20 November 2017 Business

The business case for printing books

Just as bakers are expected to produce a decent loaf of bread, printers should be able to print a book. In recent years, printers have shied away from books, but books are back as a growth area and one that is no longer a daunting proposition.

In the same way that everybody is said to have book inside them, so every printer has the ability to print a book. It may not be the next Harry Potter or even a Fifty Shades. Those will always head to the volume printers like CPI or Clays.

It may be a brochure that has been presented as a book to achieve a greater impact. It may be a collection of photographs that someone has put together, either as a promotional publication or to run alongside an exhibition of her or his work. It may be a book on local history that the chairman of a village society has put together in the expectation that his members will buy as Christmas gifts for their relatives.

Even without sales of Kindles and other ebooks running into the ground, books are big business. The BPIF reckons that 16% by value of the industry’s turnover is represented by books. The rise of digital printing may be partly responsible in enabling more books to reach publication.

Certainly changing supply logistics is having an impact. Publishers do not need to over order from printers in the Far East with a three-month turnaround time and then hold these in vast warehouses before pulping those that have not sold. Instead digital printing enables order on demand to allow publishers to order to meet sales. Cost per unit printed in Europe, if not the UK, may be higher, but overall unit cost is lower.

And the major book printers are in the front of this, installing inkjet web presses rather than specialist litho book presses.

While volume publishing is still handled by major publishers, there is a flourishing market for kitchen sink or garden shed publishing where those no longer working for the big publishers as a result of ongoing consolidations have set up smaller independent publishers bringing professional skills to publications that would not warrant the attention of their former employers. In recent years there has been a good representation of Booker Prize listed titles that have been published in this way.

More often than not these titles will be published to a standard rather than to a price. The attention that these publishers can bring, means a focus on papers, binding styles and value add finishes.

Along with these publishers, crown funding has provided a business model for Unbound, a new style publisher where books are only produced on pledges of money where dinner with the author can be part of the appeal. Again it brings books to life that might otherwise remain in manuscript form or a fantastical idea trapped inside its writer’s cranium.

Print technology has had a major part to play in this development. Book printing is no longer just the preserve of the major manufacturers, but thanks to digital printing and to relatively low cost perfect binders, can be part of what many printers offer.

For if everybody has a book inside them, every customer will also have a book in mind. It may be a photobook type of publication presented to guests after a promotional event, say sponsorship of a grand prix. It may be a look book of a company’s products presented to a limited number of its key clients. High value property has prompted a genre of its own with well designed, well produced titles that will live on coffee tables well after the house or apartment has been sold.

The popularity of PUR binding in recent years, from simple single-clamp machines to more robust four-clamp machines caters for softbound books which will be what a local writer or association will be looking for. Combined with digital printing it opens up an opportunity that these would be authors have never had before.

Web to print sites are simple to find, usually associated with an existing book printer. But these can be daunting for a first time self publisher, a local connection can be more effective. A book will have been a labour of love in writing or illustrating, taking months if not years. Hand-holding of some kind, whether by a helpful printer of a print production service like Biddles, is necessary. These customers love their books and do not want them ruined by a faceless web to print operation, especially after some have proved to be less than honourable.

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Sections for binding

Sections for binding

Printers can score by printing books because far from being side lined by the arrival of Kindles and other e-readers, book sales are rebounding. The permanence of a printed books and the status they confer on readers helps create a continued demand.

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