"...trade books that you think will sell thousands quickly, you are better off with offset. But the vast majority of books will sell only a couple hundred a year. You might also be a publisher who only uses print on demand to produce your books and it may not be worth it going to offset even for longer runs. (POD) As a result, many books will see the light of day that would otherwise never have seen the light of day in the old model." - David Taylor. Lightning Source
Earlier this year I was reporting on the changes at Amazon, with their BookSurge.
Here is an interview with David Taylor, president of Lightning Source about the future of the book industry. And some interesting changes that could make POD books even more like traditional books.
Lightning Source President David Taylor Talks about the Book Industry
By: Cary Sherburne
December 1st, 2008 -- In June, the Ingram Content Companies announced a new organizational structure called Ingram Lightning Group to provide better coordination among the Ingram businesses that serve publishers, librarians, booksellers and other creators and consumers of printed content throughout the industry.
The new entity brings Lightning Source Inc. together with the companies now comprising the Ingram Book Group. As part of the move, David Taylor, who was Lightning's Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Managing Director of Lightning Source UK, became President of Lightning Source within the new Ingram Lightning Group structure. WhatTheyThink spoke with Taylor recently.
WTT: David, what were some of the reasons behind the organizational change that was announced in June? And what is your role in the new organization?
DT: There were a number of reasons. We took a good look at all of the various business models we had within the Ingram Book Group—book wholesaling, fee-based book distribution and library supply being the three primary business models. We also looked at the way in which the print-on-demand model can impact those business models going forward. Because we were running these companies separately, the decision-making process was not as seamless as it could be, so we brought them together as the Ingram Lightning Group with Skip Prichard as President and CEO. I am responsible for Lightning Source globally, both the UK and U.S. operations, three production facilities in all.
WTT: It has been some time since we have spoken with Lightning Source. Perhaps you could bring us up to date on the production composition of those three facilities.
DT: Among the three plants, we have 20 Oce 9200 printers for black & white printing of book blocks. We use a total of 14 HP Indigo digital color presses, for covers and the interiors of the color books,, including 3050's, 5500's and 3250's. We also have Lasermax Roll Systems pre/post unwinders and stackers, and use Duplo perfect binders and Horauf 3-knife trimmers. We have 15 manufacturing lines in Tennessee, five in Pennsylvania and four in the UK.
WTT: What kind of volumes do those lines produce?
DT: We print over 1.3 million books per month across the U.S. and the UK. Our average run length remains at about 1.8. Our whole business is geared up to do single-copy book production, and the vast majority of what we do is single-copy or small quantities.
WTT: What is your background, prior to joining Lightning Source?
DT: I have been in the book trade since 1983. My background is in book selling and library supply. I started in Blackwell's Book Shop in Oxford, England and worked on the shop floor, spending about a dozen years at Blackwell's in lots of different roles. When I left in 1999, I was running Blackwell's library supply business.
WTT: From the bookseller's perspective, then, what are the key benefits of the print-on-demand model to the supply chain?
DT: One thing that drives booksellers nuts is to have someone standing in a book shop requesting a specific book, and you can't get it because it is out of print, out of stock, in the reprinting process or needs to be shipped from another country and will take weeks. That amounts to a lost sale and a disappointed customer. The key thing that print-on-demand has done for the book trade is keeping books alive and making sure they can be ordered quickly. It holds out the promise that every book that has ever been published could be purchased. That is a particularly exciting prospect for anyone selling books. The potential is enormous. I first saw print-on-demand technology for books about ten years ago, and it was such an obvious thing for publishers to do. As the technology has gotten better and the quality of digitally manufactured books has improved, more books are brought within its potential grasp.
WTT: What are some of the drivers incenting publishers to get on board with this new model?
DT: One of the key trends we see with publishers is the desire to have less inventory sitting in warehouses. They have a lot of money tied up in physical books and the infrastructure required to house them and offer them to the market. Print-on-demand allows a publisher to completely reverse the way in which books are published and distributed. In the traditional model, publishers have to guess how many books to print, and they always get it wrong. They will either print too many and are left with a lot of inventory that might sit there for many years, which is expensive and a waste of resources. Or they will print too few and run out, being faced with the difficult decision about whether to reprint, let it go out of print, or give it an out-of-stock status and hope that half-life will build enough orders to justify reprinting the book.
