One by one

31 Aug 2018
Topics: books, On-demand print

All in a day's work - books ready for packing at Books on Demand

 

The "book of one" is now a solid commercial reality. Michael Walker looks at two companies who centre their business on the print-on-demand model to see how they do it.

Company names don't get much more 'it does what it says on the tin' than Books on Demand (BoD), a print business based just north of Hamburg. The company produces books for both professional publishing businesses and for self-publishers. Owner Dr Gerd Robertz explains that they work for around 2500 publishers, representing more than 40,000 authors and hold some four million titles ready to print for booksellers both real (over 6000 of them) and virtual (over 1000), including Amazon. It turns out that the self-publishing market is also huge. 'In Germany, every second e-book and every third printed book is self-published,' he says.

For the authors, the self-publishing model that BoD offers means 'their dreams come true' and Dr Robertz says the company supports them with tools to upload artwork, automatic conversion to e-book format, creation of PDF files and printing, distribution and payment of royalties. For the publishers, it's a risk-free process as there are no upfront print and storage costs. 'There's no such thing as a book that doesn't sell,' says Dr Robertz. 'As soon as they're available they find buyers; small quantities multiplied by a "long tail" [of sales] add up.' BoD's in-house developed software Biblioconnect allows both groups to use the company's facilities.

The print-on-demand model also suits academic, scientific and technical publishers as it makes it easier to keep their portfolio current. BoD also has a partnership with Random House via its Twentysix imprint which acts as a talent spotter for the publisher. Some work is also done for corporate publishers, 'meeting needs they don't even know they have,' as Dr Robertz puts it.

 

Fleet command

The hardware array it takes to service all this is impressive. BoD's factory is something of a showroom for both Xerox and Hunkeler, with a veritable fleet of the former's digital presses, from multiple mono Nuvera and colour iGen toner models through to the new Trivor 2400 and high-end Impika inkjets, the latter running at up to 250m/min. The three Impikas print two-up duplex in high quality colour using high density pigmented inks, though only 15% of the workload is currently colour. Covers are printed on the iGens, though these are also used for pages at peak times - and each page is given a QR code for tracking, block and book assignment. The Trivor 2400 is currently a mono-only configuration that runs at 200m/min but could be upgraded to full colour with Xerox's High Fusion inks to tackle what is currently litho work done elsewhere. 

 

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A Hunkeler unwinder feeds one of Books on Demand's Xerox Impika high speed inkjet presses

 

To feed the roll-fed inkjets, Hunkeler unwinders are used, followed by plough folding units that make four-page signatures which are then cut. Although the presses are wide enough to produce three-up impositions, BoD has standardised on a two-up workflow throughout. The folding and cutting is not done inline, initially for reliability reasons, but the plan is to move to inline for a "first in first out" workflow as at present the first book printed cannot be finished until the entire roll is printed, which takes around 2.5 hours, rewound and then loaded into  the finishing line with books presented in reverse order. Once cut, the four-page signatures are stacked and sent for binding via an automated line.

Muller Martini equipment is used for binding in a 'touchless' system based on Industry 4.0 techniques, including connection to BoD's MIS. This automatically adjusts to different book block sizes and matches covers and contents via the QR/barcodes before carrying out three-knife trimming and forwarding the books to the wrapping station for onward routing to despatch, which currently involves manual transfer between stations. Hardcover books, which comprise around 10% of the output, are bound on Horizon machines in a semi-manual workflow with manual cover-making. Covers printed on the iGens are laminated with Foliant machines. Jobs typically take 12 hours from receipt or generation of PDF artwork to shipping, but different service levels agreements (SLAs) are in place for different clients. A track and trace capability, based on Xerox software, means that BoD staff know where any job is at any given moment and live information about deadlines is visible at key positions on the production floor.

Gerd Robertz sums up the entire business as 'a collaboration, co-operation and sharing of ideas. We all love books.'

 

Order then print

Another company whose name is self-explanatory is Printondemand Worldwide (PoDWW). Founded in 1995 as a purely digital print concern from the acquisitions of a mailing house, IT company and a publisher, it now produces over 7000 books a day at its Peterborough site, in runs from one to 2000 copies. Its customers range from self-publishers, independent, STM, journal and training publishers to a host of mainstream publishers. The company provides a complete service from publishing through print to retail, distribution and replenishment, cutting out some of the stages in the traditional book printing, wholesaling and distribution chain.   

 

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Printondemand Worldwide's Andy Cork is now able to produce affordable colour books

 

Also like its German counterpart, PoDWW has moved from toner-based printing to inkjet, which now accounts from 90% of the output, but with a key difference in that it can print on coated litho stocks rather than requiring dedicated "inkjet" papers. Owner and managing director Andy Cork explains, 'Paper prices have gone up by 18% in the last three quarters and inkjet paper costs 40% more anyway. Now we can print on silk, gloss or matt, the colour is vibrant rather than flat.'

The inkjet press that makes this possible is Screen's Truepress Jet 520 HD, using Screen's SC inks. The press runs at up to 150m/min with 1200x1200dpi resolution and produces quality that Mr Cork says is comparable to litho. The SC ink doesn't require a primer or "anchor" treatment and is said by Screen to offer almost no absorption, plus excellent adhesion and scratch resistance.

Output from the press goes to a Hunkeler line to produce book blocks ready for binding, which is done on Muller Martini equipment then sent by conveyor to an Infinitrim for trimming and thence to despatch. Barcodes are used to track jobs and match covers to inners.

 

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The ability to print on coated litho stocks was the clincher in PoDWW's decision to go with the Screen Truepress Jet 520HD

 

The whole system at PoDWW is built around advanced manufacturing principles such as just-in-time and lean methods. 'We operate as a manufacturing company, not a book printer. It isn't about the speed of the machines, it's about eliminating waste,' says Mr Cork, adding that  PoDWW implemented all this to respond to market pressures. 'Everybody wants their book today,' he explains, 'and now we have the quality, speed and price for affordable colour. We struggled to get the right price for children's and trade books but now it opens up to most markets.' He's bullish enough about the colour quality he's getting to enter some photobook awards this year.

About 15% of PoDWW's work comes through its website and this proportion is growing. Trade publishers, from small independents to mainstream houses, represent a further 60% of the business and the balance is a mix of different sectors. PoDW's in-house developed software BookVault is key to the operation, taking in orders from wholesalers and distributors and feeding titles out to UK and US wholesalers. Mr Cork says his company is working with publishers to help drive new sales for them, effectively using their website and software to add a new sales channel.

With an average run of just 1.7 copies, and a turnaround that means that certain standard jobs received by midday are ready for despatch at 5pm (though more bespoke jobs need longer), PoDW has proved beyond doubt that the book of one is a reality - and that it opens up new possibilities for printers, publishers and authors.  

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