There is one piece of equipment on th show floor that takes the concept of on demand book printing to the extreme. In the Xerox booth (400, 600), visitors have a chance to see the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) in action. Reaching beyond self publishing applications, the EBM was designed to allow retail establishments to produce one-off books right at the point of purchase.

“The EBM solution provides content, hardware and manufacturing capabilities directly at the point of need,” explains John Conley, Vice President, Publishing Segment, Xerox Corporation. “EBM, developed through a partnership with On Demand Books, can print a 300-page paperback edition in less than five minutes, and up to 40,000 books per year, bringing millions of copyrighted, public domain, out-of-print or rare texts to consumers in a matter of minutes. The device can now be purchased directly from Xerox, giving users access to award-winning products, service and support.”

Dawn of an era

Despite the fact—or perhaps because of it—that books have traditionally been printed on offset presses, the seeds of this movement were sown when digital printing technology found its way into the mainstream. The ability to produce short-run, on demand documents seemed tailor made for handbooks and manuals. The materials could be updated easily and there was no need to warehouse and eventually dispose of the overrun.

As consumers became more and more familiar with common desktop publishing software, it was inevitable that their work would eventually find its way into the print shop. While small commercial printers are right at home with short-run work, this business model may require a rather serious adjustment from many of their large commercial counterparts.

“Undoubtedly, offset substitution is the key trend in the short-run book market. It’s creating a paradigm shift in how books are being—and will be—produced,” notes Andy Fetherman, Manager of Muller Martini’s OnDemand Solutions Division. “For example, instead of 10,000 quantity print runs, printers are receiving 20 orders of 500 each, and they’re receiving those types of orders every three weeks as opposed to every year.”

Driving forces

A number of factors are driving the growing trend to self publish. One is that professionals in numerous industries are cashing in on the prestige of publishing books to position themselves as experts in their field. This is especially popular with consultants, speakers and presenters. Another is the idea of using a book as a type of business card—an idea that appeals to many people who have been downsized from corporate positions. And there are always the aspiring poets, novelists, historians and biographers who were once relegated to the so called “vanity press” operations if they wanted to see their books in print.

Here is at least one printing equipment manufacturer—Océ North America—that is determined to fuel this trend and keep it growing. For the past five years, the company has sponsored the Océ Future Authors Project in conjunction with the School District of Palm Beach County (FL). Xplor International also gets involved. Together with local sponsors, they bring in teachers, authors and other experts to conduct a free summer workshop for middle school and high school students. Those young writers to be may well find their way into your shop in the not too distant future. According to recent Interquest research, by 2020 between 30-35% of all books will be produced digitally. And that’s good news for you.