Print on demand reverses that model. With print on demand, you sell the book first and then print it. It is pretty fundamental. It reduces risk considerably. As a result, many books will see the light of day that would otherwise never have seen the light of day in the old model. I have been around more book warehouses than I care to remember. You often see piles of books with dust on them. The major trend is to change the business model from speculative, to selling first and then printing. The only way you can do that is with a print-on-demand model.
WTT: We have reported in the past that there is something like 40% waste in the traditional book supply chain.
DT: That's right, and it is crazy, from an environmental and business point of view. Wasting energy producing and moving books around the world, warehousing them, and then wasting even more by pulping them and putting them in the landfill. It is a crazy system. Print on demand offers solutions to negate a lot of that waste.
WTT: With today's technology, can you quantify a break point when it makes sense to move from offset to digital or vice versa?
DT: There is no simple answer. It really depends on a series of things, including the type of book, the value of the book in terms of its selling price, and whether the publisher already has an existing infrastructure in place. For trade books that you think will sell thousands quickly, you are better off with offset. But the vast majority of books will sell only a couple hundred a year. You might also be a publisher who only uses print on demand to produce your books and it may not be worth it going to offset even for longer runs. As a general rule, though, if a book will sell 2,000 copies in a year, and the book type fits the print-on-demand model, you would be better off putting it in an on-demand program, printing an initial digital short run to fulfill the initial burst of orders, and then afterwards move into the on-demand model instead of hoping you will sell all the books you printed offset. This allows you to manage the demand in a much less risky fashion. If you need 2,000 books all at once, you can get a better unit cost with offset. But I would probe to see whether you actually need all 2,000 at once. A low unit cost doesn't stay low if you throw away half the books you print.
WTT: Lightning Source is still using offline or near-line finishing rather than inline. Do you have any idea when that model might change? At drupa, we saw some pretty interesting inline finishing solutions for short runs of books.
DT: The main benefit of inline binding is productivity. Currently, hardback books are made by hand in a labor intensive process. The equipment that is being used is very basic binding equipment that hasn't changed that much in 50 years. Anything you can do to actually bring that inline is going to have significant benefits in productivity. It will also have the benefit of improving the specifications for hardback books. If you automate, you can get tighter on specifications and better quality. We have been scouring the world for equipment that can meet our requirements for moving inline, and there is some indication that some will be coming on the market soon. That will potentially raise the economic order quantity for digitally manufactured books.
WTT: It has been some time since Amazon announced BookSurge. What impact, if any, has that had on your business?
DT: In both the U.S. and the UK, we send many thousands of books to Amazon on a daily basis. We have a good relationship with them, and they continue to be a good customer for us. We have 650,000 titles in our print-on-demand library, and the vast majority is available to order from Amazon. They continue to work with us, because they want to be able to provide the largest number of titles they can.
WTT: Is Lightning Source looking to inkjet for the future?
DT: Inkjet does hold out significant attractions for publishers, people who want to buy books and book manufacturers like us. Eventually, inkjet will offer a better quality book, additional cost benefits, and the potential to take the on-demand model to a new level. We are keeping a very close watch on the timetables being presented to us by the major manufacturers.
WTT: Do you think this means there will be more color in the book blocks?
DT: I think there will be an increase in color, but by what percentage, I couldn't say. It will certainly give publishers more flexibility in terms of inserting color pages into digitally printed books, something that is not easy to do today. This will allow the print-on-demand model to cover more titles than it is currently able to.
WTT: What about e-books? What's the latest there?
DT: Our view is that e-books have a place in the publishing industry, and it is a segment that is growing. We have about 250,000 e-books in our library, managed by our sister company, Ingram Digital. They will never replace the physical book, but they offer the ability to make information available in a better, more functional way. The delicious irony about all of the digital technology entering the book market is that instead of reducing the number of physical books available, that number is increasing. More titles are available, and they can stay in print longer.
WTT: Any final thoughts you would like to share before we close?
DT: We see this as a bit of a perfect storm. Three things have come together to change the publishing industry. First is the print-on-demand model, the ability to manufacture a single copy of a book, only printing when you get an order; that is now a well-established model. The second is the Internet book selling model. People can find obscure books quickly, order and get them quickly. The third one is the Long Tail concept, increased demand for obscure titles. Those three together are fueling an explosion of books printed with this technology.