Tools of Change – Making the Case for Digital Printing

Making the Case for Digital Printing –  Tools of Change Conference – Feb. 22, 1:30 – 3:30

Brian O’Leary and Ashley Gordon

This session was directed to publishers who are thinking about digital printing opportunities.  The speakers were obviously pro-digital printing and provided many examples of the benefits of digital printing for publishers.  But, libraries should take note.  Digital printing could be a good source of revenue for libraries who have large digital collections.  I particular like the idea of “chunking”  and creating keepsake books from public domain material (discussed below).  Consortia could purchase a POD machine and member libraries could use this for a variety of projects, just think of the number of digital collections in one consortia.  What great revenue!  The speakers discussed 3 overlapping segments in digital printing- digital printing vendors, onsite services, and author services

Digital printing is more than print on demand (POD).  POD is a strategy in digital printing.

Content: Think in terms of content, not the physical book

1. Digital printing vendors

  • listed 12 digital printing suppliers such as Lightning Source, CreateSpace, Textstream, etc., each is different but has their sweet spot
  • types of digital printing : pure POD 1 – 100, ultra short run 50-500, traditional short run 300 – 2,000 and offset 1,000+
  • each overlaps in services, Ingram and Baker & Taylor are the only two that can take the content all the way to the retail end of things
  • vendors look for printable PDF’s, XML or native-application formats like InDesign, Quark and sometimes Word (Word may cost more)
  • all offer 3rd party conversion of content
  • $200-300 to scan a book, this is more expensive than digital conversions
  • limitations – paper choices, trim sizes, max page counts (80-740), foil stamping or embossing, rough cut edges, sewn bindings, case-bound color, spot colors (look for small set of vendors who specialize in the features you require)
  • more titles to convert = better price
  • backlist is popular (not just long tail) for digital printing, just-in-time printing (good for overseas expansion b/c shipping is so high)
  • new formats can be addressed such as large print (traditionally held for popular titles)
  • just in time inventory saves on the rent, great for small independent publishers
  • crashing and bridging – “printing miracles” – examples given for companies who used digital printing to create a market opportunity – making sure your content is ready for POD is key.  (Gave Governor Sarah Palin bio example, her only bio wasn’t ready for POD a few days prior to her announcement to be VP candidate)
  • digital printing can lower the unit cost of books sold- focus on the total cost per book sold (not printed), must include the manufacturing cost, returns/unsold, spoilage/shrinkage, and carrying costs
  • unit costs per POD book printed are higher than seen with conventional technologies, could be lower depending on sell through for a title
  • POD can help reduce or eliminate returns/unsold copies – publishers can choose inventory objectives, and it supports zero inventory, POD titles could be sold as non-returnable, they can be fulfilled directly
  • POD can reduce inventory/spoilage/shrinkage – this can consume about 10% of the print run
  • reducing inventory cuts carrying costs – warehouse costs can range from $.12 to $1.80 per copy, for slow moving copies the carrying cost can exceed the manufacturing costs
  • more content = more money – gave OUP example of 15K+ titles available through Google Book Search, nearly 144 million pages were viewed, over 700K readers clicked the buy the book link, an average of 47 purchased the book, expensive books – average price was $40.  Publishers leave cash on the table by not making backlist/out of print titles available for POD.
  • digital printing supports new formats – large print is a growing market, or use personalization software to personalize a book and give as a gift (use public domain titles to create keepsake items), chunking – make a brand new book from content that is available from multiple sources (this was done at the ALA Conference in Chicago, shown on the exhibit floor)
  • Curious, could libraries get the rights to POD “chunking” of reference titles?  It would be great to get a collection of reference articles on a topic together in one location.
  • Some cautions – some publishers could take books out-of-print that shouldn’t be, or large print books could go by the wayside if POD could provide the service – side note – many Kindle owners are over 50 and the  option for font size changes could eliminate the need for Large Print.

2. Onsite Services

  • Instabook (Bookends), On Demand Books (Espresso Book Machine)
  • limited but growing market penetration
  • they promising uses – customized content, high traffic areas
  • get a book in about 4 minutes
  • expands the size of a bookstore without taking physical space

3. Author Services

  • 10 companies listed such as Author House, Lulu, Blurb, Bookends – these smaller companies are growing and working with many traditional publishers, traditional publishers can learn from these folks
  • authors can pick/choose services.  they show up with a manuscript and end with a book, some with an ISBN
  • promotion and fulfillment usually not included, they farm out fulfillment

The speakers ended with a matrix of costs and printing types for digital printing in an excel spreadsheet.  They inserted real numbers from a publisher to determine the cost savings achieved with digital printing.  Tim is willing to share a snapshot of this, but the actual model is proprietary.  The model assumes that every book printed and not spoiled is sold.  There’s no reduction in the model for copies not sold.

Final summary:

Overall benefits:

  • can save you money – keep or invest
  • offers alternative to keep books in print
  • may help grow book sales


  • set up costs – if backlist is not in digital format, that’s an issue
  • vendor capabilities
  • pricing is not always transparent

Discoverability and access in a POD world

  • lower demand titles are less likely to make it to bookshelves
  • successful digital printing strategies use online to promote titles
  • direct sales probably not as successful in the near term
  • individual authors without a platform may be best served by author services

How do you get started?

  • determine your objectives, what do you want POD to accomplish?
  • title set up: fees, process, file types, book specs
  • design your workflow with POD in mind
  • identify vendors and partners
  • know your numbers