Let’s be clear up front, digital short-run, on demand book publishing is the epitome of a niche application. Your company may do very well printing manuals and brochures, but honest to goodness books are a completely different discipline. Printers wanting to tap this potentially lucrative market must be willing to dedicate time, resources, and long hours to developing it.
Just ask Mike Bercaw, vice president operations and co-owner (with his wife Sheri) of Sir Speedy Printing Scottsdale (AZ). The Bercaws got involved in printing books five years ago after attending a presentation by Dan Poynter, author of “Self Publishing Manual.” After listening to Poynter, the couple turned to each other and said, “We already do all this. We just don’t call it book manufacturing...we call it a copy job.”
A simplified approach can work quite well for short-run digital book printing on a small scale. Bercaw lines out minimum equipment requirements as a strong color engine and black-and-white engine, that will produce a sheet size of no less than 12x18". For bindery, almost anything that you don’t have in-house can be outsourced. The tricky part, he says, is the perfect binding.
Sir Speedy Scottsdale runs a pair of Canon imageRUNNER 110s, a Kodak NexPress 2100 with a glosser unit, two Canon C7000s, a Ryobi 3304 press (for book covers), and a UV coater. The shop also has a full array of bindery equipment, including a perfect binder.
Bercaw says that, without reservation, printing the books is the easiest part of the equation. Finding, pursuing, training, and maintaining the customers—that’s the real challenge printers face.
What Self-Publishers Need
Cultivating self-publishers as a niche market requires a business model that understands and can fulfill the unique needs of book authors. “We took what self-publishers are looking for—in effect, more of an information gathering, coaching kind of environment,” Bercaw relates. “We put together an entire series of classes. For two years, what we did was build a book of business with folks that were looking for this kind of thing.”
Eventually, he says, they split the market even further, according to whether the client viewed self-publishing as a hobby or a business. “Folks who really wanted to make a mark and have this as a career, we helped them set up business plans, marketing plans, budgets, and all of that.
“The first question is typically, ‘Is this hobby or a business? There is no right or wrong answer, but let’s figure out what you are trying to do and then we can model to you, specifically, how this can work.’ The business guys, are going to need some marketing aspects. They’re going to need some help in distribution and fulfillment. For the hobbists? Let’s do 100 and see what happens and then go from there.”
“For the business guys, the genre that is most prevalent right now is self-help and spiritual, that kind of stuff. There is a whole different kind of a mindset with those guys. In the beginning, with the business guys it’s usually, ‘What are we going to do with this? Who is your target?’ We’re going to ask the whole host of what would be considered marketing questions.”
According to Bercaw, there is rarely a crossover once a customer decides which way they want to handle their books. However, he points out that it is far more common for a hobbyist to turn publishing into a business than the other way around. If they see that their work is gaining some traction and popularity, they may decide to take it to the next level. On the other hand, those who decide from the beginning to tackle publishing as a business are not likely to step down and turn a profession into a hobby. “It’s a business decision,” he observes. “Is there profitability? Is it still loss leadering for something else? A few guys have used their manuscripts for launching in to public speaking and such. But for the most part, it is usually a single direction from hobbyist to business instead of the other way around.”