Inkjet brings efficiency to books

25 Aug 2017
Topics: books

Dan Rogers is head of publishing at Smithers Pira


Dan Rogers looks at global trends in book sales and explains how digital print is enabling publishers to keep "virtual stock". 

In recent years, sales of books have varied across regions. In mature markets such as Western Europe, North America and Japan, retail sales have declined, as has readership, where printed book sales were largely driven by a handful of bestselling titles. In transitional economies such as Brazil and Mexico, sales grew alongside government initiatives to promote educational books, although sales declined in Russia and Poland. In emerging markets such as China and India, the book sector expanded as a reflection of the emerging affluent middle class.

The number of new titles published globally was flat, whereas the number of reprints grew. Only a few countries such as the UK, US, Spain, and Taiwan took advantage of globalisation and exported books internationally. Across regions there has been a growing trend towards consumers preferring online buying to physical stores. Transition from physical book selling to online book selling has enabled retailers to reach new markets and customer segments, and reinvent the value chain.

Structural changes in the book printing value chain, changes in the printing technology and falling readership have fuelled decline in the book production across regions. Opportunities in book print lie in the implementation of more efficient printing technology, such as on-demand digital printing that can reduce waste and inventory costs, as well as exporting to emerging markets.

A wide range of processes are currently employed in book printing. Offset lithography remains the most common process, with smaller amounts of digital and then flexo (mainly covers); gravure and letterpress are also being employed. Sheet-fed offset has traditionally been used for shorter runs and high-quality printed books, with applications including covers, book jackets and colour sections for many books, with specialist large format perfecting book presses widely used to print short to medium runs.

There is a new trend of modern publishers holding 'virtual stock'. Publishers no longer think solely in terms of seasonal launches supported by an upfront print run and volumes of stock. Rather they operate a process with a wide range of books stored in an electronic format, to be printed on demand in response to a customer order.

For the buyer this reduces time cost of having to search for books second-hand or using inter-library loans. Essentially, the publisher can charge royalties for the publication, and the printer receives a fee.

High-volume inkjet is being rapidly adopted by book printers across the world as supply chains develop to print smaller batches quickly and economically. High-speed inkjet presses, linked to sophisticated finishing systems, are now allowing the economic production of mono and colour titles, either as book blocks or folded sections.

Global book printing revenues were $34.1 billion in 2014. In 2015 they to fell back 2.4% at 2014 prices and exchange rates to $33.2 billion. Going forward, revenues are expected to fall by 0.9% on average by 2020 to $31.8 billion. Volumes are predicted to increase by 0.6% annually to 1.95 trillion prints.

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