If you’re seeking new revenue opportunities, producing on-demand books may open up a whole new and profitable chapter in your shop‘s history. Authoring a success story in on-demand books requires possessing or acquiring certain equipment, now and a bit down the road. It calls for you to hire or train certain skills. It demands a mindset that embraces, rather than recoils from, challenges. And it requires the willingness to attend to small details.
If you have or can obtain all these attributes, on-demand books can be a lucrative profit center for your company. As one expert notes, books have many pages, and every one of them can do its part to provide you profit.
Here’s a look at some of the reasons to offer on-demand books, and a few of the keys to success once you’ve jumped into the market.
On-demand books represent a growth market, says Richard Lindemann II, vice president of Total Printing Systems, a Newton, IL-based 40-year-old short-run book manufacturer with complete in-house finishing capabilities. One factor in the growth is the cost pressure facing publishers. When producing books on-demand, publishers can create them only as needed, based on orders sold, and ship from multiple locations; reaping considerable savings, he says.
Also viewing on-demand books as a growth area is Chuck Stempler, CEO and president of AlphaGraphics in Seattle, with six locations. “The space is very active for us,” he says. “We do a lot of marketing on the Internet, and about 10 to 15 percent of inquiries we receive via Internet marketing are about books.”
Interest in on-demand books comes from a wide array of quarters. Those who develop coursework for university students often need a service to maintain a backlist and provide fulfillment, Stempler says. Demand for on-demand books also comes from corporate trainers, the conventional publishing world, and the sector of the industry generally referred to as vanity publishing, he says.
When getting started as a provider of on-demand books, it’s essential to understand the minimal equipment set necessary to be viable, Stempler says. “The first thing is output, color and black-and-white,” he advises. “Then there is the finishing component. You have to find a bindery that is cost-effective and capable with orders of maybe one or two hundred books.
“There are some ancillary things about the cover. Many people want either a UV flood coat or a thin lamination to protect the cover, and you have to know where to go for that capability as well, assuming you don’t have it in-house. It’s important to find a competitive source for these. Turnaround time is not super critical, but you do need to understand the cycle.” Print service providers should have at least a 12x18-inch piece of digital equipment for black-and-white printing, with 13x19-inch better, he says. In color, they must have 13x19-inch capability in order to accommodate book spines. Until reaching a volume of, say, 1,500 to 2,000 books a month, he says, they are “probably not looking at acquiring in-house perfect binding or lamination or flood UV coating.”
As for Lindemann, he believes that beginners must ensure they have, he says, “a digital engine of some sort. It doesn’t really matter what the technology is. But it essentially has to have zero makeready. From a bindery standpoint, [the selection] would depend on your customer base. Go with whatever is your most popular bind style, and try to focus on doing that efficiently first, before going out and adding a lot of capabilities new to you.”
Keys to Success
According to Stempler, “You must want to be in this space.” Those who make a success of on-demand books must like challenges and a bit of problem solving. “You are going to have to learn the hard way on a couple of projects,” he says. “But we’re not talking rocket science. It’s a source of steady work, and it can be very lucrative. Books have a lot of pages in them. And if you’ve constructed your estimate properly, you’ve got markup on every sheet of paper and every image on that paper.”