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Four ways digital print will boost publishers’ efficiency and revenue


4 areas technology can increase revenue for book publishers.

Read time: 3 minutes

Publishers agree that digital presses and advanced workflow automation can produce pages of near–offset quality. While quality is certainly important, one major question remains: Where will digital print make the most impact for publishers?

Digital print technology can help publishers increase revenue in many areas.

#1 Debut authors

Even when championed by savvy editors and hard-nosed sales staff, predicting sales of first-time authors is a gamble. Much depends on favorable reviews in Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, and other influential publications. In spite of positive endorsements, books still face a capricious public. They may become best sellers, but they often disappear in the flood of returns from bookstores. Printing smaller quantities via digital technology offers a safer way to test the waters for a lower initial investment and opens up the opportunity to publish more authors.

Michael DeFazio, VP, paper purchasing & production planning, Penguin Random House, said his firm uses digital technology mainly for one-color text printing of backlist titles, as well as a smaller quantity of front list and first-printing books.¹ For the front list, it might be a debut author, advance copies or a reissue of an existing book that may otherwise not have gone to production.

#2 Backlist titles

Backlist titles, with predictable sales, are a steady source of revenue for publishers. The initial expenses for editing and promotion are already covered, so it’s a matter of reprinting and possible jacket redesign. An existing book may be reissued, which is repackaged and brought out into the marketplace anew. Frequently, new book releases by authors trigger demand for their backlist titles.

However, that level of interest can be hard to gauge. Digital print’s short-run capabilities can help meet growing backlist demand incrementally, so publishers aren’t stuck shelving large quantities of unsold copies when an author’s new-release attention fades.² The ability to produce specific quantities of existing backlist orders and to anticipate a possible surge in existing authors previous titles without overprinting maximizes revenue and helps take the risk out of publishing.

Reducing warehousing costs is a driving force for publishers to embrace using digital print equipment wherever it fits.

#3 Academic titles and versioned books

Each year, a steady stream of new titles written by professors and others in academia go into production. These books have limited scope, as most apply to specific disciplines, such as engineering, medicine, natural sciences or humanities, the most prolific category. Textbooks are well-suited to digital print technology. The ability to print per semester greatly increases academic publishers’ revenue by drastically reducing the used book market. As per-unit inkjet costs come down, Jean-François Lyet, technical director, Hacette Livre, believes his company will move a significant part of the four-color business for educational and academic books to digital.³

#4 Trade books

Hachette Livre prints 20 percent of their trade volumes with digital print technology. The remaining 80 percent of jobs are printed on traditional offset. Inkjet presses are used for quantities of 1 – 2,500, with traditional offset used for higher quantities. Because the inkjet/offset “quality gap” has closed so significantly thanks to technological advancements, this hybrid approach to shorter runs has added incredible flexibility to how publishers approach trade books.

Reducing warehousing costs is a driving force for publishers to embrace using digital print equipment wherever it fits, especially when book files can be seamlessly shared between book manufacturers and publishers. By taking advantages of new workflow automation techniques, publishers are able to leverage information mobility — the ability to capture, transform and manage information — to help keep these costs down.

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  1. 1. Harvey, Ellen. "Penguin Random House VP of Paper Purchasing & Production Planning On the Future of the Book Supply Chain." Book Business. March 25, 2016.
  2. 2. Malkin, Rob. "The Death of Out-of-Print Titles Is Near." Book Business. May 27, 2016.
  3. 3. Harvey, Ellen. "Technical Director Jean-François Lyet on How Hachette Livre Is Capitalizing on Digital Printing." Book Business. April 5, 2016.